Sunday, December 22, 2013

Engaging Students in Complex Poetry

Last week I stumbled upon a way to engage students in reading complex poetry. It was a wonderful, magical moment--made even more enchanting by the fact that students were completely immersed in a poem twenty minutes before dismissal a week before the holiday break!

Behind the Scenes
    I love to start our study of poetry with accessible, easy poems that students can read and decode without much effort. After some success with these poems, students are much more willing to read more complex poems that require more thought.
    I have loved John Masefield's "Sea Fever" ever since I first read it in my seventh grade literature anthology. (Oh, I adored that book--a huge volume of different stories and poems!)  It is a perfect poem to read and revisit during a poetry unit, as it can be discussed in many different ways, looking at speaker, speaker's attitude, figurative language, and more.
    But how could I introduce it in a way that would engage students? I decided to try out Keynote for this. I quickly put the poem into Keynote, using a different slide for each line and a different background for each stanza. On a snow day, I recorded myself reading the poem in Keynote, and then took it over to iMovie, where I added some ocean sound effects. The entire process took about an hour.

During Class
   I wanted students to have experience with this poem over multiple readings. For our first reading, I had pretty low expectations--I just wanted to see if students could connect their printed version with the video version. Could they find the way that I had marked the different stanzas?
   It turned out somewhat differently. Students noticed the marking of the different stanzas on our second viewing, with lots of comments along the way. ("Is that you?" "Wow!" "Why don't you talk like that during class?") With ten minutes left in class, I decided to show it one more time as a choral reading, inviting students to read along.
   But students had different ideas. They couldn't help but call out their questions. I paused on the line with a star to steer her by when one student asked, "Why would you steer with a star?" Another answered, "Oh! They must have looked at the constellations!" We hadn't progressed much more when we got to the wheel's kick and the question, "How can a boat have wheels?" This didn't need much discussion--I just pantomimed steering a boat with the wheel and said, "You know, the big wheel they use to steer with."
   By this point I realized that the choral reading wasn't happening. In fact, it had evolved into more of a close reading--students were really focusing on each line, carefully considering the meaning. I have taught this poem many times, but I have never had students try to get so much out of it. Feeling brave by the end, I asked, "Who is the speaker?"
   Of course, some answered, "You are," because I was the one reading the poem. But another student protested. "No, she's reading it, but she's not the speaker. The speaker is inside the poem." Tentative answers were offered--"The speaker is someone who likes the ocean" "A person who works on a boat".

What Worked 
   Several things came together to make this lesson work well. First of all, I chose a high-quality poem to share. Something about this poem resonates with students--we are about 4 hours from the beach, close enough to visit every summer or two, but far enough away that students really do feel that longing to get back to the beach.
   The visual format of the poem also changed the experience for students. Many of the readers in this group have trouble accessing the right background knowledge to help them visualize effectively. The simple photographs in the video gave them a cue to access their "beach scenery" schema. Also, showing the poem one line at a time helped to give students a clear focus.
   Finally, I have to remember to keep an open, encouraging attitude, especially when we look at text for the first time. I went into this with a very low-level expectation for a first read. The students totally overwhelmed me by going beyond my expectations. I knew where I eventually wanted to go, and so I could steer the conversation onward when students showed that they were ready. But it was so wonderful to have students move beyond what I expected, instead of feeling like I was in the position of "pulling teeth" to get students to an expected level of understanding. This is something worth remembering for the rest of the poetry unit and beyond.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snow Science

The snowflakes are flying! Today's snow in Pennsylvania was the kind I especially loved as a child...a layer of 3 inches of snow covered by about half an inch of ice. It makes a satisfying crunch as you break through the top layer and step into the snow. It's also especially fun to break apart into big sheets.

Snow presents some great opportunities for easy science investigations. Today, we looked at the volume of snow and watched what happened when it melted.

It doesn't get much simpler than this! I took this picture mid-morning, after some of the snow had melted. We started out with 100 mL in the graduated cylinder and 250 mL in the beaker. The boys who got to go out to the playground to collect the snow also filled out a chart that I had made with their classmates' guesses about the final volume of the water.

Interestingly, the boy who filled the graduated cylinder used more of the fluffy snow from underneath the ice layer, while the boy who filled the beaker used mostly ice. Did this have an effect on the final volume? Absolutely!

Having done this several times, I have learned that the final volume of water is always much lower than expected. I've also learned that there is no single rule of thumb to use--it really depends so much on what the snow and ice is like (and even more so on how much the snow collector packed it down into the container.)

Lots to explore here...
Review of volume: My fourth graders still have trouble with the use of milliliters to measure volume. Talking about the initial volume and the final volume gets the word "milliliters" in use over and over again.
Predicting and checking: The routine of making a prediction and then checking the real-world results is always engaging and helpful. Results will vary over several days as the snow changes.
States of matter: This activity helped us to think about the change of water from solid to liquid. Some students expressed surprise at the final volume of water--"Where did it all go?"

At recess, I filled a tub with a collection of snow and ice and let students handle it for short periods of time. Students noticed that the ice sheets bend light ("they work like glasses!") and that the snow changed when they handled it. All afternoon, they stopped by the science table to check on the progress of our snow--"I can't believe it hasn't melted yet!"

The forecast calls for more snow for tomorrow. If we have school, I hope to capture some snowflakes on some black paper; then we can talk about the shapes that we see. Ken Libbrecht has an amazing site with a guide to snow crystals, and I also have his book, The Secret Life of a Snowflake. 

Of course, all of this snowflake study will go quite nicely with our poetry unit...lots to write about with so much snow!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Introducing Poetry: Lines and Stanzas

Back at the start of November, I noticed that there were only 14 teaching days in December. 14 days! Instead of introducing nonfiction, as I usually do this month, I decided to squeeze in poetry. In many ways, poetry is the perfect topic for a month in which schedule changes are the norm. (Only 15 minutes of reading class because of a holiday show/Santa's workshop/artist visit? Let's read a poem!)

I like to start poetry with some informal reading. Yesterday, students had some time for free reading of poems in the morning. One student found the poem "Candy Cane" by Valerie Worth in a book of holiday poems (specifically, Christmas Poems selected by Myra Cohn Livingston). She brought it to Morning Meeting to share with the class. Here are the first two stanzas:

Candy Cane
Hot wintry
mint, striped
round with
fire and snow.

Sweet icicle
that melts
and burns
and chills...

Of course this poem sparked discussion. How can a candy cane by hot? How can it burn and chill? Luckily I had a bag full of starlight mints--close enough to a candy cane--that I could hand out to the students. We talked about how our experiences with the mints were similar to the poem, and how they were different. Along the way, I was also able to listen to what kinds of language students were bringing to the classroom. How were they describing the poem? I only heard the word "stanza" once, which told me that this was not a well-known concept in the room.

Today, we explored the idea of lines and stanzas. We looked at poems with short lines, long lines, and multiple stanzas. (I used the PowerPoint in the Poetry Unit for Poetic Structure, but you could easily do this with any poems.) This is so important because students need to know how to navigate a poem. Once they know about lines and stanzas, we can quickly talk about how to get to a particular spot.

After a whole group lesson, we did a carousel activity. Students rotated to different poems that I had around the room and described them--title, lines, stanzas, and a picture to represent the main idea. I watched to see if they could record the title of a poem with quotation marks (some used parentheses instead!) and listened to their conversations to see if certain words came up. I hoped to hear alliteration, personification, and simile....but I didn't. When I introduce them, students may recall what they've learned before. At this point in time, however, students don't have access to these words to talk about poems. Good to know! And finding this out from a busy, talkative activity is so much nicer than learning it from an assessment.

Finally, students had some free time. Some chose to escape from poetry and go right back to their independent reading books. (The Amulet series is hugely popular in my room right now.) Others started to try writing some poems. (Alas, many jumped right into acrostics...looks like I'll have to break out the book Silver Seeds to talk about meaningful acrostics.) Still others read from their poetry collections, a book of poems that I have put together to use as our core resource for our poetry unit. All in all, it was a nice start to our precious few days of focusing on poetry.

Other Poetry Posts
Having Fun with Poetry

Poetry Picture Books for Making Inferences

Student Poetry Conferences

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Learning Notes: Stories in a Sea of Data

This week, as I was cutting down the remains of last summer's garden, I thought about how lucky it is that my classroom and my garden work as opposites. In June, as I am feeling the deep sadness of a vanished learning community, my garden eagerly clamors for attention.  In November, just when the summer garden is completely gone, my classroom "garden" of learners and excitement is entering full bloom.

And what a bloom it is! I have a class of students with lots of enthusiasm and ideas, and they have brought many interesting ideas. Clubs have been all the rage this year--kids love making sign-up sheets (of course, everyone who wants to join must be included), having club meetings at recess, assigning club homework, and then complaining when club members don't attend meetings. It seems that the process of making the sign-up sheet and making announcements to the class is the most exciting part of this. On the other side of the room, a group of students is making a play. Another student has taken on the task of writing the morning message each day, and another is writing a story. There are smaller moments, too--the girl who is making a PowerPoint about Greek mythology, the student who created a cupcake analogy to describe summarizing, the boy who is writing his own story for us to act out during reading class.

So the question arises of how to capture all of this activity. Even though I have 100+ data points on our standards-based report card, I cannot imagine turning any of these rich experiences into a number or a letter. They are more than that.

I found a way to capture the learning as I was browsing the Graham Nuthall Classroom Trust to see if there were any new newsletters. I've been fascinated by the work of Graham Nuthall ever since I worked on the Forest and the Trees book. In one of the newsletters, I read about the idea of Learning Stories. In early childhood settings, learning stories are used to describe and interpret the learning of young children. I was intrigued by these stories and wondered--how could I do this at my level?

Fortunately, I skipped around to another blog that answered my question. Learning Notes are a way to capture those wonderful classroom moments! I patterned mine directly off the example on the Blog of Proximal Development by Konrad Glogowski: three columns labeled Describe/Interpret/Next Steps. (Feeling in a decidedly un-technological mood, I handwrote mine and added some doodles before copying.)

I quickly made a binder to collect the Learning Notes. Then, I started looking around for what to write about. It didn't take long!

These are some of the quick little notes that I've written over the last two weeks. Will every student get a learning note? Not at first; I'm averaging only one per day. But I hope that these notes will help to create a culture of learning in my classroom. I'm still thinking about whether I want to display them (with student permission, of course) or keep them in a binder. In a time of year when I often start to despair a bit about the upcoming state testing, these learning notes help me to focus on the small moments that really matter. By the end of the year, my copy of the Learning Notes will be a wonderful memento of our classroom garden.

I finished December Homework! These were so much fun to write. I'm working to get the texts up over on Frolyc as well. Then, they would be available digitally for students with iPads with the free Activity Spot app. Write to let me know if you'd be interested in this!

I am deep in the Personal Narratives unit right now. Today we worked on adding paragraphs to a personal narrative--such an important topic for fourth grade writers!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Managing a Vocabulary Routine

"Mrs. Kissner! Mrs. Kissner! Can I read my words to you?"

This has become a common question in my classroom during arrival time, dismissal time, and any spare moment that might arise. It is an interesting side effect of a vocabulary routine that I started this year.

Thinking about Vocabulary
In the past few years, I have come to see vocabulary as a huge issue in my classroom. Fourth grade readers are moving into more complex, difficult text. Many of the new words that they encounter are not typically heard in everyday speech. Unfortunately, wide reading alone is not enough to help students build their word knowledge.  (This pdf from Scholastic is a great source of background information for teaching vocabulary.) More instruction is needed. But what could I do to incorporate this instruction in a meaningful way?

Five Words
When creating new content for the classroom, it's often easiest to work in steps. I knew that a comprehensive vocabulary program was my eventual goal. But this is a huge thing to accomplish. What little steps could I implement right now, each week, to get on my way?

Last year, I experimented with vocabulary lists for texts that we shared in the classroom. As I built my reading homework packets, I pulled five words out from each text. Some of these words matched the master list of academic words that I had compiled two years ago. Others were words that I knew to be common in fourth grade texts.

I created vocabulary activities for these words, using a variety of drawing tasks, discrimination tasks, and word consciousness tasks. Each week, students have a short quiz on the words--matching and filling in sentences. The quizzes are fairly simple so that, with some effort, all students can experience success. (I also needed to make the quizzes easy enough to grade so that I can quickly return them to students.)

Word Rings

This year, I added a new component to the weekly homework/quiz routine. After some paper engineering help from my ninth grade son, I created easy double-sided flashcards. I attach these flashcards to rings so that students have an easy to keep set of words. Many students are still working on decoding multi-syllabic words, so these flashcards are helpful for them to practice pronouncing the words. With the definitions on the back, the flashcards also help students to learn the meanings.

But independent practice wasn't enough. So, with a fancy paper punch from the craft store, I added another step (borrowed from sight word work!): When students can read the word correctly and explain what it means, they get a punch on the card. When they have three punches, the card can be removed from the ring.

Lots of interaction
There are many benefits to this routine--both expected and unexpected. One expected benefit is that it is easy to explain to instructional assistants, substitutes, and volunteers. I keep a clipboard with a list of student names and anyone who reads words with kids can mark the date next to the student's name. Even our sixth grade tutors help out. When students are working independently or have completed a task, they can also come and read words with me. Each individual kid usually reads words with an adult once every week or so.

An unexpected benefit is that this becomes such a verbal, conversational interaction. Fourth graders love individual attention and sharing stories. Talking about these words has become a way to frame our conversations and make sure that everyone gets some personal interaction. I hadn't really considered this at the beginning--but hearing the interesting conversations that go on has convinced me that this is worthwhile. Kids and adults are talking, and they're using rich vocabulary words as the basis for the conversation.

Of course, there are some issues to consider. Some kids love the routine and will go through their words at lightning pace. The opposite is also true. I put each week's words on a different color so that they are easy to differentiate. This week, I did remove some of the early October words from the rings of kids who have been absent. Having more than 20 words on the ring at a time makes the process a little unwieldy.

I always try to work ahead and have the next week's words copied. For example, right now in my classroom I am adding the words for the week of 12/3 to their word rings. Kids then have the opportunity to see and experience words out of context before they read them in the context of the homework text.

Moving forward
My next step is to try to come up with a cumulative assessment. Right now we are working with one set of words at a time. In the future, it will be nice to have long term assessments to capture ongoing growth. Some kids don't finally learn all of the words for a week until several weeks after the whole group quiz. Anecdotally, kids are bringing me their independent reading books to show me vocabulary words that they have found.

Finding words
If you're interested in trying this, I do have vocabulary words and flashcards with my most recent reading homework sets:

I am working on a December set, and I'll add flashcards to the previous homework sets. Eventually I'll have the whole year.

...and this is the important bit: When starting something new for the classroom, work on just one step at a time. If I had set out to do the homework texts, word cards, and quizzes from the beginning I would have become quickly overwhelmed. By working on it in little steps, I've come to a workable, sustainable routine.

Reading words with kids is now something that I do about 3-5 times each day...and it is delightful!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Analyzing Story Elements

Analyzing stories is a tough task for fourth grader. First they have to read and understand the whole of the story. Then they have to analyze the elements of the story, often making inferences about characters, setting, and theme. Finally they have to put this analysis back into the context of the story as a whole.

Over the past few weeks we've been working hard to analyze stories. With different groups of readers, this takes on different aspects. In one group we worked on literature circles with picture books. Here are the pages that I put together for students. Notice that it is a highly structured literature circle, which is very much what fourth graders need at this time of year.

Picture book literature circles from Emily Kissner

Our books included my time-honored favorites from other blog posts: Weslandia, The Memory Coat, City Green, My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother, and Dragonfly's Tale.

I love having students ask each other to share text evidence. When we did discussion groups, it was wonderful to see students holding the books open, lifting them up, and referring to specific page numbers. After their discussions, students worked to complete the open-ended response to write about the theme of the story.

With a different group of students, we analyzed setting during guided reading. This graphic organizer helped students to collect details about the time and place of the story.

I like how this graphic organizer can be used in two ways. When a setting is known, students can extend their knowledge of the time period and location by using this graphic organizer. When the setting is not known, students can gather details about the setting, and use those details to infer the time and place. (You can read this blog post from two years ago for more on how to infer a setting.) The details on this graphic organizer helped students to think about how a different setting would change the events of the story.

Analyzing story elements is an endeavor that takes students deeper into a story, helping them to think about deeper meanings. A strong foundation in this kind of thinking will also yield great results when students begin to compare stories in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Remaking a Map Unit: Combining Digital and Traditional Maps

I love maps. I love finding the ways to get places, looking at how the roads go (and comparing it to how the roads went), and finding names and locations. Strange that I manage to frequently get lost a great deal anyway...hmm...

As I was planning for our social studies maps unit, I started to consider my use of digital maps. Teaching students how to use online resources such as Google maps would be a great way to address CCSS 4.7 (interpreting information from various types of sources). But how would I combine these digital resources with our existing map unit?

1. Student-created maps
Before we even began the unit, I gave students blank pieces of paper and told them to make a map of a place that they knew well. I didn't give them any further instructions.

 The results were fascinating! This is one of those activities that is so simple, but reveals so much about students. I saw three basic patterns:
Skilled maps: These maps reflected a level of map-reading skill and incorporated many of the conventions of the map genre, including map keys and a birds-eye view. One student even included a compass rose. I was a little skeptical about his compass rose and the directionality of his map until he told me, "I know which way is west, because the sun sets outside my bedroom." This definitely represents a high level of mapping skill.
Novice maps: These maps represented a novice level of maps and mapmaking. They included few or no conventions of the map genre, and often attempted to show objects as seen from ground level instead of a birds-eye view.
Hybrid maps: At first glance, these maps looked like novice maps, with some elements being represented at ground level. But a closer look showed that these students were intentionally combining birds-eye view with ground view to enhance meaning. This is a convention that is seen frequently in maps of amusement parks.

Seeing the maps that students created helped me to see what knowledge students were bringing with them.

2. Exploring Paper Maps
My regular reading display area has become a maps display. I have lots of maps from various vacation destinations, some print-outs, and even some old maps. We used the DOGSTAILS acronym as an organizer to help students look for key elements in paper maps. Kids had the chance to see the many different ways that mapmakers use to represent spaces and places.

3. Destination of the Day
A few days before the unit began I changed our table names to continents, which sparked a great deal of discussion in the classroom. At the end of Morning Meeting, I chose a student at random to pick a "Destination of the Day"--a location that I would display on the Smartboard with Google Maps. As part of this I showed students how to find a location, how to zoom in and out, and how to use street view.

4. Google Maps in the Computer Lab
I worked from our traditional social studies lessons for a few days, including an adaptation of this "Maps are Models" lesson from National Geographic and work with the compass rose and directions.

For our reading class in the computer lab, I had carefully put together resources to go along with our literature circle and guided reading books. But the students would have none of that. "Can I go on Google Maps?" one student requested. All it took was one "Yes" for the entire class to want to head over to Google Maps.

I took a deep breath and observed students interacting with the site. After all, this is what RI 7 is all about! If kids don't get a chance to explore a site, they will never know that it is the place to go to get answers to a specific question. Kids made interesting choices. Of course, every first time user of Google Maps has to find their house. But then what? Some students looked at vacation spots. Others went to find landmarks that they had read about or heard about--the Sydney Opera House (we had looked at a model of it in the previous lesson), the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Pyramids. The chatter that filled the room was interesting--"How do I get out of street view? How did you get there? How can I get there? I'm lost!"

5. Comparing Digital and Paper Maps
One of our key skills for the map unit is being able to use a scale on a map. Personally, I haven't used a map scale in years, except for when I have been walking and I want to see if a distance is manageable. But there is some value in learning about a map scale, and the way to learn that value is to try out the scale.

I started the lesson by teaching students how to use the scale on the paper map. Then, they worked with partners to complete the bland scale worksheet, drawing lines to connect the locations, measuring them, and calculating the distance.

But then we got back together to share our results. I introduced the "Get Directions" feature of Google Maps. Would the distances on the digital map match what they found? Why or why not? This led to some interesting discussions of why the routes that Google Maps displayed were so different from the straight line routes that students had drawn on the worksheet. (It will be interesting to see if kids go back to the "Get Directions" tab when the return to the computer lab this week.)

6. Writing Prompt
This week, we'll wrap it all up with a writing prompt. Students will have to write to show whether they prefer paper maps or digital maps, and then support their opinions with details from our unit. Which will they choose? I'm interested to see. I'm also interested to see how details from our classroom activities find their way into the writing that students produce.

Using digital maps has moved from novel activity three weeks ago to standard classroom routine last week. For example--Friday morning I was checking to see who had moved their lunch cards, so I called a student's name. He looked up from the computer in the corner. "Sorry--I'm at the Golden Gate Bridge right now!" he called out. And he was--in Google Maps, in street view.

November Homework packets are ready! Two fables are included, plus an article about Veterans Day and one about the Pilgrims. (If you just want the article about Veterans Day, it is free in the preview file.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Writing Frames and Open-Ended Responses

Ah, the joys of open-ended responses. They can be frustrating to students and teachers alike. On the other hand, they can also be exciting and interesting, giving students a chance to show off a little bit of creative thinking. This year, I am working on helping students write the passage-based essays that will be on our new state tests as well as the shorter paragraph responses that are on our current tests. Testing aside, though, the writing of open-ended responses is important for its own sake. Being able to write about a text in an informed way is a necessary skill for a literate individual no matter what the testing environment.

Helping students to write these kinds of responses can be challenging. In fourth grade, students are expected to use formal academic vocabulary. For many of my students, this formal vocabulary is entirely foreign. Writing frames are a great way to build their skills with formal writing.

Introducing writing frames
Writing frames have a long history in teaching writing. (For more research, check out David Wray's list of articles. The one from 2000, "Developing non-fiction writing: beyond writing frames", explains some cautions to keep in mind when using writing frames.) The idea of a frame is simple--you give writers an outline for how to structure a piece of academic writing.

I like to start with frames for writing about our shared activities as a class. Here is a frame that I wrote for students after we attended a concert assembly. When students returned from the assembly, we discussed the frame. What do you notice? What do you think you should put into the blanks? Students then wrote their own paragraphs in their writing journals.

Early experiences with writing frames do go more smoothly when students are writing about experiences instead of texts. When the details are already in their minds, they do not have to juggle going back and forth between text and response.

I've found that writing my own context-sensitive frames works better than using pre-made frames. It's worth the effort to try to write the piece in my head and then figure out where to put the lines for student responses. Notice that my frame to the right uses a colon as punctuation. This is not something that most of my students use or even notice. I included it as an experiment to see which students could find it and how they would incorporate it into their own writing.  Many of my students had problems with the transitional phrase "in addition"--they simply did not know what it meant.

Of course, students had the choice of whether to use the frame or not. Many looked at the frame for some elements and included their own sentences as well. After we wrote the paragraphs, one student (chosen by the popsicle sticks of destiny) filled in the blanks on my frame, while another student looked up the musicians' website and added illustrations. The completed work can then be displayed.

Frames for text-based writing
The next step, of course, is to use frames for text-based writing. There are times when duplicated frames that students can write on directly are useful. I wrote this frame to go along with a story that students read. This prompt was rather difficult, as it asked students to complete two different tasks.

I like to include both easy blanks and more complex blanks in my frames. I do have some students who struggle with writing to the point of tears. The first sentence is such an easy task (just fill in the title of the story) that students can feel some success before diving into the more difficult thinking required by the prompt. When formatting frames, I always use double spacing and picture the handwriting of my student who writes the largest. There are still times when students want to write more than will fit in the blanks, but I show them how to mark with an asterisk * where they want to add more, and use another piece of paper to do so.

Much of the literature on frames advises teachers and students to use frames as rough drafts only and have students rewrite their responses. However, I am trying to do open-ended responses each week. Rewriting the entire response would take approximately 1.2 million years for some students, and I just don't have that kind of time. Instead, I settle for having students read the entire frame aloud to me.

Moving away from frames
Writing with frames goes so smoothly that it is tempting to have kids keep doing it. But of course it is our job to diminish the supports over time so that students write independently. A good first step to doing so is to offer a choice. Last week, students had the choice of using the frame or not in their response. (I did tell them that using the frame meant that they could not get the highest score on the rubric.)

Some students asked, "What if I look at the frame, and use some of it, but write it all myself?" Well, that's just wonderful! Of course that is fine! So I did see many hybrid responses. Interestingly, the readers who did not use the frame had serious trouble with crafting a topic sentence. This shows me that I need to spend time on this in the future. Students who used the frame had no trouble adding "cool" or "interesting" to finish out the topic sentence.

Another way to move students away from a frame is to project the writing frame on the board, but not give students a copy. Some students will look up at the board and use what is given, while others will not.

As the year goes on, I vary what is given to students on the frame. Sometimes it will just be a topic sentence and concluding sentence. Sometimes the frame will include the information and have students fill in the transitions. All of these variations help me to see what kinds of writing techniques are within the grasp of students and which are still developing.

Writing a Genre?
I have a fabulous class this year with some very creative kids. Some have started a Skylanders Club in which they meet to discuss the game at recess. Well, one student asked if he could type up some homework for students in the club. I was amused to notice that his "homework" included a writing frame for other students to complete.

I love it when our classroom genres make it into student writing, because it shows that an essential shift has taken place. The writing frame represents an expert to novice genre. When a student takes it over, that student takes on the role of expert. (How did the kids in the club take the homework idea? Surprisingly well. In fact, they ask if they can do their club homework during quiet time or choice time in the day. It is fantastic.)

-The writing frames used above (and two others) are included in my October Homework Packets.
-Summary frames are included in selected activities in my text structure materials: Chronological Order, Description, Cause and Effect, Problem and Solution, and Compare and Contrast.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Understanding Text Structure

Back in 2008, as I was doing presentations about summarizing, I was surprised that teachers wanted more about text structures--more examples, more resources, more teaching tools.

I created a PowerPoint to share some short paragraphs. This PowerPoint has been around for what seems like an eternity online, with 85,000 downloads on TpT and just about as many views on Slideshare. (I did take it down from Slideshare over the summer when I found it reposted all over the place, so it's starting fresh with the views.)

When I looked through it again a few months ago I thought...well, it was definitely due for an update. So I have refreshed it with new photos and some new paragraphs while still keeping many of the examples and review slides. Here it is:

You'll notice that I finally gave in with the text structure of "Description". Originally, I had called this "Statement and Support" or "Main Idea". However, the term description has come into more frequent use, and I decided to go with it. (I guess I really gave in to this two summers ago when I created the sets of Description texts.)

I put this back on Slideshare because I think it would be a great resource for a flipped classroom, or to embed on a classroom website. Do let me know if you are planning to use it in an interesting or exciting way!

-November homework will be coming soon!
-I used the story "Pumpkin Seeds" from the October Reading Homework this week. We had a great time acting out the story and finding the theme.
-I've updated the author links on my classroom blog said they had the best reading class ever when they visited the Jack Stalwart site, the Babymouse site, and the Skeleton Creek site! You'll find the author links over on the right side, under the popular posts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Text Annotation and "What's My Rule?"

I love the promise of text annotation--the idea that students will take purposeful notes on a text, drawing arrows and underlining important ideas, leaving tracks to mark their thinking.

Sometimes the reality does not live up to the promise. Instead of taking purposeful notes, kids start to just color in the o's.

Writing on a text is a powerful way to connect the unseen world of what goes on in the reader's head to the real world of the physical page. To my young readers, often the concrete world of the physical page completely overshadows the invisible mental work. How could I bring the two together? Even more importantly, how could I do this in a quick 10 minute lesson?

I decided to harness the "What's My Rule?" idea from math class. "What's My Rule?" is an easy introduction to algebraic thinking--kids see an input and output, with sets of numbers, and have to figure out the rule.

How does this work for text annotation? I told readers, "I'm going to read the first few sentences of this story aloud. As I do this, I'm going to make some marks. Your job is to figure out why I am making these marks."

In the first two sentences, I underlined the characters' names. They quickly shared with their elbow partners--"They're characters!" So then I asked the next important question--"Why might it be important for me to notice these names? Why should I underline them?"

As we read on, I underlined setting details. This was interesting, as not every kid had the word "setting" automatically. But this is why partner work is so amazing. If a few kids know the right word to describe a situation, very quickly it will spread through the class as the partners share and collaborate. When I circled argument, not one students mentioned the word "conflict"--a clear sign that knowledge of this word was not present in the room and would need some focused teaching.

Modeling this way was very quick and allowed me to quickly judge what the students know and what they do not. And it was lots of fun! As I walked around to listen to the conversations, I took on the role of trying to figure out the "rule", or why students had circled or underlined certain places.

Quick Notes
The text that I used for this lesson was a story called "Camping Together", which is available in my Visualizing unit. (This unit is in for a major overhaul--it was one of the first that I put together. That's what I love about putting items on TeachersPayTeachers, however--I can revise whenever I like and everyone can get the updated versions!)

Octopuses are awesome! I put together a series of texts about octopuses and cuttlefish. You can find them here.

This was an incredibly busy weekend at the 46th Keystone State Reading Association Conference. You can find the presentations from the speakers at the conference wiki, which is here. I'm still trying to process it all!

Any updates on sentence composing? If you have tried it, let me know! If not, I can still send you the materials if you are interested.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sentence Composing

Find classroom-ready sentence composing exercises and activities here: Daily Sentence Writing, Part 1

I'm not a huge fan of the typical daily sentence edit or language practice exercise. Often, they are just too scattered for my tastes. I remember when I dutifully tried to use them in my first years of teaching. "Why are we doing this?" my seventh graders asked, way back in the late nineties. "To practice editing," I answered. But then we would move from the daily practice to our actual writing of the day--and the kids would plunge right into making the same kinds of mistakes that they had just corrected in the exercise at the start of class. Something wasn't connecting.

It wasn't connecting, I came to realize, because the kind of thinking that one does while putting marks on a daily sentence edit is not the same kind of thinking that one uses while writing. So what kinds of activities could I use at the start of class to help students become more aware of their writing? While doing research for other things, I collected journal articles about teaching writing. The research on sentence combining and sentence composing is fantastic! I knew that I wanted to:

1. Help students build fluency with the physical act of writing (see this easy-to-read interview with Steve Graham for more on this)
2. Help students to become aware of mechanics
3. Help students write a variety of sentences
4. Not have a terrible time while doing all of the above

#4 is really important to me. I love being in a content-rich, inquiring environment. And that is one of the reasons that I don't really like a lot of the existing daily edit activities--they are so disconnected and so contrived. So I set myself the tall task of making sentence imitating and combining activities that also teach handwriting, review parts of speech, and (most importantly) aren't awful.

Here is an overview of what I have so far:
Weeks 1-3: Tide Pools theme
Week #1: Copy sentences (really needed in the first week of school!)
Week #2-3: Unscrambling sentences
Week #4: Imitating sentences

Imitating sentences is a very important piece. Sentence imitation has a long history as a technique for teaching writing skills, but it hasn't seemed to gain much traction in elementary school. (This article  provides a nice introduction to the idea of sentence imitation at higher levels. You can find a sentence imitation guide for elementary students here.)

Today we started out with a presentation about sentence imitation. I created this to be highly scaffolded. Can you tell that I'm also trying to teach prepositional phrases at the same time? To build context and interest, I have YouTube playlists to go along with our main topics: tide pools and frogs.

Imitating Sentences: A Tool for Better Sentence Writing from Emily Kissner

...and it worked! Beautifully! The kids wrote lots of different sentences with prepositional phrases. As I walked around, I encouraged kids to show me the subjects, verbs, and prepositions in their sentences.

Here is what the daily sheet looks like. Notice that it has special handwriting lines with a dashed midline. This has really been helpful for my early-year fourth graders who are still working on smaller handwriting.

The next question, of course, will be to see whether this carries over into writing. The Daily Sentence Lessons have an end-of-week paragraph in each set. This week's paragraph asks students to write about their day--a task that I know will prompt them to use prepositional phrases. I'm hoping for the best!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Science Experiments for Reading and Writing

These last two weeks have been so much fun in science! I have to admit that I like it as much as the kids. I love how scientific experimentation naturally leads to reading and writing. Here are some snapshots of our lessons.

Setting up for science
    Last year I was lucky enough to have an empty classroom across the hall. How amazing! We could go over there and make as much of a mess as we wanted and then leave for the rest of the day.
    Now I have a fantastic colleague across the hall instead. So I needed to come up with a way to squeeze in room for science in my own classroom. In late August I snagged a rectangular table that was sitting in the hallway labeled "Please take." (Don't you love the late August giveaways just before school begins?) I set up this table next to the sink in my room and covered it with a reasonably attractive vinyl tablecloth. The science table!
   This was spur of the moment decorating choice, but it has influenced my decisions in planning for science. Just having a table dedicated to science really leads to better activities. 

    You must have trays. Plastic trays like the kind at the mall food court. Trays are so amazingly useful--they can hold materials, sort items, quickly set up to share things at student tables and across classrooms. If you have a limited science budget, you will not regret buying trays. How many should you buy? I have 10 and still run out sometimes!

Litmus paper

    Our first science investigation was a very structured activity with litmus paper and household items. Students tested various liquids to see if they were acids or not. Litmus paper is inexpensive, but has that wow factor that gets kids excited early in the year. (You can buy litmus paper here.) I didn't teach students about the chemical properties of acids and bases, but used the litmus paper as a practical application of classification. This investigation also helped me to see how well the students work together, which students are natural leaders, and whether I will tear my hair out with science. (Happily, they did really well!)

Student-created experiments

    This is the best part. After we learned about the scientific method, students had a scaffolded experiment planning page. We brainstormed testable questions that they could ask for the materials that I had available. Then, they created a materials list and wrote out procedures.
    Many students struggled a bit with writing procedures. We talked about how each step needed to have a verb--something that you do. I showed students where to find the word "Observe" in the classroom after seeing it misspelled in the beautiful variety of transitional spellers. Everyone, even my reluctant writers, made sure to finish writing their procedures. To keep things simple, I told students that they had a limit of three items for their experiment.
    On the experiment day, I set students up with finishing their other writing tasks (we are doing the daily sentence writing--it's working fabulously!) while I called students over to the science table to get their materials. One student paid two coupons for the privilege of being the science assistant for the morning. So at any one time I had about 8 experiments going at different places around the room. They were all very simple things, mostly along the lines of mixing baking soda with various liquids to observe what would happen. But the kids were thrilled with the experience. "This is such a good day!" one girl gushed. As things were winding down, the students were moving on to other writing, helping with the clean-up, or going on to their own self-selected tasks. Many of the students had gotten science experiment books at library on the previous day, and a few sat down to try to create new experiments or read about other things they could try.
    If you are going to try this with your students, here are some quick suggestions:

-Limit materials. It is so much easier (and cheaper) when you don't have too many items going around.
-Use small, 2 oz. cups. These help students to conserve materials.
-Try to buy some inexpensive disposable droppers. They are available in science supply catalogs and they make the whole process so easy.
Observation corner
  The observation corner is a part of the science table. Since the start of school, I have set out random things for students to observe and experience. (Week 1: cartesian divers; Week 2: color paddles and prisms; Week 3: animal skins and butterfly wings; Week 4: sandbox) Fourth graders still need experiences with rich materials and interesting items! This week's observation corner is a small sandbox filled with blue sand. I have a set representing the different parts of a turtle's life cycle to go along with One Tiny Turtle. It's been interesting to watch how the students interact with the different materials. Only three students may be at the observation corner at one time, and students have been doing nicely at asking for permission and using the materials wisely.

These kinds of activities lead to so much purposeful talking and sharing with the students. It has been a great start to the year!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Frolyc and Freebies!

I am so excited that Frolyc is finally up and running for everyone!

Here is a little bit of background. As many of you know, I get lots of emails from people that I don't know. Often it is just a quick back-and-forth, but I have also had longer correspondences with a number of great teachers over the years. Last winter, Niru emailed me to ask some questions about expository text. We started chatting and she told me about Frolyc--an app that allows teachers to publish text and questions to the iPad.

I am not usually the first person to embrace new technology, but I was excited about the idea of Frolyc. My oldest son had just gotten a Kindle Fire and I could see how engaging digital text could be. Over the next few months, Niru and I talked more and more as she created the app. The world of coding and creating apps is totally beyond me, so it was interesting to hear how the process works. (And the more I heard, the more complicated it seems!)

Writing content for Frolyc has been fun. I get to write text and add photos and video links. Kids can answer multiple choice questions, use drag and drop graphic organizers, and complete word searches. It is so neat to see how readers interact with this new kind of text. In my classroom, I have used Frolyc as an incentive for kids during independent reading, a tool to build background for science units, and a way for students to build their skills with multimedia texts. Lexile levels are provided for the texts, so you can be sure that you are giving students an appropriate challenge.

So here's how it will work. On the computer, you can set up your Frolyc account and create your classroom. You can author your own activities or choose some of what has already been created. (You'll see some favorites from the text structure units, as well as plenty of new texts!) Then, put the Frolyc app on the iPads. Kids can select their name from the list and then use the activities that were assigned to them.

Right now it's free! And you can get double free if you sign up.

1. Sign up to try Frolyc.
2. Leave a comment on this blog post about your experience. Was there something that was confusing? Interesting? Something else you'd like to see?
Email me at with your comment.
3. Leave me your email address and the title of something $3 or under from my TpT catalog that you would like! (Or you could request a piece of a larger unit--i.e., "a story for inferring" or "a story elements assessment.)

I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Clicking and Clunking into the New School Year!

Well...I have now had my class for seven school days. What a huge change! Now I have matched names with faces and faces with handwriting. I know who likes to run errands, who loves our class catfish, and who takes the initiative to take a poll to name our fish. I feel much more settled.

Last time, I wrote about starting the year with clicks and clunks. It really worked out pretty well. What I like about the terminology is that it doesn't take much explaining--kids already know what the words mean.

There are many different books to model clicks and clunks. Over in third grade, my husband used Earthlets: As Explained by Professor Xargle to great effect. Some kids totally clunked the first time he read the story aloud--they just didn't realize that "Earthlets" are babies. After they talked about it and the kids adjusted their mental models, he reread the book. There was much more laughter the second time around as the kids turned their clunks into clicks.

I have two reading classes, both in the afternoon, and I like to change up the books to keep things interesting for myself. I used the document camera to share The Goldilocks Variations by Allan Ahlberg with the first class. Right away we had a clunk on the first page: What does the word cheeky mean?
In this case, I explained the meaning of the word, and the students quickly understood. The word cheeky is used repeatedly through the story. (And it is such a great word!) When we got to "Goldilocks and the Bliim", we really had the opportunity to discuss using context to solve words. And the author helpfully provides an English-Bliim picture glossary.

With my next class, I went right into the first chapter of Toys Go Out. I love this book so much for transitional readers! We had a great discussion about what they were visualizing. We also talked about how sometimes authors give us clunks on purpose. It's so tricky as a reader to figure out when we have to fix up a clunk right away, and when we can just relax and read on. Chapter Two is even better for visualizing--what is Plastic?--and will be a treat for next week.

I extended the thinking about clicks and clunks into independent reading. This year I have tried to move kids faster from the easy, fun books and into books that will take them several days or weeks to read. It's not always successful. I had them use the page "Keeping Track of Clicks and Clunks" to think about what they were understanding. What if a reader has no clunks? Then that book is too easy! (Or they're playing the Pretend Game.) This conversation is so important, but we just had the chance to get started with it before the end of the week.

Keeping track of clicks and clunks from Emily Kissner

I knew that it was working when a student brought up a science paper to me and said, "This part just clunks," pointing to a sentence. So he was able to find where he was having a problem and point it out...a first step to success!

Then at the end of the day we finished up with a game of Streets and Alleys outside over the hill. (It is so lovely to teach at a school that has space "over the hill"! It just sounds fun and exciting to say.) If you are not familiar with the game, you really should try it with your students: here are directions. The directions say it is a small space game, but we spread out quite a bit.

News and Notes
-It's not too late for the September reading homework--they don't actually say "September", so you can use them into the fall. I am working working working on an October set.

-If you have an intervention group, try out the Puppet Plays that I wrote for my husband's class last year. The kids loved them, and appreciated being able to go perform for kindergarteners! (Please note: Puppets are not included, but there are some awesome basic sets that you can purchase.)

-I'm about to pull out my Max Mission stories for another year. These are short texts that give kids practice in making text-based inferences.

-We're trying out using Daily Sentence exercises in writing class this year. Based on the work of Don and Jenny Killgallon, these exercises will (hopefully) help students to become more aware of how sentences are put together. Edit: These are now available here and here.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Starting the Year with Self-Monitoring

One of the main challenges of the beginning of the year for me is keeping my focus on reading and thinking. It is easy to get wrapped up in classroom decoration ("I must buy more sparkly fish!") and administrative details ("I must print out at least 10 class lists and set up my substitute folder and make a spreadsheet for intervention groups!").

But I make a conscious effort in these first few weeks to save two slots in my working memory. (It's hard!) One slot I reserve for students--for the kids who are in front of me, right now, at this time. The other slot I reserve for deeper thinking about what the kids are doing and how they are processing. What materials am I giving to students? What do these materials say about the classroom and the work that we will do here together?

So this year I want to begin with really strong instruction in self-monitoring. To me, self-monitoring is the heart of reading comprehension. I love to think about reading as world-building, with readers processing text at various levels--surface, textbase, and situation model--as they read.  (This view of reading is based on work by van Dijk and Kintsch--this website summarizes the theory and provides more references.)

The best way that I have found to help readers self-monitor is to use the "click" and "clunk" strategy. (Here is an article that explains it nicely.) This strategy is perfect for the start of the year because it focuses on micro-level understanding. Do I understand this sentence? If the answer is yes, the sentence "clicks". If the answer is no, it "clunks". Then, readers can try to put together the meaning of the entire passage.

Here is a little graphic organizer that I created to help students think about clicking and clunking. As you can see, every clunk leads to some kind of action on the part of the reader.

Click or clunk from Emily Kissner

The next step is to put this into action with a passage. This year I'd like to try to use the first few paragraphs of The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit. (If you're not familiar with E. Nesbit, find her books online...they are over 100 years old, but so influential in the world of children's fantasy!) After students read it and monitor their clicks and clunks, they will draw and share pictures of the world that they built in their minds.

My husband, who teaches third grade, found the passage to be a little hard for his students, so I wrote a new passage for him. He has a robot/space theme going on in his classroom this year.

Whatever passage you choose, start with something that provides a bit of challenge for students. Talking about their clunks and how they solve they will help students to realize that reading takes risk--but that the risks can be rewarding.

Good luck as you start your school year! Wish me luck as I attend my first rounds of meetings and try to save slots for students and deeper thinking.

News and Notes
This week I finally finished a new September reading homework packet. Four more weeks for October are on their way.

For more texts that focus on visualizing, try out the Visualizing PowerPoint and Activities packet.

If you are finding that your readers are having lots of clunks, try out the Making Inferences with Transitional Readers packet for focused work on inferences and visualizing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On classroom decorations and caramel floats

I spent today working in my classroom. The week before school often brings a dizzying mix of grandiose planning and practical abandonment. "My classroom will be the most beautiful classroom ever," I think at the start of the week. By midweek, as I have sorted boxes and boxes of books (and culled the classroom library so the books will actually fit on the shelves!), my ambitions are less grand: "I want to have a classroom that does not have every inch of space covered by boxes and random debris."

In the last few weeks of summer, I've been working on creating some new reading packets. In my house we've been listening to Harry Potter on CD this summer, which has led us to trying out some different butterbeer recipes. I decided that a fun kids drink would be a good procedural text, so my sons and I experimented with a caramel apple float.

We were trying to get the taste of a caramel apple without the stickiness--our recipe turned out pretty well! And, of course, I was able to turn the whole thing into a procedural text that kids might enjoy.

Tomorrow--more work on my classroom! I will probably change my theme from "Under the Sea" to "This Is A Classroom Where People Learn". And there aren't boxes everywhere.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Choosing and Using Video for the Classroom

   As I've been working on putting together texts for the Frolyc Activity Spot app, I've been watching lots and lots of online videos--the good, the bad, and the ugly. These kinds of videos have amazing potential as classroom resources. As I watched, I thought back to how I started out with adding video to the classroom and what I am thinking now.

The Highly Produced
I must admit that when I first started looking for videos for my classroom (back in 2011, when I first had access to wireless), I was drawn to highly produced video clips. I wanted to be very careful about what I wanted to show in the classroom and I gravitated toward video clips created by familiar companies.

Small Scale Productions
But as I've combed through more videos, I've come to value the smaller scale productions by museums, labs, and other groups. While these videos don't always have the fancy music or clever titles, they do feature experts in the field. They also can spark great discussions with students about credibility--how do we know that these people are good sources? I can't wait to share some of the videos from Jefferson Labs with my students.

Raw footage and time lapse
This year I experimented more with showing raw footage to students. We all loved the Cornell Nest Cams during the spring. Students also enjoyed seeing time lapse footage during our Earth cycles unit--watching the day/night cycle and the cycle of the seasons in time lapse is lots of fun. To help students understand the way that ferry boats work, I showed a time lapse of a Vancouver ferry.

What does a time lapse video show? How is it different from a video shown in normal time? Why might someone create a video in time lapse? These are all great questions to consider with students, and these questions are why I value YouTube more and more. (With safety mode always enabled and videos always previewed, of course!) With teaching about firsthand accounts becoming more and more important, it's important to share and talk about firsthand accounts with students.

As I have watched videos this summer, I've been creating some playlists to go along with my units for the school year. This playlist goes along with various texts in my text structure units. (Links to the various units are included at the bottom of the post)

Notes and Updates
Whew! I finally redid the entire Character Traits and Emotions unit. This was one of my last units that was still a single Word document. The revised unit has individual files, a character traits PowerPoint, stories, activities, and lesson plans.

I'm still getting lots of requests for spelling lists. Our homemade lists and activities are in a folder on Google Drive. Send me an email from your Google account ( and I'll add you to the permissions list. And please do let me know if you use the program! We could have our students share activities or something.

I have found the Lexiles for most of the texts in my Text Structure units, but I haven't yet updated the units to reflect this yet. Let me know if you are interested in this information before the school year begins.

Here are the links to the various text collections:

-Cause and Effect Texts
-Chronological Order Texts
-Description Texts
-Compare and Contrast Texts
-Problem and Solution Texts
-Introduction to Text Structure

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Creating Vocabulary PowerPoints

In some circles, PowerPoints are rather--well, old-fashioned. With ever-expanding technology choices, who uses slideshows anymore? I felt a twinge of embarrassment as people at a recent meeting exchanged glances when I admitted to making vocabulary PowerPoint presentations. I think that people have the perception that teachers make PowerPoints and then just read them aloud to students.

But then I decided that there is nothing at all embarrassing about it! PowerPoint is the perfect tool to use to help kids learn new vocabulary words. With just a few simple slides I can project definitions, examples, and engage kids in using these words. It is not a lecture at all as kids are actively engaged on every slide. Even better, we can go back to the presentation again and again to review the words and think about them in new ways.

Here is how I go about making presentations to go along with texts. If you are getting started with this, try making just a few your first year, going along with high-quality texts that you know you will be reading and rereading several times. Each year you can add a few more.

1. Select your words
Hm, this is easier said than done, isn't it? I like to use words from the Academic Word List, and I choose about 3-5 per text. You can also write to me and I'll send you an Excel spreadsheet that has the AWL words, Common Core words, and other important words, all filtered according to important characteristics, roots, and so forth. This list is a little easier to use because the words are in alphabetical order.

2. Definition slides

I make about 4-5 slides per word. On the first slide, I introduce the word with a kid-friendly definition. I make this definition based on dictionary results and how the word is used in the text. In the case of characteristic, I used the words "feature" and "trait", words that students have already learned.

I add a pretty visual to go along with the definition--sometimes a picture that goes along with the word, sometimes a picture that goes along with a future activity. I have a huge library of photos that I've taken on my rambles around Pennsylvania, and kids are always interested in hearing about my photos. When I can't find the photo I want from my own library, I visit Wikimedia Commons.

3. Link pictures with words
I have learned so much about integrating visual and verbal strategies from the work of Gary Woolley.  For these slideshows, I like to give kids an instant connection between photo and word. This is especially important for academic words, as they often have abstract meanings. If I can give kids something concrete to think about as they apply the word meaning, I can help them to remember the word for the future.

A word of caution here. As you call on students to share their answers (and these lessons are usually informal, friendly conversations), make sure that they are using the word in their response. Consider this conversation:

Teacher: What are some characteristics of the butterfly?
Student: Eyespots!
Teacher: That's right! An eyespot is a characteristic of the butterfly.

Who practiced the word? That's right--the teacher. It is so easy to fall into this pattern. It takes some practice and time to get to this kind of conversation:

Teacher: What are some characteristics of the butterfly?
Student 1: Eyespots!
Teacher: Can you put that into a sentence using the word characteristics?
Student 1: Eyespots are characteristics of the butterfly.
Student 2: Some characteristics of the butterfly are wings and antennas.

Often this will take prompting and framing. However, it's so worth the effort to get kids using the words! Having kids put their responses on whiteboards is also helpful. I try to have as many kids say the word as possible, whether it is by sharing with a partner or getting up and doing a word "meet and greet".

4. Apply the words to students' lives
This works better with some words than others. The point here is to help students use the word in a way that applies to their own lives or experiences. Many students will need help with framing sentences for their responses--"My physical characteristics include..."

A new photo isn't necessary here, but my kids love fun visuals and I like to give them lots to look at. The key is to keep the pace quick and upbeat so that this will be something that you come back to.

5. Think about how the word might be used in the text

The text that goes along with this presentation is about the red-tailed hawk. Notice that the word predator is also in the slide. This word has a much more concrete meaning, and some kids in the class already know it. Instead of giving up valuable real estate to this word, I integrated it into this slide. Connecting the word characteristic with predator helps students to get ready for how both words are used in the text.

When we return to this presentation after reading the text, I encourage students to use their "soft eyes" to scan for the word characteristic in the text. We read the sentence aloud together. Then we talk about how their early sentences compare to their new knowledge.

And that's it! I like to do this with about 5 words per text. We use the presentation before and after reading. It is so gratifying to hear how their examples and sentences quickly improve in quality the second time around. Like all instructional techniques, PowerPoint does have the potential for misuse--if I just read aloud the definitions, kids would quickly be bored. But a slide presentation with lots of conversation and interaction can be a powerful way to help kids connect visual and verbal information.

This year, I'm going to add a vocabulary notebook for students to use to keep track of words that they are learning and reading about. I'm not sure what I want this to look like--are there any formats that have worked well for you?

This presentation is included in Reading Intervention for Academic Vocabulary and Fluency.