Earth Day Service Project!

The month of April is a glorious month.  If you're living in a state with winter, you know exactly what I'm talking about ;)  Spring is so close you can smell it, flowers are beginning to bloom around the yard and the birds are finally chirping letting you know there's life outside of your 4 walls besides SNOW!  Our world is finally reawakening and there's a lot on our to-do lists...  Including Earth Day!  Each year, teachers all over take time out of their regular scheduled program to teach students of all ages about the importance of taking care of our dear Mother Earth.  Reading passages, cute paper projects, and fun bulletin boards are all wonderful, but why not try and take the impact you're trying to make outside of your school?  Why not try a service project!?  Need a fun, SIMPLE, and cost free one?  Keep reading!

Here's all you need to do:  

Find a local grocery story that is near your school, a place where the majority of your school's families would be shopping.  Call ahead and speak with the manager (so you don't catch them off guard).  Explain that Earth Day is approaching and you'd like to do a project with your class and you need their help.  :)  

Once you have their attention, reassure them that they won't need to spend any money or donate any merchandise for this project - how can they say no now?!  

Ask them to donate X number of brown PAPER grocery bags to your school.  Explain that you're going to have the students decorate them to help remind their community to reduce, reuse, and recycle for Earth Day!  When the bags have all been decorated, explain that you'll bring them back for the store to use with their customers the week/day of Earth Day!

FREE Earth Day Passage!

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Need a fun Earth Day close reading passage for your week? Just enter your email below and it's all yours! Happy Earth Day!

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Check out some of the adorable bags my scholars made a few years ago:

If the store will let you, you can even make a large banner to hang in the grocery store to let its patrons know who the bags were decorated by!

Community members from all over will receive these adorably decorated bags and be reminded of the importance to take care of our Earth!  (Please remember to not have students put any personal information on the bags - even first and last names!)  And don't forget to let your students' parents know to go grocery shopping that day too!  They will definitely want to snag one of these bags for themselves!  

So this Earth Day, help make a greater impact and let your students be involved!  They will enjoy knowing that others will get to see their work and that they are reminding the public about such an important topic!

Want to remember this for next year?  Pin this image! :)

Close Reading in a Snap!

As teachers, we know that 'educational fads' come and go with the years, many of which come back with a different name but the same old information.  Because of this, teachers sometimes neglect listening and learning about the 'new' strategies that are being presented.  Well - if you haven't listened to this one yet, you're going to want to.  Close Reading isn't just the same old 'fad' and it isn't going anywhere.  So let's stop, learn, and implement this amazingly successful reading strategy... in a SNAP!

What is Close Reading?

Close reading is the purposeful re-reading and analysis of short and complex texts!  Easy, right?  Let's break that down a bit more. ;)

Purposeful Re-reading, in close reading terms, means that we are having our students read the text
These mini anchor charts are GREAT to allow
student to keep & use during their reads!
three times.  Each read is to help uncover specific layers of meaning and lead to deeper levels of comprehension.  Students are noticing additional details about the text each new read.  Each read has a specific purpose:

#1 - Key Ideas & Details
#2 - Craft & Structure
#3 - Integration of Knowledge & Ideas

If you hadn't noticed, these 'topics' are actually the 3 main categories of the ELA Anchor Standards for Reading.  So as the students complete each read, the questions and tasks they are asked to do should align with each of those specific components of the standards.  Another way to think about it is this:

#1 - What did the text say?
#2 - How did the text say it?
#3 - What does the text mean?

So during each of these 're-reads', students have specific jobs and tasks to do.  During the 1st read, students are being introduced to the text (minimal activation of prior knowledge), and after reading are answer text dependent questions about the 'big picture'.  In the 2nd read, students are guided to think about how the text works and why the author wrote it.  Again they will answer text dependent questions mainly about vocabulary and text structure.  Finally in the 3rd read, the students are thinking deeper and becoming 'experts'.  They are answering their final text dependent questions OR writing prompts.

How Do Students Analyze the Text?

Having annotating bookmarks for your students
makes analyzing the text more simple & FUN!
As students are completing the reads, their job is to analyze the text in different ways.  One way for them to do this is with a pencil, also known as annotating.  When students do this, they are marking ideas in the text that they really want to remember or that they think are important.  Many teachers do this by introducing a variety of 'text markings' for the students to use.  It doesn't matter which markings you use, just that the students truly understand each marking and have had to chance to watch the teacher model the marking sufficiently before being asked to use it independently.  

Another important concept to remember when engaging in the close reading strategy is the usage of 'complex' texts.  This term came about from the introduction of Common Core Standards and College & Career Readiness.  In order for a text to be considered complex, there are three important factors it must include:  qualitative measures, quantitative measures, & reader & task.  These aren't as scary as they sound! :)  Qualitative measures are all of the areas of a text that can't be measured by a computer, such as the meaning, literary elements, figurative vs implicit language, etc.  Quantitative measures are all of the areas of a text that CAN be measured by a computer - Lexile level, word length, word frequency, sentence length, etc.  And finally reader & task simply include the students' motivation
level, background, interest, and what are the students being asked to do with the text.  Are you using complex texts?  

So How Do I Get Started?

To get started, begin by trying to answer these questions:
  • How often & when will I have my students complete a close read?
  • How much time will it take out of my daily reading block?
  • What texts will they read and where will I find them?
  • How will I support my students will evidence based responses?
Once you've answered these questions, I think you'll be ready!  And don't worry about getting it perfect.  There's nothing you can really mess up in this process!  Just go with it and have fun!  

My 7 Minutes A Day Close Reading Routine!

So as you already know or can tell by the information you've learned from close reading, it's quite a lengthy process.  For a student to do a full close read in one sitting would take a long chunk of time
These passages are perfect because they include
each day's instructions directly next to the passage!
and I don't know about you, but I don't have time for that!  #toomuchtodo  So how CAN we fit it all in?  Here's MY routine and how I get it all in :)   I begin each reading block with my close reads.  I use it as their reading warm up to get their brains going and in the 'reading mode'.  Once they are independent with close reading, this is great to have them do while I'm gathering homework, checking on students, etc.  

Day One:  Read entire passage & answer one wholistic question
Day Two:  Re-read the entire passage & mark up the text
Day Three:  Re-read the entire passage & complete the graphic organizer
Day Four:  No re-reading necessary.  Answer the 3 text dependent questions
Day Five:  No re-reading necessary.  Write an extended response using evidence from the text

It's that simple!  I take 7 minutes at the beginning of my reading block each day and by the end of the week, we've become experts at our close reading topic!  No fuss, no mess - just simple, engaging
I place my toolkits in 6x9 manilla envelopes, but you can place them in
anything that works for you!  
reading!  To make it even MORE engaging, I make & give each of my students their own Close Reading Toolkit!  Inside the kit I place:  highlighter, my annotating bookmark, post it notes, a small magnifying glass, arrow stickies, pencil, and mini anchor charts.  Students are allowed to access these kits at any time during our close reads (and other times throughout the week when instructed).  They
know how special these kits are and take great care of them!  You can grab your students' kits just by clicking here ---->  Close Reading Toolkits!  And I've even thrown in a few extra surprises just for the teacher!  (Close Reading questioning foldable, Close Reading Focus planning page, & EIGHT Spice It Up Close Reading strategies that will help engaging your students during your close reading).  If you have any questions about how to put the close reading toolkits together, just let me know :)  

I hope that you know a little more now about close reading than you did when you started reading.  I'm happy to answer any questions you may have :)  If you need some engaging close reading passages to get you started, definitely check out my TpT store and grab them!  

Too much to read right now?  Pin me for later!  

Building a Culture of Collaboration

     Unfortunately I've seen it and heard it many times..  "My students just won't collaborate!  They won't get along during group activities.   They don't know how to collaborate."  Many teachers get frustrated with their class when this happens.  Students are given this amazing and engaging activity to do in a group, to collaborate together to complete a project or even as simple as answer a question - yet - it doesn't happen. Instead, students are thrown into a situation where, by no fault of theirs, they are not ready for.  Many teachers forget to take the vital step of setting up their classroom for success during collaborative activities.  They haven't yet built a culture of collaboration in their classrooms.

     For true collaboration to take place, teachers must establish a classroom culture conducive to student interaction and to students taking on active roles in the classroom learning community.  Teachers have to get comfortable with losing some of the control they have over talk-time and over wide but shallow coverage of a huge amount of content.  <----- THIS IS HARD!  I get it.  True collaboration can only take place when teachers first, take the time to build the culture and secondly, take a step back and allow collaboration to happen.  So let's break this down.  How DO we build a culture of collaboration?

Step One - Accepting Student Differences

“A leader’s job is to touch every one of those people so they know they’re free to think and do things better.”
* Are our students free to think and do things better?
* How would our students react to knowing that they are all unique, and that their differences are not just tolerated, but that their differences, perspectives, and diverse experiences actually add to the small-group and classroom learning experiences?
* What would our classrooms look like if we truly believed that of our students?

Let’s make a commitment to ourselves and to our students that we will not be the type of teacher who never knows how deep our students’ thinking can be.  Let’s instead use multiple ways of giving students opportunities to demonstrate the depths of their cognitive abilities.  

Step Two - Fostering Student Collaboration

How are you grouping your students?
*Choice of group
*Mixed ability
*Face-buddy or shoulder-buddy
*Strategic grouping

How are your desk arrangements conduscive to fostering collaboration?
*U-shaped to allow teacher to be apart of the conversation?

Regardless of group or arrangement, it is the teacher’s informed judgements that make each grouping scenario work.  Teachers make decisions based on their own teaching styles and their experiences with the students in their classroom.  They make decisions based on the trust that they placed in each student, believing that, although the students were different, each had valuable gifts to share within their groups.  Another part of this is finding unique opportunities to allow students to talk to one another in structured yet collaborative ways. Check out my Engagement Strategy Cards for over 60 different ideas to help get you started!

Step Three - Peer Rejection and Peer Acceptance

Research has shown a direct correlation between participation and self-concept within students.  Peer rejection is & can be a major factor in the decrease of self-concept therefore decreasing participation as well.  It is our job as teachers to create an environment where students feel safe to participate. How do we create classrooms where everyone feels free to participate?  For the answer to that question, let’s talk about #4:  ‘Rippling’ questions and prompts.

Step Four - Asking Rippling Questions
What happens when you ask a deep, thought provoking question to the class at the end of a lesson?All students should have the opportunity to reflect upon and answer the deeper, higher level, reflective type questions.  To do that, teachers need to ‘ripple’ their questions. Allow all students to respond and reflect by means of quick writes or quick draws.  Students can also be given the chance to pair up and discuss with partners before then being asked to discuss whole group.  
Step Five - Building Confidence
Students need the opportunity to feel validated and have their voice heard.  When this happens through collaboration in the classroom, their confidence in themselves increases.  
Teachers can help facilitate student confidence by:
* Validating students’ answers
* Encouraging students to share with others
* Not accepting incorrect answers
Step Six - Building Trust - The Teacher Belief System

In order for students to collaborate and learn freely, trust needs to be a center focus and pillar of the classroom.  Trust takes work and it is earned. In order for a classroom to be centered around trust, it begins with the teacher’s belief system.  Does the teacher really believe that kids are capable of big things?  Do you trust them? Do you think that they want to learn?  Do you trust that they have amazing things to share?  Do you trust that they can learn from each other especially because of their learning differences?  Do you trust that if they trust themselves, amazing things will happen?

Step Seven - Students Trusting Themselves

A collaboration focused classroom doesn’t just work if the students trust the teacher and the teacher trusts the students - the students also need to trust in themselves.  This comes with building confidence! What are you doing to encourage and teach your students to trust in themselves?

Step Eight - Walking Around and Following Through

What does ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ really do for us?  If you are expecting all students to participate and collaborate then they also need to be held accountable to those standards.  Our jobs during this time is to encourage, facilitate, and move around asking questions to help and guide students.  Students will pick up on the expectations you are laying down by holding them accountable for their participation.  With consistency, classrooms can become a place where students not only enjoy the interaction but expect it.  But follow through is necessary.  

Step Nine - Moving Away from Right & Wrong

In most scenarios that require students to display higher-order thinking, teachers will no longer be looking for the ‘right’ answer.  Instead, multiple possibilities often exist.   Allow students to evaluate their learning and justify their answers. Allow wait time, processing time alone or with partner/small group - more likely to get better whole group conversation. Students become invested in the different points of views being shared, learning how to agree and disagree with peers.  

So let's take a minute to reflect on these steps and your own classroom...

 *What are your thoughts on the importance of student interaction?

*What have you noticed regarding students who do and do not experience success in your classroom?

*What are the dynamics of peer rejection and peer acceptance in your classroom? What role can you play in promoting peer acceptance?

*How is trust evident in your classroom? what can you do this week to increase the trust and student confidence in your classroom?

*How can trust and accountability coexist within a classroom?
So there you have it. When something collaboratively doesn't go right in your classroom next time, stop and think about these steps and questions. Where could you support your students more to help build this culture in your classroom? What could you change/do to have the biggest impact on their ability to collaborate with one another? The smallest change could have the biggest impact. :)

Get the Most Out of Teaching Nonfiction Text Structures

Teaching Nonfiction is sometimes like teaching a foreign language to children.  Yes, the words may look the same to them and they may be able to read the words - but understanding the format, structure, visuals, concepts, etc is vastly different compared to fictional texts.  It's very important that we (the teachers) are being very intentional about teaching not just about Nonfiction as a genre but also teaching about all of the differences Nonfiction has to offer.  Text Structures is one of those differences!  

So we all know the main nonfiction text structures:  Descriptive, Compare & Contrast, Sequential (Chronological), Cause & Effect, and Problem & Solution.  As a coach, one of the main problems I see when teachers teach text structures - is that teachers are instead teaching each of these reading skills/strategies just with a nonfiction text.  They aren't actually teaching the students the organizational structures of a nonfiction text.  Students need to be able to analyze a nonfiction text and see how the author has organized the information in the text to best support the reader.  Just as a fictional author pre-thinks through the fictional structure of his/her book (plot, characters, setting, etc) a Nonfiction author does the same with his/her content.  How will I best organize these facts and information to allow it all to flow and make sense to my reader.  When students understand these structures and can identify them within a nonfiction text, they are better able to apply other essential reading skills such as main idea, key details, summarizing, etc.  Below, I have come up with 5 essential tips on helping you get the most out of teaching nonfiction text structures to your students!  

Tip #1:  Relate Text Structures to Text Features.  

Text features are essential to teaching nonfiction and are fun to teach too!  But have you ever noticed the correlation between them and the text structure of a nonfiction text?  It's not a completely black and white method, but many text features connect perfectly with certain text structures.   Identifying and discussing this connection with your students helps to deepen their understanding of not just the structure, but also the text features and the text as a whole as well.  Here are some ways you can try this:  When analyze a text for it's structure, ask the students 'what text features would be appropriate to add to this text?'  If you find texts with strong text features and evidence of a text structure, cut out the features and play a matching game.  Can they decide which feature goes with which text based on its structure?  Can't find any texts like that?  I've got you covered!  Check out this resource that includes two rigorous and ready to print text feature & text structure lessons to practice with!  

Tip #2:  Use Graphic Organizers when teaching Text Features

Since text structures are ultimately about how the author organized the facts and information in the text to best support the readers' understanding, doesn't it make sense to have students use graphic organizers to analyze the structures of a text?  Allowing students to go both ways and analyze a text's structure using a graphic organizer tremendously helps their understanding and comprehension of the information!  You can start with a text and allow students to break up the information into the graphic organizer.  OR you can start with an organizer and see if students can use facts to build a paragraph with a specific text structure as the focus.  So much rigor and so little time!  There are a lot of graphic organizers out there but here are the ones I use!  Click on the photo or the word here (in the previous sentence) to grab these for free!  

Tip #3:  Only Use Key Words to Help Scaffold your Teaching of Text Structures

Sometimes identifying the structure of a nonfiction text isn't as black and white to students.  And many teachers JUMP right into teach key words to help identifying the structures.  Please hold off for as long as possible to teach the 'key words' of specific text features!!  If you've taught them then you KNOW that they don't always work and 50% of the time they cause confusion for students.  Instead, focus on the totality of the text and the purpose the author wrote it for instead of jumping straight into key words.  When all of those fail, then you can use the key words for the students who need the scaffolding help.  But make sure to let them know, they don't always work!  

Tip #4:  Relate the Structure of the Text to the Main Idea of the Text!

Ugh!!  Main idea....  HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO TEACH THIS!?  A lot, yes, I get it!  But linking other strategies and skills to Main Idea will help strengthen the students' understand and ability to identify the main idea of a text.  Text Structure is perfect for this!  Here's an example:  Reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln?  The text structure clearly would be sequential.  How can knowing THAT help the students understand that the main idea of the text is about Lincoln's life?  Or.. Are you reading a text that's describing the effects of pollution in the air?  The text structure is most likely cause and effect.  Again, how can knowing THAT help the students understand the main idea?  Structure and Main Idea are like cousins - teach them in the same lesson (a few times at least) and your students will thank you!

Tip #5:  Deliberately Teach the Difference between Fictional Structure and Nonfiction Structure

Ok, last tip!  It's interesting that we refer to nonfiction text structures as the way that we organize a nonfiction article and information, but why don't we do this for fiction?  The story elements (plot,
character, setting, theme, etc) are essentially the structure of a fictional text!  We drill and kill the story elements when we teach fictional texts.  Those are always the questions we ask when reviewing any text!  When planning our writing for a fictional text, we think through each of the elements before we write.  The nonfiction text structures mirror this type of organizational thinking and when explained to students this way, something just clicks!  Teaching text structures will no longer be about using a nonfiction text to just reteach sequencing or cause and effect.  It will truly be about understanding the organization thinking behind the text, the purpose for why it was written, and the main idea of the entire article.

I hope these tips have been helpful!  Teaching Text Structures is one of my favorite parts about teaching Nonfiction.  We dig and get our hands dirty in those texts and come out stronger readers because of it!  

Need something engaging and hands on to amp up your text structure lessons?  My TOP resource can help you out!  Check out my Text Structure Color Coding resource to get your started!  

Too much to read right now?  Pin this image below to come back and read more later!

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)  

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