Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tried and True: Literacy Activities I Love

What a week! After a relatively cool summer, Pennsylvania enjoyed (?) some hot and humid temperatures this week. I used old-fashioned heat management strategies like closing my blinds at 10 and starting fans early in the morning to pull in cool air. These strategies kept the temperature in my room to a manageable 86 degrees. The kids were amazing about it and never complained.

One of the nicest parts of my week was going back to some tried and true activities that should be part of every literacy teacher's repertoire of techniques. Even in the heat, these activities were engaging and fun for everyone involved.

Making Big Words

I first saw the Making Big Words activity back when I was doing my first round of graduate classes, and I started using it in middle school immediately. It is one of those rare activities that fits every ability level.

Kids get a strip of letter tiles arranged with vowels first in alphabetical order. This week's letters were:

e e i o o c h m n n p r s

The teacher gives clues about words that can be made with those letters, and kids arrange the letters to make the words. At the end, the students try to build the big word that can be formed with all of the letters. Can you figure out this week's big word?*

What I love is that it gives me instant information about how kids approach words and word-making. Every student in fourth grade used the same set of letter tiles this week, but as they were divided into our intervention groups we could see how each group dealt with the challenges. For example, students in the ESL group struggled with changing shop to shoe because of the odd spelling pattern in shoe. In my grade level group, I saw many different spellings of poison--poisen, posion--which shows me that unaccented final syllables are a topic to explore.

It is a fabulous activity to get to know a new group of students and get real-time information on how they are processing and working with words.

You can read my ancient review of Making More Big Words at Amazon--a relic from before I started blogging!

Retelling with Figures

When students have trouble comprehending a text, retelling with figures is my go-to plan. The idea grew from my days as a preschool teacher, when I used felt figures to tell stories. (Remember feltboards? Does anyone use them anymore?) With older students, having figures to retell the events in a story helps them to attach meaning to the events. Students have a visual cue for retelling and have fun manipulating the figures.
This picture from last year shows students using retelling figures
to retell key ideas from an expository text. 

This week, students in one of my reading classes read "Clever Coyote" and then retold the story using four pictures: a coyote, a mouse, a rock, and a rattlesnake. Watching them retell in pairs helped me to see how they were comprehending the events of the story. This story worked especially well because the plot hinges on the locations of the characters.

You can read more about retelling with figures at this blog post. I have some sets of retelling figures and stories available in Analyzing Story Elements (Gwen and the Witch) and Summarizing Stories (The Magic Key).

Settling into our literacy routines has become so meaningful and enriching. Even though I have done these activities many time before, I always love seeing how new students engage with them. What are your tried and true activities that you return to, year after year?


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