Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Summer Literacy Plan

The clock is counting down to the end of the school year! When the smell of honeysuckle floats through the air and the sounds of "Slap Billy-Ola" echo at recess, I know that summer is coming.

My readers this year have been such a wonderful, engaged group. I wanted to create something that would keep them reading and writing all summer long. I created this Summer Literacy Plan for them!

Today, I introduced the summer literacy plan in class. The students were eager to think about it and make great summer reading plans. The plan suggests that students create at least one goal for each area (literature, informational text, writing, and fluency). To my delight, many students were making multiple goals for each area!

After students talk about their plans with parents and return the plans with parent signatures, I will make copies to give to their next teacher, who is also excited about summer literacy. Plans and record sheets will go home in report card envelopes, which I think will make them seem more "official". I'm looking forward to great things!

Helping students to plan for summer literacy is so important. How are you getting students ready for summer reading?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sea Turtles and Expository Text: A Peek Inside

I love writing short expository texts, and I love sharing the texts that I create with other teachers. 

But I can't deny that there is always an uneasy tension between my inner writer and my inner teacher as I start a new project. The inner teacher says, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a set of texts with x, y, and z?" The inner writer groans--"You want what? Do you realize how hard that will be to write?"

So there is a sense of compromise between teacher and writer. I have seen enough hideously contrived texts to know that I shouldn't keep going if something isn't working. Teacher and writer must negotiate to come up with a workable compromise. (And all of this is going on in my head!)

Lights Out: Problem/Solution

This spring, I started to write a series of texts about sea turtles. The project began with a problem and solution text about the importance of turning out lights during nesting season. I find problem and solution to be one of my favorite text structures, probably because it is inherently optimistic. I also love the symmetry of problem and solution. It's fun to write.

I generally prefer to do all of the writing first before I mess around with formatting. Adding the formatting gives me another chance to reread every bit of text. I often read everything aloud to my family as well--my ten year old is a great listener and offers useful criticism. 

After the text has been written, read, and reread, the teacher side takes over and works on questions and activities. Waiting several weeks between text and questions helps me to look at the piece as a teacher instead of as the writer. This year, I've been experimenting with adding synthesis tasks to reading sets. These are very similar to the performance assessments that we used in the late-90s, but with a Common Core twist. Yes, they tap some of the skills that will be needed for high stakes testing, but they are also activities that are real and relevant for students.

Compare and Contrast

After I finished the problem and solution texts, I moved on to the bigger challenge--two compare and contrast texts, each one about two different sea turtles. 

These texts were hard to write. The writer in me balked at writing them, but the teacher stood firm--these are necessary. Compare and contrast is one of the hardest text structures to use. There are two topics, and the writer must work hard to balance them and make clear transitions back and forth. All too often, compare and contrast ends up sounding choppy and awkward. And conclusions? Natural, fresh conclusions to compare and contrast texts are especially difficult.

Of course, this is the lesson that the teacher-me wanted! I saw the need for two texts, both compare and contrast, but using different styles of organization. Compare and contrast texts can be alternating or clustered. Before students look for these structures in the real world, it's helpful for them to see study texts that present each. Texts on similar topics will help them to focus on the structure of the text instead of the content.

The first text, "Loggerheads and Green Sea Turtles" is written in the alternating style. This took a great deal of research and many hours of time. I found conflicting information from various credible sources, and delved deep into Google Books and other sources to find the best information possible. From a writer's point of view, I did create a comparison chart to gather my details. (I hate Venn diagrams for writing.) 

The second, "Leatherbacks and Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles", was a little easier. I used the clustered style, which deals with each topic in turn. Writing these two texts really helped me to see the strong similarities between description text structure and compare and contrast. After all, clustered compare and contrast could be looked upon as double description. 

The close reading activity that accompanies these texts is the one that my teacher self envisioned at the start of the project--using colored pencils to underline sentences referring to either kind of turtle. As I made the answer key, it clearly showed the difference between alternating compare and contrast and clustered compare and contrast. Victory!

The final activity of the unit challenges students to create their own compare and contrast text, using whichever style they would like. A chart of information is provided to make the task more of a writing task instead of a research task. 

Thank you!

Combining teaching and writing is a challenge. I'm so grateful to everyone who has purchased my texts on TeachersPayTeachers and offered such positive feedback. Thank you! 

You can find the texts and activities here:
Sea Turtles Expository Text