Sunday, February 16, 2014

Graphic Organizers for Representing Ideas

Now that students have an introduction to text features, they will have a real reason to use these text features to navigate text as we dive into texts about Antarctica. Over the next few weeks, students will be exploring topics, main ideas, details, and text features. And we'll be looking at these from two perspectives--that of writer, and that of reader. Cool!

Expository writing requires writers to sort ideas into categories. Instead of telling a story, writers think about topics and how the details related to those topics fit together. Expository writers take concrete details and dream up an abstract main idea.

This year, I'm trying out three different ways to help students visualize the sorting of ideas and topics.

In writing, students have created their own island countries and will be learning the basics of formal academic writing as they create essays about their countries. Here's the example that I made to show students:

I do love to play with fine point pens.

After students had spent 1,127 days creating their countries (I may be exaggerating--it was probably closer to 3. They loved it so much and they learned so much about landforms and capitalization), I introduced them to the outline. I started by projecting this example and asking them, "What do you notice?"
It was so interesting to listen to their responses. Like all intermediate readers, they wanted to first focus on content. I tried to move the discussion toward structure: "How is it put together? What rules do you think the writer followed?"

After some discussion, they started to recognize the Roman numerals, the use of letters, and the use of numbers. (Many of them also thought that it included complete sentences--more evidence that the concept of sentence is elusive.) After our discussion, students got to start their own outlines, with some heavy scaffolding:
Outlines have gone in and out of style over the last twenty years. Some writers find them stifling and useless. However, they are wonderfully adaptable. I am a very global and connective thinker, and I like the structure of an outline to finally capture my ideas and put them in a way that makes sense.

As students started their scaffolded outlines, they referred frequently to the word bank on the front of their pages, and even more frequently to the beautiful maps that they had created. The abstract term "Economy" that is Roman numeral III becomes beautifully concrete when matched with details--"I'll send chocolate to your country, and that will be my export, and you send iron and steel to mine. That will be my import."

Concept Maps
Later that afternoon, in reading class, we looked at another way to model ideas. After finishing our Text Features PPT students had a wonderful assortment of Antarctica books all around the room. I showed them how to quickly make the skeleton of the concept map:

...and then I gave them time to add to the organizer. I made it very open: "This is a way to keep track of some of the things that we learn about Antarctica. As you browse through the books and resources, try to find at least three details to add to the organizer."

This is an example of how the magic and engagement come naturally from books and learning. The kids were excited. I had several copies of Animals Robert Scott Saw (snagged at a discount bookstore!), Antarctica, Scholastic's Penguins, Penguins by Gail Gibbons, maps of Antarctica (available here), Antarctic Seals, and of course the Antarctica booklets that I had prepared for the students.

I walked around to observe how students organized their details. No one made the connection to the outlines they had started in the morning, and that was okay at this point. "Mrs. Kissner! Do leopard seals eat penguins, or do they eat other seals?" a student asked. "How could you find out?" I asked back. "And where would you put that detail, once you have found it?"

One student found the Rigby Antarctic seals book and added to the animals section. (I didn't take photos of the student work, so I'm recreating it here.)  This may not seem like a big deal, but notice: The student recognized a sub-topic that fits into the larger topic of Animals. The student made an arrow to show this relationship, and then added the names of the seals below.

"I could put Robert Scott in Places," another student said. "Mrs. Kissner, how do you spell his name?"
"How could you find out?" I asked, in what was becoming a familiar question.
"From the book we read," she said. "Who has it?"
"I really have no idea," I admitted, and it's true: I am the least likely person to know where any possible object is located in my classroom, at any given time.

On the other side of the room, another student was using the Antarctica map to add to her graphic organizer. I quickly noticed something troubling about her work. Can you see it? What does this show about her thinking?

Another student turned to the Research Stations of Antarctica text in the Antarctica booklet. "The answers are all in here," he said confidently. I stayed by his desk to listen--answers? I was intrigued. "See," he said. "It's here in the headings. These are the research stations, and I can just copy them next to Places." And then he did exactly that--no lines, no arrows, just the names of the research stations. In this little exchange I learned so much--this kid knows text features, and he knows how to quickly get information from the text, but he could probably use some help with how best to represent this information.

Tree Map
Over the next few days we'll be adding to our organizers, and they will get incredibly messy as students start to see connections. Some will be happy with the mess while others will request a new sheet of paper. Still others will abandon this early concept map as we move on to our detailed research and they choose their own focused topic. When this happens, we'll move on to a third way to show ideas: the tree map.

But the tree map will have to wait about a week or two as we work through the outline and the concept map. For me, it will be wonderfully informative to watch students as they make connections and think about how to sort all of the details that they create and learn.

News and Notes
-I've finally put together an assortment of science articles into one bundle: Ecosystems Informational Text Set. This includes a number of articles that are currently scattered across different text sets, plus a few new pieces.

-If you're looking for a set of connected texts with questions and open-ended responses, try Under the Sea: Nonfiction Test Preparation. You'll find four texts about octopuses and cuttlefish, plus an activity in which you can synthesize information from all four texts. I loved writing this so much!

-I'm making my YouTube playlists public, in case you are interested. Here they are:

Cuttlefish and Octopus: To go with the Under the Sea texts
Reading Homework: To go along with my reading homework series (February and January)

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