Close Reading for the Holidays!

Friday, November 21, 2014
I am so excited to share my most recent project, "Holiday Pen Pals Around the World"!  Here is a little sneak peak at this project in action.  This project encompasses informational text, close readings, text-dependent questions, a flag ornament for each country, and summarizing response letters!!! Holidays with a little hint of CCSS. :) There are 12 different fictitious pen pals from different countries.  Your students will learn about all of the interesting and unique ways that each pen pal celebrates during the holidays in their own part of the world.  This took me quite a while to research!  But I thought it was worth it since I thought this would be a fun way for my (and your) students to learn this information! The countries included are Mexico, Egypt, England, China, Sweden, Poland, Tanzania, Russia, Poland, Italy, Netherlands, and the United States.  

 Before I let students go into small groups, I use one of the passages to model how to use annotation symbols in while reading.  The example below was the model that I used with my class.  We all did this one together and then I separated them in small groups and assigned each group to do a different country.  They LOVED it!  If you go to my TPT store, you can download the IRELAND passage as a freebie in my preview sample. 
(To give it a try!)

As a follow up, I had the students write BACK to their Pen Pal on a postcard ornament AND had they were able to decorate their Pen Pals flag.  We had SO much fun decorating this tree for our door!

Here is another example of the Pen Pal Ornaments!
The kiddos also completed some of the follow-up activities aligned to CCSS such as text dependent questions and supporting their answers with evidence from the text.

Finally, some students wanted to respond 
further to their Pen Pals!  
Download the PREVIEW to receive a FREE 
sample of this unit in my TPT store!

Close Reading Thanksgiving Passage Freebie!

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Last year I started experimenting with Close Reading in my 5th grade class! I needed to help students build their ability to read, respond, and retain text.  I wanted to someway capture their reactions and hopefully build their abilities to make inferences. 
 What is Close Reading? Close reading is a strategy that allows students to read, reread, and revisit smaller passages that contain complex vocabulary and information.  Close reading provides students with multiple opportunities to interact with text.  Students have the opportunity to find evidence in the text that they have read to support their thinking and understanding.

After I started experimenting with Close Reading during Language Arts, I thought, why not try close reading to teach the other subjects? As a 5th grade teacher, I feel immense responsibility to teach my students about how our nation began.  This is the year they need to learn the history of America so if they are not walking out of my door knowing who the two Georges were, when will they learn it?   In the past, I have even put social studies on the back burner in order to teach math and language arts.  Let’s face it, there is only so much time in the day!  So, the beauty was, I decided I could use Close Reading to teach social studies concepts. During my language arts block, I have found that teaching tricky topics such as the Columbian Exchange WITH close reading

techniques allows students more autonomy and ownership of knowledge because they have laser focus on content while annotating  (leaving symbols to show reactions) and paraphrasing in order to learn vivid vocabulary, make inferences, determine an author’s purpose, and visualize what they are learning.   Kids are interacting with complex vocabulary, annotating the text to show their reactions, AND responding to text dependent questions. I feel accomplished in the sense that I am providing students with tools for dissecting complex text that they often are faced with on a test.  

The changes that I have seen in my students are all about their ability to discuss and talk about what they are reading! I love having “coffee talks" where the students partner up and discuss their annotation symbols.  They talk about why they thought a word was considered complex and even help each other to determine the meaning.  They talk about what they agree or disagree with and why.  They talk about what surprised them and what they found interesting.  And the best part? The talking is productive, academic, but still FUN! They love it.

Here is a passage I use on the History of Thanksgiving to get you started with your kiddos! 
 Click on the picture below to be taken to this FREE download!

Have you started Close Reading in your classroom?

Adding Dialogue to create Tone in your writing!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Lately, we have been working on adding dialogue to narrative writing.  SO, I thought I would share with you a short activity that I made that the students can put into their interactive writing notebooks as a reference tool for creating dialogue.
The first thing I did was assess the student's knowledge of dialogue by asking them to write a conversation that they had recently with their parent.  This gave me a good glance at their overall knowledge!
Next, we talked about was how writers actually use dialogue as a "strategy" to achieve different goals while they are writing.  After students thought about dialogue as a strategy, they worked together in pairs to think of why writers use dialogue and what they are hoping to achieve. See the picture below for the great ideas my students came up with! 
My goal for the lesson was to show students that using dialogue in writing can help the author to create tone in their writing. Tone was a tricky topic for my students! Thankfully, one of my students made the connection that someone's tone of voice tells you how they are feeling so this really helped their understanding! We discussed how dialogue actually creates tone to your story because it gives you more insight to how a character is acting and feeling.  

To step up the "rigor" I also used the flower below to help the students visualize different speaker tags that could strengthen their dialogue and tone in their stories.  They came up with some amazing words! Using the thesaurus helped alot. Download all of these materials by clicking HERE or on any of the photos!
Do you have any tips for teaching dialogue?

The Art of Handling Off-Topic Question Askers!

Monday, November 3, 2014
Don't get me wrong, questions are a GREAT thing.  Students should be encouraged to ask questions so that they can learn! Let's look at the ON TOPIC question and the OFF TOPIC question.  ON TOPIC questions=awesome, wonderful, music to my ears.  OFF TOPIC questions=nails on a chalkboard!

The other day I was talking to my class about the 13 colonies.  We were having a REALLY interesting conversation (well at least in my opinion!) about the resources that were available to the colonists and we were just beginning to talk about why the middle colonies were referred to as the bread basket colonies. Exciting stuff!!!  Just then a student LEAPS out of their chair and is just on the brink of sharing what looks to be the most interesting piece of information!   

                "HAVE OUR BOOK ORDERS COME YET???????"  

This brings me to a very important topic. 
Off task question askers!  Sometimes students just need to ask whatever it may be at that given moment.

The other day, an idea just came to me! I knew I needed to think about the issue of off topic questions and needed to give students a strategy for getting their question written down (when it pops into their mind) so that I can answer them (at an appropriate time!)

The Question Jar  
      This morning, Monday, after a LONG Halloween weekend, my students walked in EAGER with questions.  I had about 4 come up to me with questions FIRST THING.  :) . I handed them a post-it note and pointed to the jar.  Student A looked at the jar, looked at me, and smiled. "CLE-VER!" she said.  "THANK YOU!" I said :)
So I received 37 total questions today. 

Are we switching jobs today?
Are our book orders here yet?
 Do the people that left early on Friday still get the treat bag?
Are we going to be reading after lunch?
Do you like pickles? 
Can we have a comment jar?

It was actually fun answering their questions before lunch/before going home and I think the excitement of the question jar will probably dwindle.  But it will still be there for off topic question askers for the rest of the year.  And of course, I had to make a comment jar based on the last question.  
Most of the comments had to do with the fact that I needed to change the clock because of Daylight Savings Time (which I need a LADDER for so that wasn't happening until after school!) My favorite, "You might want to change the time on the clock."
"You need to change our class clock 1 hour early.  Sunday was Daylight Savings."

Kidding aside, the comment jar did give one of my students the opportunity to tell me some important information about why they would be absent from school the following day which was PERFECT because it gave me the chance to get their work together.  

Click here for the link to make your OWN question/comment jar!

How do you handle off topic questions and comments?
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