Saturday, November 30, 2013

Close Reading Part 1: Evidence Based Terms

When our district first started implementing the common core about two-ish years ago I started hearing the words "close reading". I won't lie, at first I thought everyone was saying "cloze reading". I honestly kept thinking "Cloze reading is supposed to be the next big thing? This is the next thing that will save us all? This has been around forever!" Then we had a professional development on it and I was too embarrassed (until now obviously) to tell anyone what I had thought.

After the first professional development we had I was still confused. It seemed to me like this was something we were already having our students do in guided reading groups. We were asking higher level questions and trying to bring our students back into the text. I didn't really see how this was different.

That all changed when I got hired to train other teachers over the summer. Guess what the topic of the four-day long training was? You guessed it! Close reading. My first thought: "Yay." But I figured since I was going to be training other teachers, I better look into it. I was pretty amazed by what I found.

The fantastic and wonderful reading specialist at my school was my go-to person for this task. She had shown our faculty this video on close reading that really stated in simple terms what it was.

I really think my favorite part of the video is that you can tell that Dr. Fisher and the interviewer are not even in the same room! But I digress.

A close read is getting the students back into the text. We want our students to be able to justify their thinking or answers by using evidence from the text. We have had a big swing to building background knowledge and making connections. While those things are important and there is definitely a place for those in reading instruction, we have focused too much on them. I know it was very easy for me to ask my students what they thought or felt about a character or topic but I had a harder time asking them what the author thought or felt and how they could prove it.

So I decided that since I needed to be better, I would start small. I had taught my third graders the word justify. I do a lot of whole brain teaching (if you have never heard of it check out their website here). This means my students and I are actively responding, gesturing and repeating things all day. Whenever I said "Justify!" my students would respond "You can prove it!". They knew that this meant finding evidence for their answers. We had done this a lot with math and I knew it would be easy to transfer it to reading. I decided to make my "Evidence Based Terms Posters" and post them on my whiteboard in the front of the room. They made a huge difference in my teaching and my students answering!

I posted them where I could see them so I would remember to refer to them and I posted them where the students could easily see them so they could use them when answering. The terms that I used for my posters were:
* According to the text...
* The author stated...
* From the reading I know that...
* Because...
* For instance...
* For example...
* It said on page ___ that...

I started with one term at a time and showed them how to use it. I would do teacher think alouds and say things like "From the reading I know that Matilda loved going to the library." or "From the reading I know that Nick thought of the word frindle when walking home from school". Then I would encourage my students to use the phrase when they answered. When we had mastered one, I'd add another. I was amazed by how well they sounded. Then it started transferring into their writing! They began to complete assignments using these phrases without my direction to do so. It was awesome! (Of course I also had an assignment early on where my students wrote things like "For instance Matilda liked to read." and "The author stated I know that Nick liked to make up new words because it's fun to make up new words." Perfection thy name is not Cassie.)

If close reading overwhelms you, don't let it. This is not something that has to be done every day, for every reading. Start small like I did. Just use these phrases to bring your students back into the text when answering the questions you are already asking. I plan on posting more information on close reading: what a close read looks like, text-dependent questions etc. as I go. I am still learning so much about it and we can continue to learn together.

Have you done close reading in your classroom? What did it look like? What did you like or dislike?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanksgiving Persuasive Writing and a FREEBIE!

I have always had a hard time with Thanksgiving crafts. I can never seem to find the art project that is “so cute I just can’t stand it!” One year I tried cornucopia’s. I thought “Oh this will be unique and fun!” I had my students write one thing they were thankful for on each piece of food and we hung them in the hall. It wasn’t awesome. It was okay but not great. I decided that since I haven’t been able to find anything super amazing for my Thanksgiving craft, I would make it more academic based.

My thesis for my Master’s program was on writing, specifically expository writing. I knew from my studies and from talking to other teachers that when schedules are tight, writing is the first thing to get cut back or cut out. I think writing is so powerful and can reach so many students once they feel comfortable being the authors and not just the readers! So I figured now is as good a time as any to incorporate some writing.

One of the three main components of the common core writing standards is that of persuasive writing. I normally do a few persuasive pieces throughout the year but nothing for Thanksgiving. I decided to have my students write a persuasive piece from a turkey’s point of view. Now this may sound a little morbid (and it probably is) but I had my students write a letter to the farmer convincing them that they shouldn’t be the turkey picked for Thanksgiving dinner. They had to list their reasons and justify their answers. They actually turned out really cute!

If you are interested in doing a similar activity, you can download my FREE persuasive writing pages by clicking on the link below.

This is part of my Thanksgiving Turkey Pack that can be found by clicking on the link!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Character Traits Poster

I recently posted the above picture to my Facebook page as an idea to share. While I had done something similar the above picture isn’t mine. (I tried to find a link to give credit but the image didn’t link anywhere. If anyone knows whose it is please let me know!!) My pictures were on my classroom iPad that I no longer have! I created a new poster to show you with a younger student holding it so you didn’t have to look at my face. It will make me feel better about my handwriting capabilities if we just pretend that a third grader wrote it and not me!

 I really like this idea for many reasons. It is a fun, engaging activity that can be used for a variety of topics. The above picture used this idea for biographies. When I used it in my classroom, I did it with character traits. Hopefully this post will help you see how it worked for me!
We have been having a huge focus on close reading in our state and district trainings. Our school decided to give each grade level team one of the common core reading anchor standards and present a close reading lesson to the faculty. The standard we were given was directed at the characters in the story. (I believe that it was the CCRA.R.3 which is the anchor standard for reading number 3). We wanted to come up with something that was engaging for the students that went beyond filling out a worksheet.
My other teaching half had seen a similar picture on Pinterest (aka the best site on the planet). The picture she saw also covered biographies. She brought that picture to our attention and told us it would be fun to do the same thing using character traits. Then our students could present their posters to the class.

I didn’t have time between our assignment and the next faculty meeting to do this whole class. I decided to do it in two of my guided reading groups that had 5-7 students in each. This actually worked out to be a better idea because then I could work more one-on-one with the students to find the traits in their different books.

I took a normal size poster board and cut it in half. This could easily be done on a full poster board but I had a limited number of poster board and had some smaller students with a smaller arm span. I measured one of my students faces to give me an approximate shape. Then I traced it onto the boards and cut it out. Depending on your grade level you could have the students cut it out. Since I was presenting these in a faculty meeting I decided to cut them out.


I gave them to my groups and we talked about the assignment. Each of my guided reading groups was on a different book depending on their level so I had a wide range of character choices. Each student was able to pick which character they wanted to do their poster on. We went over the rubric that they would be graded on and what I was looking for. The task was pretty simple. Here are the guidelines that I gave them:

·       Create a brainstorm list of the character traits you have found so .

·       Find evidence/examples that shows that character trait. Remember to write the page number and a quote if applicable.

·       Draw the head of the person first.

·       In your nicest handwriting begin writing the character traits around the outside. These can be in many different styles of writing: print, cursive, bubble letters etc.

·       Underneath each trait write the page number of where you found the evidence for that trait. There can be more than one page.

Close reading has a major focus on finding evidence in the text to justify your answers. My students were used to my Evidence Based Terms and Language Arts Graphic Organizers and so finding evidence came easier to them than I think it would have previous years when I didn’t use my posters.

The students wrote in pencil first and then traced over it in marker. When they were finished we practiced presenting it. They pretended they were that character and said things like: “My name is Junie B. Jones. I am a smart student. You can tell I’m a smart student because I worked really hard on my homework and got a good grade on it.” They were so cute! When they felt ready we filmed them on my iPad so they could see it and so the other teachers could see it. They felt very special knowing that the other teachers wanted to see it.


I graded them using a simple Presentation Rubric that can be found for free by clicking on the link. This project took us 3-4 guided reading sessions of about fifteen minutes each.

I hope your students enjoy this as much as mine did!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Slide Cards for Fact Fluency

Recently the school that I worked for asked if I would make some products that would help students develop their fact fluency. This week they have parent-teacher-conferences and they wanted some products that they could pass out to parents to help their kiddos at home. I already had some things for the upper grades: triangle flashcards, part-part-whole multiplication and division flashcards, array flashcards, ZAP commutative property game and more.  (I'm almost done with a complete addition and subtraction fact fluency program called Mighty Math that I'm really excited about! I'll post more on that later!)

 I realized that I didn't have a lot prepped for the younger grades and that I would need to make a few things for them to choose from. This got my creative juices flowing. I love trying to figure out what is going to meet the needs of my students best. My other teaching half had recently requested that I create some ten frame flashcards. There is nothing out there quite like what she was looking for so I put something together. These ten frame flashcards are great for number recognition, memory games, making tens ( or nines or elevens etc.). That was the only thing that I had ready to go. I needed something that parents could handle (because let's be honest, it's easier to train the kids than it is the parents) and something that wasn't one time use. I had a lot of flashcards in my store and wanted to come up with something different. Enter the fabulous slide card.

 I thought the slide card would be an easy way for even our kinders to learn their math facts. I also wanted a way for one product to teach multiple concepts. We teachers are the ultimate multitaskers and we need the resources in our room to be multitaskers too. The concepts that can be covered using these slide cards are:
* addition facts 0-10

* subtraction facts 0-10

* making doubles

* commutative facts

* fact families

* making tens (or other numbers)

* identity property of addition

* zero property of addition

* fact families


The preparation is also really easy. You just need to print out the cards (cardstock is best but I printed them out on normal paper and it was okay). When I cut them out I noticed that it worked better if I cut them all along the black lines. I tried to fudge it a little bit and left some white edges on a few of them and all it did was show me that my mother was right when she said “Do it right or do it over.” I ended up having to go back and trim the white edges off along the black lines. Lesson learned, mothers are always right.

Then I cut out one of the white strips and folded it around the paper, creased the edges and taped the back closed. The first one I did, I folded the white slip exactly the same height as the card. I would recommend doing it slightly bigger so it’s a little more loose for little hands to maneuver.


That’s it! You’re done. The white slip of paper can be slid along the card to cover one of the addends or subtrahends, the addition or subtraction sign or the answer. By choosing what your students cover, you are (obviously) choosing what they are trying to study.

 These would be great whole class or in math centers, guided math practice and more!

If you are interested in my slide cards for addition and subtraction fact fluency (that’s somewhat of a mouthful isn’t it?) just click on the link!

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