Monday, April 30, 2012

Do you sort cards???

This strategy is a great one for sharing ideas and building vocabulary.  It takes minimum prep work and materials, too!  All you need are index cards and markers or pencils.

Here's what to do:

Students work by themselves to generate words or phrases that come to mind when they think of a certain topic.  They record these words on separate index cards. 

Then in a small group, students share the words they thought of and eliminate duplicates.

Students then sort the ideas into categories - the categories can be created by the students or the teacher.

Finally after the groups are done, take a walk around the room to see what each group has sorted. 

As a whole class, debrief....what did you notice? what surprised you? what would you change?

What does it look like in a real classroom???  I used it this week as a review before an end of unit test....

1. I asked the kids to brainstorm as many words and/or phrases as they could think of about the Civil War.  They could use their notebooks for support.
2.  Next, they worked in the group to eliminate duplicates.
3.  I gave them the categories to sort by -   North, South, West Virginia, Battles, Leaders, and Roles of Virginians.
4.  Then we did the gallery walk and debrief.

Total time was about 20 minutes...we made lots of connections across categories too!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Inside Outside Circles....

Last weekend, I had a talk this week about vocabulary strategies...I planned to talk about a different one a couple of days this week.  And then, life hit...I can't even say I had any thing special, but I seemed to be super busy!  My goal this weekend is to try and get the posts written so I can just press publish during the week.

Anyway....we are getting close to state testing time and the main thing we are noticing with our kids at risk of passing is that their vocabulary is weak.  No surprise right?

One way you can build this is using Inside Outside Circles. Now, this works best if you have a lot of room in your classroom to make a large circle.  You have half of your students make the outside circle and match them up with another student to make the inside circle. It looks something like this:

There are many ways you can use this format as I am sure you know...for review, spelling words, sharing weekend news, as a greeting... (for more ideas see this link)

Here is the way I use it to help build vocabulary in my classroom... First I pick a topic or category such as Holidays. Then we face each other and students on the outside circle share their word such as Christmas.  The person across from them then says a words that reminds them of that holiday - such as presents.  Then the outside circle moves to the next person.  I repeat the category "holiday" and they can either use the same holiday or choose another one.  The person on the inside circle will say a word that they think of. 

Why do I do this?  Well, I have found that a) it is fun and b) it allows our language rich students to expose our language poor students to new words in a fun and non-threatening way. 

I have created a PDF with a list of categories that will be available for FREE along with the other vocab strategies that I am going to feature this week.  It will be posted very soon on my TPT store. 

I hope you can use these to engage students in your classroom.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Active Learning build vocabulary

Let's talk...'s a make or break thing.  In my experience as a mother, it's pretty easy to build vocabulary with little talking to them.  You talk to them from the minute they are born - at the grocery store, the park, the mall...You talk to them when you read aloud books and they look at you with their sweet little eyes and say "what that mean mommy?"  You talk with them when you watch TV, movies, over dinner and at bedtime. Words surround your life...

But so many of our kids are lacking this experience.  Without is a problem in many households across the United States - mainly in our homes that struggle with poverty.  So how do you recreate those years of talking about words in your classroom? 

I think you have to be very mindful of how you do it.   I have a selection of students with a weak vocabulary who I purposefully meet with at least three times a week.  We read through a short passage and highlight words that we don't know the meanings for.  Then...just like I did with my babies, we talk.  We talk about what they mean, when you would see them...some times we "Google" the word to find an image to put a visual in their head.  Here's the thing - I do nothing to prepare for this except pick a passage on their reading level.  I have found that pre-teaching 8 prescribed words is not very effective for language weak kids.  For one thing, these may not be the words that they struggle with. For another, they have no ownership on the task. 

Some other activities that promote ownership of the language and exposure include Word Splashes & Graffiti walls which I have blogged about previously. 

This week I'm going to highlight a few other ways to get meaningful language embedded in our classrooms on a daily basis.

  • Using Inside-Outside Circles
  • Sort Cards
  • Five Card Draw
  • Tic-Tac-Toe
Hope they will help you engage your students.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Test Taking Motivation

  It is officially 20 days until state testing time and we are in crunch time. Do you know what we call our standards in Va?  SOLs (Standards of Learning).  I know, I know...giggle sounds like something else. 
  How do you review with your students?  Do you have Study Island?  Study island is a great website with games geared specifically to our standards.  You can access it on a regular computer, as well as an app for your ipad, kindle or other device.
We have created a study calendar with our students that breaks down our standards into smaller chunks and assigns different practice sessions using the computer on Study Island.  My own research shows that the kids who studied this way...a little bit each night over a course of a few weeks...scored better on the test than those who did not.  Of course, not every child has access to a computer every night. And so we also included a paper version of refrigerator cards for Virginia Studies, as well as skill specific review worksheets for math/reading (one a night).

Then you have to do I get them to actually do know, study???
Well we came up with this idea last year and it really worked. 

Our school uses Responsive Classroom and therefore we do not use ticket systems or prize boxes during the year.  However, for the four weeks before testing...we do...kinda.

Here is the plan...I made up a grid using a pocket chart that I duct taped to the wall with fancy tape.

Across the top it says S O L *(star) and down the side it is numbered 1 - 8. 

Then I took some two sided chips and wrote a letter or * on one side and the corresponding numbers on the other. To explain ...think of bingo chips like S 1, S 2, S 3, S 4 , S5, S6, etc...

Next, each day the students come in with their folder that houses the calendar.  If they have studied using the papers, then their parents need to initial it.  If they have studies on the computer (Study Island) I can check the results, see their scores and get my proof that they did indeed study. 
If they are in the clear, they can put their name on the chart.
Here is the fun part...then I pull a chip from the basket and call out a coordinate.  S-5.  If there is a student's name in there...then they get to choose from the prize bucket.  If not, I draw again. 
Now, I am a softy and therefore I pick two names a day.  I let the students know that it is totally random and you can get called at any time.  (This keeps them on their toes to study every day!)  I also tell them every one who studies will be rewarded at the end with a really good SOL well as a treat from me!
We switched to this method for several - they need motivation at this time of year.  (me too!) two - we used to use a pizza party for everyone who studied at the end...but that was too long to wait and after a while, some kids quit trying.  three - let's face it, our jobs are on the lines with these scores...we've got to do everything we can to get them to study and pass.

I have to say that I had several students in the past two year's class who took this to heart and really used this time to get caught up.  I had one child who had been retained twice and really struggled...she not only passed all three tests, she passed one with an advanced score. 

I hope it helps to engage your students during CRUNCH TIME....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Exit Cards...

Another way to have students summarize their thinking is through exit cards.  I have created a packet of exit cards that I use with science that you can down load for free.

In this packet I put together some of my favorite summary stems including....MIPS (most important point),  3,2,1 charts,
wonderings, questions, and reflections..  You can copy these and pass them out, or you can simply write them on the board for your students to copy on index cards. 

Exit cards do not need to be anything elaborate...but they do need to be analyzed.  They are a great way to see who got it, who may still be somewhat confused, and who is really lost.  I often take the cards with me at lunch and quickly read them and sort them into three categories.

Sometimes my team mates and I will come up with a math problem that we will give at the end of a lesson so we can see who needs reteaching. We use the exit cards to split kids up into formative teaching groups among the team.  It really works!!

Enjoy engaging your learners...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Summarizing with Think-Pair-Share

Oh I love think-pair-share and so do my students.  Can you imagine sitting in a classroom for 6 hours listening to an adult drone on and on about random things? Neither can our students.  They can't sit quiet and stay engaged...they simply can't! 

To continue with the theme of 10-2 (10 minutes instruction and 2 minutes to summarize learning) I will showcase T-P-S in the ways we use it in my classroom. 

When do I use it?
  • When the students are too quiet and have that look of "la-la-land" on their faces...time to talk!
  • When the students are too chatty ...let them chat on topic!
  • use it in every subject all throughout the day...
Why do I use it?
  • Sometimes we think that kids have to write down thoughts to prove they learned it.
  • Not all kids like to write...
  • It is low risk - they are sharing their thoughts with only one other person...ideal for the shy kid.
  • Verbal expression cements knowledge.
  • Other students can catch misunderstandings quickly!
  • It is fun!
How do I use it??
  • Sometimes we turn and talk to the person next to us.
  • Sometimes we find a friend at another table (allows for movement, too)
  • Sometimes we are paired up by clock buddies
  • Sometimes we share with more than one person
Enjoy engaging your learners...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Summarize your thinking....

We know how important it is to summarize your thinking every 10 minutes in a lesson.  You have heard about 10-2 haven't you?  For every 10 minutes of instruction, you need to allow the kids 2 minutes to process the information by sharing with a friend, writing or drawing in a notebook or summarizing their thinking verbally. 

This week I will share some of my favorites...Do you use Graffiti Walls?
Grafitti walls can be used in several ways.  Sometimes I create several charts with headings within the topic of study.  For example, when learning about Magnetism and Electricity I could create individual charts that say Famous Scientists, Circuits, Electromagnets, Magnets.  The students would travel from poster to poster adding new information with a word, phrase or picture.  This method is great if you have a group that needs to move - because they have ample opportunity to move with a purpose!

Another way to summarize thinking is to create their own grafitti walls.  Sometimes you have a very visual groups that loves to color!  If so, this is a great way to get a formative assessment prior to an end of unit test.  This way you can catch any misconceptions and correct them before it is too late.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


This is a fun way to summarize...using the Alphabet! 

I have created this ABC brainstorming chart to use as table groups to review content vocabulary from science and social studies.  You can give them a time limit (if you have a competitive bunch) or turn it into an ABC book. You can download this here for free. 

      But I have a few other tricks up my sleeve....

    1.  Randomly assign a letter of the alphabet to each student.  (You can do this by passing out a magnetic letter.)   Then, give them one minute to think of a word that summarizes the lesson or reminds them of the content we are studying.  Whip around the room to share.
    2.  Put a bunch of magnetic letters in a bag...have the student pick out of the bag and write the word on an index card.  Then you can try to group the words together by categories.
3.  Give students a key word that you are studying - such as resource.  Then, you can turn that word into an acrostic poem to summarize learning on an index card.

Enjoy engaging your learners....

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rate your understanding....

Do you use formative assessments in your classroom?  I use it all the time to gauge what my kids are learning....There are many ways to do a quick check - and my favorite is through a simple rate your understanding activity.

How do you do this?  You can do this anytime during instruction.  At the beginning of a lesson you can ask students to share with you how they feel about their understanding of the current you feel like you know it so well you can teach it to others? (thumbs - up) Do you feel like you have a few questions, but generally get it....(thumbs sideways) Do you feel completely lost?  (thumbs down)  Kids begin to feel ownership towards their learning when they are able to tell you if they are on track or not.  Of course, you (the ultimate professional) needs to make sure that you touch base with the student individually so that you can clarify their misunderstandings. 

Some students aren't as comfortable having this information so visible to others...especially in the upper grades.  I recognize that and so another option is to have the students write on their paper - U for up, S for sorta, and D for down.  My students like this because it is more private and personal.  We use this code on our papers, on exit cards, on sticky notes or whatever you wish...

You can download these posters for FREE here.... You can hang these in your classrooms for a visual reminder.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Don't you love Patricia Polacco?

One of my favorite Civil War stories is Pink and Say.  Have you read it to your upper grade students?  You should...

Pink and Say highlights the brief but intimate friendship of two young boys, Pinkus Aylee (Pink) and Sheldon Curtis (Say), during the Civil War. When wounded attempting to escape his unit, Say is rescued by Pink, who carries him back to his Georgia home where he and his family were slaves. The story is heartwarming and full of perspective from the war...
My other favorite story by her is Just in time Abraham Lincoln.  This one lends itself to our boys who in this day and age are obsessed with war games - video games where killing is sport.  In this book, the two boys step back in time into a real battle of the Civil War - Antietam.  They also meet up with the famous photographer Matthew Brady.
As a follow up to that book, I created a simple power point with real photos from Matthew Brady...including ones from the battle of Antietam as portrayed in the story.

You can download it for FREE here...


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Morning Messages...kid's choice!

180 ATTENDANCE QUESTIONS or JOURNAL PROMPTSDuring the summer, I found a wonderful resource from the ClutterFree Classroom. It is called 180 Attendance questions or Journal Prompts. 

I purchased this and made a copy of it to keep in my classroom.  It is a great way to start each day!  The students love looking through the questions and choosing a question of the day.  We keep track of which question we have used by checking them off on the nice box provided by each question. 

Question of the Day is a job in my classroom.  When it is your job, you get to choose the question and write it on the board for other's to answer each morning.  It is one of our favorite parts of our day!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How do students show they UNDERSTAND?

My principal has been leading us through a wonderful professional development on Differentiated Instruction by Carol Tomlinson and Jay McTighe.  One of the key points from today was how do you know your kids are understanding?

Carol Tomlinson says "Understanding comes as a result of actively thinking and processing information..."

"When we ask students to use their knowledge and skills in service of an understanding, then they can apply ideas, extend ideas, defend ideas.."

We just completed a project based lesson in which the kids became researchers about our three abolitionists - John Brown, Harriett Tubman and Nat Turner.  When they were finished with their research, they were asked to work with a group to show what they learned.  They were given these choices:
  • Create a game show or game format
  • Write and Act out a skit
  • Create a puppet show 
  • Design a poster
This go around, I had skits, a puppet show and many game shows.  One of my groups learned how to input questions on the smart board as part of their product while another made up a game where they rang a bell when they knew the answer.  Were the students engaged?  100%