Sunday, February 22, 2015

Novel Studies Never Get Old + FREEBIE

I'm not sure reading a book in school can ever be more exciting than doing a novel study with your classmates.  There's something about collectively reading, discussing, and writing about a book with your peers.  We as adults are like that, too!  Look at the book study clubs that are available out there!  Who doesn't love sitting around drinking coffee with their best buds discussing the latest best seller?  Kids aren't really any different.  I've noticed that during novel studies, students are often discussing the book at the playground, lunch, while lining up, etc.  I love seeing students have something "new" to talk about that prompts so much thinking and wondering.
So where do you even start with good novel studies?

1.)  Picking the right book is the key to the whole thing.  I'm not sure I believe the SAME book every year is the answer.  Your students change, you change, the world changes, and sometimes a book that worked well with one class may not be the answer to a different group of students.  Let your students lead you!  Here are some great sites for a large list of novels out there for particular grade levels.  (Click on images to see sites).

  Read the book ahead of time!  I hate to even admit that I fell into this trap ONCE and ONLY ONCE.  That was all it took.  I was basing my novel choice on what a fellow teacher friend of mine suggested.  Hindsight reveals:  Her taste and my taste were very different, and what was "appropriate" for her students and mine ended up being on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Lesson learned.  Besides, if you really want to dive into the book with close reads of challenging parts of the text, develop a keen sense of the author's intent, know what questions to ask, and truly understand the message behind the book itself, it's imperative that you read it! I love this testimony from a teacher who had done novel studies before, but embraced this vision of doing a novel study, and doing it well, which called for some increased prep time.  In the end, it was worth it!  (Click on the Stacey Joy video).
3.) Value the work your students will do WITH the novel itself.  If you plan activities that you simply intend to grade, return, and never do a thing with, that might be the same enthusiasm you are met with from your students.  They'll do it, turn it in, and throw it away when it's returned.  If the work they will do is treated as a BIG DEAL and something above and beyond special, that's what you'll get from them...above and beyond.  Consider creating a space for your novel study items...bulletin boards, author's corner, showcase spaces in the library or halls, decorate doorways, etc.  I just started a Pinterest board on Novel Studies where I'm on the prowl for some creative ways to do novels.  I'm also looking for collaborative pinners on that board, so if you're interested, PLEASE let me know!  email:  Be sure to grab some ideas from some of those incredible classrooms! (Click on Pinterest board to get there).
Here's a FREEBIE activity to try with your next novel study on SUMMARIZING. (Click image to grab).   Challenge your students to a MONEY SUMMARY CHALLENGE!  It's harder than you think!! (Even for adults)!  You assign each WORD students write in their summary a specified money amount.  (Example:  .05 cents per word) Then give students a dollar amount RANGE to keep their summary within.  (Example:  "Write a summary that is worth between $4.00-5.00."  Several things get accomplished with this activity:
a.)  Students search to include the IMPORTANT stuff in their summary so they get it all in. 
b.)  Students sometimes have to get rid of unnecessary information to make it fit in the range and/or have to add MORE to make it fit.
c.)  You're incorporating some math skills into your reading and writing! *Be sure to challenge them with an appropriate money amount! I might not assign 5th or 6th graders with 10 cents a word.  It's too easy for them to count!  Make that part challenging as well! 
d.)  Try it in groups!  The old saying "two heads are better than one" is often true. With an activity like this, students work together to discuss key events in the novel, what to include or eliminate, and have to perform as a team to complete a task.
If you enjoy the freebie, be sure to check out where it comes from...a reading strategy novel study interactive notebook that give students an opportunity to apply 17 reading strategies (characterization, setting, plot, theme, author's intent, style, vocabulary, connections, timeline, figurative language, symbolism, text features, summary, etc.) to the book they're involved in...ALL with folding and flip-flap fun! (Click on image to check out the unit).

Finally, HAVE FUN with your novel!  You never know when a book can change a child's life.  Thankful for a teacher who MADE ME READ a book with my classmates.  It sparked my love for reading!

Bananas for this quote!  We teachers have JUST as much fun reading books with kids! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Deconstructing a Writing Prompt

    As our students began prepping for the state writing assessment, we quickly discovered that one of the biggest obstacles they faced was effectively answering the writing prompt.  In their written essays they were missing key components, lacking sufficient evidence, or not even answering the prompt at all.  After digging deeper, it became evident that students didn't have a clear understanding of what the prompt was actually asking them to do.  Prompts can be lengthy, confusing, consist of multi-steps, and full of extensive vocabulary.  If you can train your students how to rip apart a prompt to make sense of it, half the battle is over.  So where do you start?

1.)  Highlight all the action verbs or phrases.  This will clue them in and remind them they are to actually DO some things! (It's usually MORE than one thing!) 
2.)  Circle important or keys words (the words that it's asking you to write about) and jot some synonyms (or phrases with similar meaning) for them.  The synonyms or phrases students select are the words they are most comfortable using.  This will ease their apprehension of the prompt and give them a tool for finding matching key evidence in the text that answers what the prompt is looking for.  It will also LEAD them to the mode of writing they need to be thinking about.  
3.)  Rewrite the prompt in their own words.  This is one final way of confirming they understand the task, as well as double check that they have all the parts of the prompt accounted for.  

I have had the privilege of working in some classrooms over the last couple of months on this very task.  Students often start out with that same puzzled look, only to finish with more confidence.  In the words of one of our 4th graders this week, (after viewing a state released practice prompt for the first time),  "Hmmm…Not sure what this means RIGHT NOW, but give me a minute to rip it apart!"  

I'm happy to share one of the activities some teachers and I used with our third, fourth, and fifth graders as we worked through deconstructing prompts.  ENJOY the "RIP APART the PROMPT" FREEBIE!  We would love to hear about some successes in your own classroom, so feel free to grab it, give it a try, and share with the rest of us!  :-) freebie prompt is part of a larger unit if you're looking for something to work with all year.  My newest writing unit centers around narratives, opinions, and expository writing, focusing on the procedure of putting together a solid piece of writing in the correct mode.  The unit is loaded with organizers for each mode that are designed with every season (fall, winter, spring, summer) in mind.  Also included are skills with each mode (dialogue for narrative, opinions vs. facts for opinion, sensory details for narratives, etc.)  Mini-writing folder contents are also available that offer helpful hints for organizing, constructing, and editing your writing. Students love using them and find them incredibly useful and FUN as they learn the process. Check out some of our "hard at work" 3rd graders working on their expository pieces with their mini-folders!  Click on any of the photos for a closer look at that unit. 

Bananas for students (and teachers) who love a good writing challenge!



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