Monday, January 15, 2018

Conquering the Test... One Day at a Time!

Ok, I know that we're all not wanting to think those dreaded three words "Back to School", let alone start thinking about the even more dreaded standardized tests that will occur in the Spring.  I unfortunately had that philosophy too a few years ago - but then it hit me.  Why do we, or I, feel like once January hits that it's time to 'prepare' the students for these tests - why don't we start doing that on day one?  I mean, yes, I know everything I'm doing/teaching is going to help them.  But I wanted to do something to really prepare them on a deeper level. 

So that got me thinking...

When it comes to 'the test' - what do my students struggle with the most?  After talking it through with a few colleagues I finally figured it out!!  Picture this..  Walking around looking at the test for the first time as the kids are taking it.  You're reading the questions and thinking to yourself - Yes!!! They KNOW this!!  But then you read their answers as you're walking and you can't believe what you're reading - what's going on!?  I KNOW I taught this over and over again - why aren't they getting it!?  Then you reread the question...  and BAM!  There is it - its not what the question was asking - its HOW they worded the question.  They used some large verb and wording that the kids aren't used to seeing or reading.  Could they answer it with the knowledge you've given them?  Absolutely!!  Are they just confused because of how they asked it?  Absolutely!!


So - here's what I thought.  All of those big words and verbs and wordage that we see on these tests that CONFUSE our kids.. let's teach it to them.  I know - you're probably thinking DUH!?  But - when it comes to trying to prepare them for the test with everything else we have/need to teach them AND then throw this on top, it gets overwhelming!  I needed something that will help my kids conquer these words slowly but surely. 

So I came up with a program called Vocabulary Voyage.  Let's just say - I LOVE IT!!  What it does, is basically teach the students these important and strong words that are commonly used when testing.  It teaches them, not just what the words mean, but also what a question that has that word in it, means!  What is that question asking!?  I used it all last year and it.  was..  amazing!  My kids ROCKED the tests at the end of the year.  I had 100% pass our state standardized test.  No joke!  

So here's the break down in photos:

I have over 90 words in the program and we learn 1 word a day.  BUT we repeat those words the next week too.  So in 2 weeks we've learned 5 words.  Slow and steady wins the race!  All of the words are on cards like so...

And then put on rings... like so...

Then outside my door I have a poster put up and two hooks so the words can hang outside my door.  Each day, the 'word of the day' is shown.  Every time the kids enter the room they have to touch and say the word.  This gets them familiar with seeing and reading the words.  

It ends up looking like this...

So that's part of it - we read and say the words.  Easy peasy!  Here's what's next.

Like I said - we learn 1 word a day but we repeat those words the next week.  So Monday - Friday week 1 we're learning the word, how to read it, identify it, and define it.  All of the kids get this paper and each day we write the word and its definition.  It literally takes 5 minutes.  That's it - just 5 minutes each day.  This helps to build that word foundation which is what they're essentially missing when it comes to not knowing how to answer those questions on the test.  

But there's more...  On week 2 - we repeat the 5 words we learned last week.  On the back of the above paper, would be copied this paper.  So now that we've learned the definitions - we essentially need to practice being able to see that word in a question and answer it.  So here's what they do - Just like last week, we find 5 minutes in our day and get out the Vocab Voyage paper. On it is a question for each of the words we learned last week.  These questions can be answered with any book and I let the kids answer it using any book they want - whether it be their independent reading book or the book we're reading together.  So again, we take 5 minutes - they write out their answer to the question (in their writing journal) and we discuss.  What's great about these discussions is that our answers sound 'different' because they're using different books to answer them - however - we are able to find the pieces of the answers that are similar.  And why are they similar?  Because those are the components that the answer must have in order for it to be 'right' - that's what the question is asking for!!!  

So - I know this post is getting long, and I promise I'll try to wrap it up soon - but can you tell I'm totally in LOVE with this program.  

So the program has over 90 words, which if started at the beginning of the school year, will last you the entire year!  So by the time testing comes around - your kids will have been exposed to and have practiced answering these questions and KNOWING what the question is asking!!  The program has questions ready to go for each of the words as well.  These words include a variety of reading and math terms, Blooms Verbs, etc.  A great mixture for any testing grade!    I wish I had picture of the kids using this or even better, a video of their discussions of what the question is asking and how to answer it - we even grade each other's answers verbally if we have time.  It only takes me about 5-10 minutes a day so I don't even have to try to squeeze it in.  

Click HERE to download the first week for free! (download the preview)  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Goal Setting Made Easy!

     So as teachers, we have lots on our plates at all times.  Differentiating lessons, grading, planning, the list could go on and on!  When we are in the middle of teaching a lesson we don't just teach, we manage behaviors, inspire students, reflect and make split second decisions.  All in all, we have a lot going on in our brains each and every day.  But what if you could put a BIT of that responsibility into the students' hands?  What if for once, students could take charge of their data, their learning, and make decisions for themselves?  Sounds amazing, right?  Well, they can!  Getting your students to analyze data and set goals is a valuable and much needed piece of your instruction.  So let's talk goal setting:  How can you get students to goal set?  How can I manage goal setting on top of everything else I have on my plate?  How can I fit one more thing into my already packed schedule?

I've compiled 10 'tips' to help get you ready to goal set with your students.  Hopefully with these tips and your amazing motivation, you'll be able to give learning and power back to your students!  Let's do it!

#1:  Model!

When you begin teaching a new concept and even a concept you've already exposed the students to, do you just expect them to understand what to do and how to think through solving the problems?  No!  Of course not.  You model your thinking for them.  You explain, take time to demonstrate what's happening in your brain to work through the problem, you ask yourself questions and self reflect to make decisions.  Having your students goal set is no different than teaching!  The same process is needed.  Model for the students HOW to set goals.  Set up some of your own goals and model going through the thinking and reflecting process for them so they understand and can see what it's like.  The more exposure to seeing it being done, the stronger understanding they'll have and the more concrete and realistic goals they will set!

#2:  Goal Set Daily!

Yes, I said it - daily!  Stop thinking that setting goals has to be a BIG ordeal.  It doesn't.  You can have students set goals in (almost) every lesson you teach without having to do a SINGLE bit of planning.  So you're doing a math page from your workbook?  Have the students set a goal on how many problems they think they can get done in ___ minutes that you're giving them to work.  Are you reading passages in Science or Social Studies?  See if they can set a goal on how many new words they can identify as they read - then together as a class you can work on defining the words to better understand the passages.  Are you practicing subtraction with regrouping for the thousandth time?  Write 3 reminders on the board and have the students make a goal of focusing ONE of those reminders that they will remember to do when practicing.  Find SOMETHING each day to set a goal.  Maybe it's a behavior goal you set at the beginning of the day?  Goal setting daily will show students the power behind setting goals and it will help it become more of a habit than just something you do once a month!

#3:  Celebrate!

What's the point of setting a goal?  To meet it!  To accomplish whatever you have written down.  So what do you do when you've accomplished the goal?  You celebrate!  It doesn't matter if its a goal they have been working on for a month or a goal they set 20 minutes ago at the beginning of your lesson, you stop and celebrate!  Get out GoNoodle and have a 60 second dance party.  Stand up and take a bow.  Write "You're Amazing" on a few post it notes and hand them out.  It doesn't have to be a spectacular celebration, but acknowledging the students hard work and motivation will just make the next goal for everyone even more important and will make those who met their goal feel like a million bucks!

#4:  Long Term Vs. Short Term

I bet when you started reading this, it was going to be all about setting these large and almost unrealistic goals?  Nope.  There has to be a balance.  There's a time and place for setting those larger goals of trying to reach a certain guided reading level or getting your multiplication math facts mastered.  Those are definitely examples of long term goals.  But to make goal setting real and meaningful, there has to be a balance between the long term and short term goals.  Set daily goals, then set weekly goals on top of the monthly goals you set.  Mix it up.  Show the students that anything we do we can have a goal and a focus to help motivate and achieve!  (Pictured below are some awesome examples of short term vs. long term goal setting ideas.  Goal setting bookmarks are perfect for quick daily/weekly goal setting.  Autograph walls and 'Goal Fish" are fun for more long term goal setting!  Check them out here!)

#5:  Guiding Questions

I completely understand that, especially to my primary friends, goal setting is a very abstract concept.  Students' goals will be wild and crazy and you're going to want to just make goals for your students.  But I highly recommend that you don't do that!  So what can you do?  Guide their thinking with the questions that you ask them.  A good coach never does the hard work for the player, right?  They guide the player by modeling, feedback, and reflection.  This is what your students need.  Guide their thinking by asking them questions?  Ex:  you have a student who wants to learn 50 sight words in a month.  Doable?   Maybe?!  Realistic?  Probably not.  Guide them!  "T:  Suzy, I love that goal and that's a lot of words!  Do you know how many sight words are normally on our spelling list?  S: No  T:  There are 5.  So in one month we normally only learn around 20 new sight words.  Do you think 50 sight words would be an easy goal to meet if we normally just learn 20?  Let's look at your spelling tests from this past month to see how you're doing..."  I think you get the picture from there!  Guide them!

#6:  Use Data!

If you read the last part of tip #5 you saw the conversation between the teacher and the student and how the teacher was about to pull out the students' old spelling tests to help them set their goal.  Using data to set goals can be extra powerful.  Make sure the students understand the data you're showing them before you expect them to make a goal based on it.  Maybe you're having them fill out their data binder goals for the new quarter.  You want them to set a goal for their vocabulary tests that you give each week.  Simply pass back or have written down the last 3 vocabulary test scores for the students to use to reflect on before making their decision and filling in their data binder goal with something that is unrealistic for them.  (Need some new data binder inserts or just getting started on your data binders?  These editable templates can help!  Simply print them on colorful paper and your data binders will be bright, cheery, and motivating!  Check them out here!)

#7:  Realistic Vs. Unrealistic

Like I mentioned before, goal setting can be abstract.  Have conversations with your students about what realistic and unrealistic goals look like and feel like.  This doesn't have to be done in a formal lesson. Any chance you can get to model setting an unrealistic goal is just as valuable as modeling a realistic goal.  Students need to see, hear, and understand both sides of the spectrum to make their goal setting experience more valuable.  Use the terminology of 'realistic' and 'unrealistic' with the students too.  Don't shy away from it.  Students will catch on and understand what the words mean and lot quicker than you think!

#8:  Use Visuals

This might not work for every goal you have students set, but any time you can have or post a visual reminder for students, the better!  I often create banners or bulletin boards in my classroom that allow students to see not only their goals but everyone's goals.  Sometimes the names are on the back for privacy but not always!  Having the visual is perfect to help motivate the students to meet their goal and also serve as reminders for everyone.  Take time to acknowledge the space/visuals in the room too.  Just a simple point and sentence of "Don't forget about what we're all working towards, boys & girls.  I know you'll all be very focused and working hard to meet your goals!"  (Pictured below are some fun ideas for visuals!  Banners to hang around the room, 'Goal Balls' like gum balls is a fun way to post students' goals on a bulletin board.  Check them out here!)

#9:  Reflect

How do you know whether or not you've met a goal?  You take the time to look at the data and compare it to the goal to see whether or not the goal was met.  Does it stop here?  Nope!  Students need to reflect on why they did or did not meet their goals.  What steps did they take or possibly forget to take that gave them the results they got?  How was their effort towards their goal?  What factors did they have control of that affected the goal too?  Again, students won't be able to do this step naturally.  It will need to be modeled for them and will take time before students are able to do it naturally, but it's a much needed piece of the goal setting process!

#10:  Use Action Steps

Sometimes setting the goal is the easy part, but how to reach the goal is harder.  Action steps can be an easy way to get students to understand the work that is needed behind meeting the goal that they've set.  Action Steps are basically a type of 'to do' list that will potentially lead to meeting the goal.  An example would be:  Student set a goal of getting to level K in guided reading.  Clearly a long term goal.  So on their goal sheet they wrote out their action steps:  #1.  Meet with teacher at least 3 times a week to practice.  #2.  Read every night and fill in reading log to turn in.  #3.  Focus on sight words on spelling list.  Again, I think you get the picture.  Having action steps help make it clear for the students about WHAT they are supposed to be doing and can also help bring in parents into the goal setting process!

Need a jump start on ideas to help goal set?  Check out my 'Beyond the Data Binder' packet!  It's JAM packed with goal setting ideas and templates.  They are editable (when applicable) too!  Your administration will be impressed when they see all of the goals your students will be setting.  Check it out today!  

Whew!  I HOPE that through these tips you are now feeling motivated to go out and get some goals set with your little ones.  Whether they are in PreK or 12th grade, goal setting is an important part of their educational journey.  Put the learning into THEIR hands!  Make them the ones responsible for their journey.  Motivate them, guide them, give them the tools and see what MAGIC truly happens!

Thanks friends,

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Year, New YOU!

So the holidays are over and the final days of the year are quickly dropping off one by one.  The new year rises in the distance with a shiny new glow, a glow of hope, prosperity, and dreams.  The end of the year always comes as bittersweet.  There is so much to be thankful and look back on but we are all so ready and excited to take on the new year and await what it brings! We all have high hopes for ourselves in the new year and I bet that doesn't exclude your classroom!  Do you hope the new year brings you joy in your teaching?  Are you ready to make this year the best teaching year you've had?  Start the year off with an amazing mindset and a kick butt attitude!  I have some perfect tips to help get your new year in the classroom off to an awesome start!

Here we go, let's take it all in!  5 awesome tips to help get our years off on the right foot!  

  1.   Get Organized!  
No, I don't mean get out your pots and pans and organize your kitchen cabinets!  Take a good look at your classroom.  What is/are the areas that drive you the most BONKERS?  Is it your centers area?  Or maybe your library!  Mine was always my desk..  Maybe it's not an area of your room, but instead your files or your plans.  Take some time to reflect on how the year has gone so far and find 1-2 areas that you can better organize.  Take one day over your break or before you go back and get those areas functioning better for you!  If you take the time to do it right, now, then you'll be happier once school's back in session and that area isn't driving you crazy any more!  And since it IS the end of the year, you know all of the stores are having sales on their organizational containers - if that doesn't entice you, I don't know what will! ;)

     2.     Pre-Plan!

The loom of Sunday night planning fiasco's are coming, but they don't HAVE to be!  Get in front of your planning while you're ahead!  Take your school's pacing guide, plant yourself at your desk or on your couch with some Netflix and start planning ahead in the areas of your weeks that you can.  You know you're always going to have spelling, start getting those ideas written down now!  And what about your centers?  You have them every week too!  You can get those filled in weeks in advance to help save you some time!  I realize some things can't be planned in advance due to needing data, etc. But there are many definite areas in which you can get a jump start and save you much valuable Sunday night time!  

     3.     Set Some Goals!

You may or may not already have your New Year's Resolutions planned out or written down.  But what do your classroom or teaching goals look like?  Don't have any - you NEED to!  Creating and writing down goals will make you 10 times more likely to meet 'said' goal than by not making one.  What is something you NEED to work on with your teaching?  Maybe your goal for the new year could be to be planned and copied for the next week by Friday when you leave.  Umm, weekends to yourself?  That sounds amazing!  Or maybe your goal could be to grade 1 set of papers each day before you leave school.  Maybe you want your goal to include your students?  Whatever it is, write it down.  Post it for you to see, others to see, your class to see!  Want your class to do the same?  This is a great time to get their goals going and focused too!  Check out this amazing Beyond the Data Binder packet to help get you started!  

     4.     Try Something New!

It was Albert Einstein who once said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results."  Make this year DIFFERENT!  Try something new in your classroom!  Spice up those old lesson plans and get something fresh in there!  Haven't done interactive notebooks yet?  Now's your chance to try them!  Haven't dove into close reading with your kids?  Do it now!  What are some of the new and hot teaching trends that you see and read about that you always think, 'some day I will..'?  Well TODAY is that someday!  Get on Pinterest, get on TPT, and try out something new.  You won't regret it!

     5.     Have Fun!

Finally, for this new year to be the best it possibly could be, you HAVE to have FUN!  Get ready, close your door, and teach!  Jump, dance, sing, make crafts, do reader's theatre, whatever it takes!  Ignore the Negative Nancy down the hallway who constantly complains about all of the meetings and little things you have to do.  Yeah, they aren't going away - so get over those!  Stay focused on what really matters - the KIDS!  Smile every day that you get to be there with them.  Hug them, they'll hug you back!  Be thankful for the job you have.  Start each day with a positive note or thought either for yourself or for the kids.  If you can do this, I know you'll have an amazing year teaching!

I hope you ALL have the most amazing new year!  :)  


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Are you counting it down? It is getting SO close! Whether you have 3, 6, or 8 days left before Christmas Break, we have resources to make you sing! If you missed the daily freebies from our 12 Days of Christmas, no need to shout "Bah hubbug!". We have all the links for you! 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway - Daily freebies and a fun gift card giveaway! The links are listed below. Use them the last few days you have this December or save them for next year! Either way, they are sure to make learning fun this time of year! Also, head over to our social media pages December 14th - 16th to enter the giveaways for the two gift cards!

Sunday, June 26, 2016


It's that time of year again!!  No..  not Christmas.  No.. not Back to School.  EVEN BETTER!  It's SHARK WEEK!  And for the third year in a row an amazing team of bloggers are coming together to provide you with some enticing shark week freebies! (Note - some of the freebies may only be free for a limited amount of time!)

Shark week is such an energy packed week on TV we won't be able to compete with their hype - but we're gonna try!  So what do I have in store for YOU!?  Take a bite out of this!  

I'm currently working on some very engaging phonics intervention games and activities!  I thought you might like to try them all out at once!  So today I give you:  

In this packet you'll find two engaging and ready to print games as well as a Bossy "AR" passage for fluency and comprehension practice!  

 The phonics vowel spin & color games are perfect for centers, small group intervention, or whole group partner time!  Everything is ready to print and no prep!  Students use the spinner with a paper clip and compete with their partner to fill up a specific number of squares in their grid by identifying words that match where their spinner landed.  Your kids will LOVE these games and will be begging for more!!  

Next in your freebie is my (SOON TO COME) phonics mazes.  They are set to be up on June 30th, maybe sooner, so if you <3 them stay tuned!  These are great for quick early finishers, centers, etc.  They go quick, but it's easy to put an activity with the mazes such as writing sentences using the words being colored, or draw
a picture of each word colored.  Your students will love these as well!

Finally, in your freebie is a shark themed read, highlight & sort passage.  These passages were designed for 2nd/3rd grade students who need longer more rigorous passages but still need to
focus on phonics!  Students read the passage and highlight the specific phonics content - in this case the AR sound.  Then the students sort the words in a way they seem fits.  The second page of the passage is to help extend the questioning and comprehension of the passage with a bit of creative writing!

If you LOVE these freebies and want to see the REAL DEALS, make sure to check them out!  

Remember - the phonics mazes are soon to come!

Want MORE shark week freebies - Check out the next stop in the hop! Just click the shark below to keep on reading!  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

20 Whole Group Differentiation Techniques for ANY Grade!

Crap..  I said a bad word!!  We all know, as teachers, that the 'D' word is one of the most feared words in education.  Yes, we all know its a must do - but it truly is one of the hardest elements to incorporate into your every day classroom routine and lessons.  Many teachers feel more comfortable differentiating (eek!  I said it again) when the students are in small groups.  That seems and feels like the most natural way to differentiate, and rightfully so!  But what about when the class is together in whole group?  Whether we like it or not that has to happen at some point in our day.  So I've gathered 20 different whole group differentiation techniques that can be applied to any classroom, any grade, and any subject!  There's a printable copy of all of these ideas at the bottom of the post.  I have mine printed and in my teaching binder so I can refer to it when writing my lesson plans and sometimes even when I'm teaching!  I hope you can find one or two that you've never tried!  :)  

#1:  Sketch & Write
     After asking a question, give the students a choice on whether they want to write their answer in a sentence (or two) OR if they want to sketch out their answer.  This gives the students a little more freedom and takes the pressure off of those who don't like to write.  Make sure though, that everyone gets a chance to explain their drawing to check for accuracy!  

#2:  DOK Questions
     You've all probably heard of Blooms Taxonomy - but the 'new' up and coming questioning technique is asking a variety of DOK (Depths of Knowledge) questions.  There are 4 different levels.  Most elementary classrooms will be asking mostly level 1 & 2 with a push for level 3.  Upper grades need more level 3 & 4.  DOK is different from Blooms because Blooms is all about the verb.  DOK is what you do AFTER the verb.  Here's a quick visual for reference.  If you want more info on DOK, let me know!  By asking a variety of DOK questions during your whole group time, you can easily differentiate for each of your learners.

 #3:  Assign Roles
      During your model and core teaching, assign a few students with specific roles or jobs that they have to accomplish by a certain point in the lesson.  I usually think of the students that I know will either struggle paying attention OR those that will or have been struggling on a specific part of this concept.  These roles can be as simple as "Brandon, I want you to watch me model and when I'm done, tell me what the first thing I did was."  This gives Brandon a specific thing to be watching and listening for!  It could also be a question you want a student to answer.  Example:  "Carrie, when I'm done modeling I want you to tell me what the word product means."  Giving these roles can be very powerful!

#4:  Grouping
     This is one you probably already do well in practice.  Grouping during whole group for small discussions can help bring those lower level students out of their shell when talking with others either on their own level, or talking to those above them.  This can be done in a turn and talk or a stand up - pair up technique.  But get them talking!  

#5:  Two Models
     One of the most important pieces of a strong lesson is the teacher's model.  This is when the teacher shows the students the thinking behind how to solve the problem in front of them.  This thinking is usually done on the level of the students that you're modeling for.  But if you have a variety of levels in your room for the model - it isn't fair that you cater to one level or the other.  So why not do two models!?  Start by modeling something more on or below level.  Then give those specific students a task to practice that concept with a partner back at their desk for 3-4 minutes.  Then with everyone who is left with you, do another quick model but with a harder problem.  Then send them back to their seats to practice for 3-4 minutes.  During this time you can check in on the first group you sent back and now you're all ready to move more into the lesson.  

#6:  Choice Boards
     Choice boards are very simple to make and very fun for students to complete.  On the board you can have a variety of tasks, problems, or even questions about a specific text in reading, science, or social studies.  You can even go as far as labeling the difficulty of each box.  Let the students know that these boxes are easy, these are doable, and these are harder.  Then guide them as you walk around to which boxes they should probably be completing.  

#7:  Text Levels
     This example works best when working on a unit or nonfiction type topic.  For example:  Let's say you're studying Dr. Martin Luther King.  In the unit, expose the students to a variety of text levels regardless of their level.  Use an excerpt from a more difficult text and an excerpt from an easier text and require that all readers use all levels of text for their activity or question.  Exposure to all levels of text is a great way to show students what's out there and where they can be striving for as a reader.  This can work in math too with exposing them to a variety of difficulty in the types of questions and problems.  It is OKAY to ask a question that only maybe 1-2 students in the class can answer.  That is great exposure for them!  

#8:  Discussion
     Again, this is one you all probably use on a daily basis - but it has so much potential to be a truly powerful differentiation tool.  A good teacher will use the discussion coming from the back and
'forthness' of questions and answers between teacher and students or students and students to help guide where their conversations with each person go.  Discussions can be very differentiated if the teacher is receiving the data back from the students correctly and responding appropriately.  

#9:  Feedback
     This idea goes right along with #8.  Giving academic feedback to a student is a wonderful and easy way to differentiate for each student individually even when whole group.  When a student gives an answer - the teacher's response needs to be academic based as opposed to just 'good job' or 'you're right!'.  We are all guilty of it and yes, we can say that sometimes, but to get a true discussion the teacher needs to respond to a student's answer with appropriate academic based feedback.  So for example if a student, when asked what's the main idea of the article, says "I think the main idea is about how penguins survive in the winter."  The teacher would respond with "Excellent, how do you know that?"  (Making them justify their answer).  The student would say, "I know this because throughout the text the headings all referred to penguins and they all had the same topic in common of everything they do to survive in the winter."  This is where academic feedback can be powerful.  Instead of saying "Good job" and move on - validate that student's thinking not only for them, but for the rest of the class to hear.  Teacher would say "I love how you were able to find those commonalities throughout the headings of the article and use them to find the main idea.  That's a great reminder to use those text features when trying to find what the entire article is about."  In those two sentences you've validates that child but also TAUGHT the class how to find main idea.  Feedback is powerful!

#10:  Sentence Frames
     Sentence Frames are an easy way to help differentiate for the lower level students when being asked to verbally or write a written answer to a question.  This allows the student to do more of a 'fill in the blank' but still left to fill in the most important parts of the question as well as have a model to format their answer both verbally and written.  

#11:  Visuals
     Such a fun and easy way to differentiate - use visuals throughout the lesson you're teaching.  Remember though, that it is important to teach the students HOW to anchor their learning to the visual.  You can't just have it up and expect the students to use it.  In your model, show them when it is appropriate to use it and how it can be helpful.  This can help any level of learner!

#12:  Using Text Excerpts
     This is a grand idea to help all learners feel included in on a discussion of a specific text.  Find a text that meets more of your higher level of students and from that, find an excerpt or two and cut those out.  This is what you will give to your lower level of students.  Your discussion and questions will come from primarily the two excerpts you've taken but the higher students can pull from the entire article to help answer and justify their answers.  Everyone feels apart of the discussion and you've used one text but easily given everyone something they can handle!

#13:  Talking Chips/Colored Cotton Balls
     My teachers went CRAZY over this idea when I presented it to them!  Talking chips are a great way to hold students accountable.  Each student is given a certain number of talking chips and by the end of the given time, the chips must be gone.  For each time they contribute to the discussion or answer a question they can put their chip back.  The colored cotton balls are a twist on this idea!  Give each student the same number of cotton balls, each student a different color. Same rules as above with the talking chips - but with this idea, you can monitor who has been talking more and who needs to contribute more!  

#14: Learning Contracts
     Learning Contracts are similar to choice boards.  The nice thing about a learning contract and the way you can differentiate for your students.  On learning contracts you can have different sections of difficulty and then assign the students to do a certain number of questions or problems from each section.  So your higher students will have more to do in the harder section but your lower students might have more on the easier side - but both getting exposure both all types of problems.  This also allows them to have choice even though they have been told the number of problems in each area to do.  

#15:  Task Cards
     Task cards are very popular right now and can be a very simple way of differentiating.  Have a variety of leveled cards for your students to pick from to give them a wide exposure to different questions.  OR you can color code the task cards and assign specific students to a specific color of card allowing everyone to participate in the activity at once, but having differentiated problems!

#16:  Side by Side Reading
     Side by Side reading is very similar to the variety of text levels.  The only difference is that you have the texts copied next to one another creating (hopefully) one large text or article for the students to read. Then when you assign the article you are making it look like specific sections are being assigned to specific students when in fact you're really assigning specific levels to specific students.  This idea may take some prep work and some cutting and pasting to create your perfect article.  This can work in math to by mixing up the level of problems throughout the page but knowing which problems are which levels when you assign them to students!

#17:  Jigsaw Text
     If you haven't done a jigsaw text activity in your class you need to RIGHT NOW!  It's a fantastic activity!  Take an article or page and give it to everyone but break it down into manageable sections.  Then number your students off into the number of groups that equals the number of sections.  (5 sections means 5 people in each group)  Have them get into their groups and then have each person take a section of the text.  When they know which section that they are responsible for - they then
break out into their 'specialist' groups - meaning if I'm in charge of section 1 then I'm going to meet with everyone else in the class that's also in charge of section one.  While in the specialist groups - they read the text or solve the problems and become experts on that section.  When time is up - they go back to their original groups and present their findings on their sections.  This allows students to focus on small portions of texts or pages but still have collaboration and exposure to the entire text.  Jigsaw baby!

#18:  Graphic Organizers
     G.O's are one of the most common way to differentiate.  Take any concept you're teaching and find a way to push your higher and assist your lower with the way the G.O. is organized & the types of questions that are on the G.O.  Everyone is working on the same topic but being pushed where needed!

#19:  Weather Reports
     Also known as checking for understanding, have a specific type of weather report somewhere in the lesson.  This can be having a thumbs up or down, a fist or five, or my favorite - using unifix cubes in red, yellow, and green for the students to show me what they are feeling throughout the entire lesson.  You can read more about that idea HERE!  This can help differentiate by knowing how the students are feeling and getting the concept, which will help with questioning and grouping your students!

#20:  Open Ended Exit Tickets
     Exit tickets are great, but having something open ended will truly get a feel for what the students are capable of doing and give them a chance to shine.  Put a few different questions and give them a choice for which question to solve to make their ownership even more.

Whew!  That was a long one, but I hope you got an idea or two out of it.  I would LOVE to hear your ideas on whole group differentiation.  Please let me know if you have any question about anything.  If you'd like to have all of these ideas on one document, you can download that HERE!  Happy Teaching!  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I've Done My First Read - Now What!?

Are you and your students completely engrossed with the 'new' close reading strategy fad?  Yes, it is what many teachers were already doing - rereading to find text evidence. But what I love about Close Reading is how specific it gets and gives the students concrete objectives for each read.  There are so many different versions of close reading, a teacher can truly make it their own with keeping the best pieces.

One of the pieces of close reading I really focused on this past year was the types of questions being asked during each read and teaching my students how to identify those questions.  By the end of the year, my students were able to read the questions of an article prior to reading the article, and they were able to tell me which read they would be able to answer that question on and why.  This took a lot of work - but it was so worth it!

One of the ways I was able to do this was by teaching my students what each read was about, specifically starting with the first read.  That first read is supposed to be the 'big picture'.  I'm not supposed to remember specific details of events.  I might, but I'm not required.  I need to know those big ideas - and with that I should be able to answer some big idea questions.  In our classroom - here were those questions:

  • What is the main idea?
  • What is the author's purpose of the text?
  • What is the genre of the text?
  • What is the theme? (if not nonfiction)
  • What is the author's perspective about _____?  
These questions were asked after EVERY first read no matter what our overall objective was.  So if I was teaching making inferences and we had completed our first read - we took time to go over these questions to make sure we had that 'big picture' in mind.  But was we came to find was just asking these questions after each first read, got a little redundant.  So of course I had to find ways to put a spin on it!  So today I get to share with you 7 different and engaging activities you can do after a first read on any article or text!    No matter how you tackle a close read - these activities can help spice up your close reading and get the students truly engaged in knowing that 'big picture' of the text before you dig deeper!

#1 - Color Coded Questions
     This is a fun and simple idea to help minimize the work your students do, but allowing them to still be able to hear and be a part of the entire discussion.  All you need is different colored beads (or something similar to) and the recording sheet.  Pass out the beads, one to each student and assign one of the first read questions (see above) to each color.  I write my colors and questions on the board for a visual.  Have the students get out a crayon that matches their color of bead.  As they read the text, they use their crayon to underline evidence to support their answer for their question only.  After reading, record their answer for their question only.  Then go over each question calling on the students with that bead.  If it wasn't their question - they then listen and record the answer to the other questions!  Quick, fun, focused, and simple!  (See bottom of post to download recording sheet)

#2 - Group It!
     This easy idea can be done on scratch paper or post its.  Using the same first read questions, ask one question at a time and give them about 1-2 minutes to answer.  Then pull out a popsicle stick of a fun way to group the students.  These fun ways can include:  birthday month,  tallest to shortest, youngest to oldest, etc.   Pull out a popsicle stick or verbalize how you want them to be grouped.  Group them quickly and then in their groups they go around sharing their answers for the question.  They must then pick what they think is the strongest answer to be shared.  Allow each group to share their answer and discuss.  Go back to your seat for question #2 and repeat!

#3 - Reverse It!
     This is a fun one!  All you need for this is index cards and markers.  You have a bit of prep work for this one but I promise it doesn't take too much time.  Prior to the first read, create index cards with the ANSWERS to all of the first read questions of your text.  Write each answer in a different color.  (ex:  all my main idea answers are in blue)  You'll want to make multiple copies of each card so you have enough for everyone to have their own card.  So when I did mine I made 5 of each answer card so altogether I had 25 cards.  Before the first read, pass the cards out to the students and review with them what the 'big picture' first read questions are.  Tell them that today you're going to reverse the roles and that you've given then the answers to the first read questions - but they have to figure out which first read question they have been given.  Complete your first read and then give the students time to write which question they think their index card answers - write it on the back of the card.  Then have the students group themselves by color (technically it's by question but they don't know that!)  Have them make sure everyone in their group has the same color then have them compare their answers - which technically is the question they just wrote.  If someone in their group has a different question written down, odds are they are incorrect and need go go back to their seats to rethink - which gives you an opportunity to give some one on one help!  Have each group share out and discuss!

#4 - Poster Time!
     Gather up some small poster boards for this one - you can even reuse some that are used up on one side.  After the first read, group the students into small groups (3-4) and give each group a poster board and a marker.  Have them create 3 first read questions and write them with space in between on their board.  When done, have them trade with another group.  Now they must answer the questions created by that group and justifying their answer!  Trade back and grade - then group back together and share out!

#5 - Dice it Up!
     This idea is simple and ready to go - just add dice!  Same first read questions, but put the students into partners and have them roll to see which question they get to answer first.  OR even better and if you want to do more whole group - create your own first read dice by taping index cards to each side of a square tissue box and rolling it as a class and recording your answer!  (Freebie included in the download below!)

#6 - Note Taking!
     Have you kids practice the art of note taking while you're doing your first read.  Make a version of the Lotus Diagram (see below).  In each of the 8 squares is one of the first read questions/concepts.  In the middle of the Diagram is the title of the article/story.  Have the students place a star in 3 of the boxes.  Those will be the three questions/concepts that the student focuses on - all 8 would be overwhelming!  As they do their first read, stop ever now and then and give the students time to take 'notes' - they may need this modeled to them.  They can write evidence or summarize something from the text - but they need to write it in the box that matches their question that they stared.  When done - have them partner up with someone else and compare notes - discuss as a class.  (Blank one included in the download)

#7 - Evidence Flow Chart
     This is one of my favorite ones!  After completing the first read - pick out different pieces of evidence from the text and write it on the board.  Have the students then create a web or flow chart of "What does this show me?".  This means - based on this evidence - what do I now know?  For example the sentence:  "The bear picked up the chair and threw it across the room." would be a great piece of evidence to show me the genre as well as a character trait for the bear.  It's almost like a role reversal!  After doing this a time or two whole group - your students might enjoy doing this in smaller groups!  

I hope you are leaving with a fun idea or two to help get your readers engaged and conversing after that first read.  If you're interested in any of the printables, you can get them here for free!  Let me know what YOUR favorite first read activities are - I'd love to hear them! :)  

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