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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mastering Multiplication Facts

There's no way around it - - - fourth graders must memorize multiplication facts. If they don't, mastering 4.NBT.B.5 (multiply four-digit numbers by one-digit numbers and two-digit numbers by two-digit numbers) just isn't going to happen.

Kids are overwhelmed by the multitude of facts they need to know, and they're defeated as they fail timed tests again and again. Teachers can help!
First, determine which facts each student knows. This video on Math Playground explains how to use grids like those below. The first grid gets parents on board; the second allows teachers to determine which facts a student knows and assign the next facts or fact groups a student must learn.

After determining which facts each child needs to learn, it's time for practice. Check out Quick Flash II from Students can click on the set of facts they need to learn (e.g., their 3's) and set to work practicing them until they reach mastery. For hard copies of flash card sets, try this webpage.

As students master their facts, we move to the next step: fluency. Multitudes of games, also found on, help students with their fluency, but in my opinion, nothing beats Fact Navigator. It is the most helpful multiplication tool I have found on the Internet EVER!

This week I took my students into the computer lab to try Fact Navigator. Each student set the app for testing multiplication facts to 9 x 9. Fact Navigator generated a 36-question test. As each student finished, Fact Navigator displayed the number correct and time it took the student to finish the test. Wow!! So helpful! If a student could correctly complete 100% of the problems in two minutes or less, I deemed him ready for long multiplication and called out: "DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! ____________ has passed his multiplication facts!" If students could not pass or their times were over three minutes, they moved back to Quick Flash II to work on specific sets of facts.

During that half hour in the computer lab, I saw my students' savvy with multiplication facts increase by leaps and bounds. Using Fact Navigator and Quick Flash II as a one-two punch really knocks out those dreaded times tables!

How can teachers help their students master multiplication facts? Here's the recipe that works for me:
  1. Find out which facts a student does and does not know.
  2. Focus practice on one small set of unknown facts at a time.
  3. Once mastery is achieved, use games and timed tests to increase fluency.
P.S. If you're looking for a fun, whole-class facts game, try Math Facts Baseball!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Teaching About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," let's honor the memory in our classrooms. Today I will show my students this video of Dr. King's speech and explore messages he sent to us through his quotes. (You may download either of these by simply clicking on the image.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Wish I Had More Science Activities Like This!

If you haven't checked out the E-Activities at AIMS Education Foundation, now is the time! These low-cost ($2.00) activities integrate math and science to make your teaching powerful. Here's just one example, Layers of the Earth, which my class recently completed. (The following presentation was created to display for Open House.)

Was it challenging? Yes. Did it take several class periods to complete? Of course. Was it worth the effort? You bet! I urge you to push your students to new heights with this activity and others from AIMS. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

To the Left, To the Left, Everything's Ten Times in the Place to the Left

Here's a little Beyonce to get you thinking about 4.NBT.A.1:

To the left, to the left
Everything's ten times in the place to the left

This standard asks fourth graders to "recognize that in a multi-digit whole number, a digit in one place represents ten times what it represents in the place to its right." Its fifth grade counterpart (5.NBT.A.1) takes it one step farther by asking students to understand that a digit represents "1/10 of what it represents in the place to its left."

With that said, how do we teach it? Last year I talked about it - - - over and over and over. My students could repeat it, they could write it, and they said they understood it, but did they really? This year I decided to employ constructivism. Each child received a set of manipulatives like this:

After cutting out the number strip, whole number pieces, and zero pieces, they were ready to explore. I gave them self-guided sheets like this:

Some students were able to work through the process on their own, but most needed help. Next year I'll change the process and provide an example of how to move the pieces before asking them to work independently. I do, however, want them to arrive at the answer to the final question on their own. My hope is that each child will think, "Aha! The value of a number is always ten times greater than the value of the digit to its right!" Then it's time for me to emphasize the concept - - - over and over and over.

You don't need anything fancy to do this activity in your own classroom. Student-created place value strips and number pieces will work just fine. Instead of a worksheet, you can work together, asking students to move their non-zero digit to make the number 10, 100, or 1000 times bigger. 

If you would like everything ready-made, this activity is available in my Teachers pay Teachers store as a part of Multi-Digit Whole Numbers - Differentiated, which includes student-guided activities (like the one shared today), worksheets, a review, pre- and post-assessments, related activities, and an "I Have, Who Has?" game for 4.NBT.A.1, 4.NBT.A.2, and 4.NBT.A.3.

Let's look at a few more resources. Howard County Public School System has gathered lesson plans, activities, and more on this site. Scroll down to Number of the Day Organizers to grab an awesome free resource. And check out their place value problems (which directly address 4.NBT.A.1). 

Now that we've covered reading, writing, comparing, rounding, and conceptualizing large numbers, we need a grand finale. Wouldn't it be fun to ask students to continue the lyrics to Beyonce's song, "IrrePLACEable"? It might start out like this:

To the left
To the left

Mmmm to the left, to the left
Everything's ten times in the place to the left
In the ones place, that's single stuff
Yes, if you move it, baby, it's ten times enough...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rounding Multi-Digit Whole Numbers

What exactly is rounding, and how can we help students understand it? When I was in fourth grade, my teacher told me to look at the neighbor to the right to round. If that number was 0-4, I should round down; if it was 5-9, I should round up.

Fast forward several decades, and I became the fourth grade teacher. The traditional strategy just didn't seem to help my students "get" rounding. I wanted my class to understand that rounding involved finding the closest multiple of 10, 100, 1000, etc.

Let's eavesdrop on this week's class discussion:
  • Me: What is rounding?
  • Student: It's sort of like estimating.
  • Me: Why do we round?
  • Students look around and act unsure.
  • Me: Let's say I go to the store with $50 in my pocket. I want to purchase three items. One item costs $19, another is $11, and the third is $13. I want to make sure I have enough money when I get to the counter to pay, so I round each amount then add to see if it's more than $50. I use rounding to figure out about how much each item costs (in this case to the nearest $10) then I add them together. That final step, adding rounded numbers, is estimation.
The conversation continued, and we discussed situations when we would round to the nearest 100; 1,000, 10,000, and even 100,000. My students were clearly comfortable with rounding to the nearest 10 and 100; they'd learned how to do that in third grade, but 100,000? Wow, they just weren't sure they could do that.

This year I've decided to have students take notes for each concept. Here's our page for 4.NBT.A.3:

When rounding, the first thing I want my students to do is ask themselves, "What is the closest 10 (or 100 or 1000, etc.)?" To me, this is the highest level of conceptualization. If that doesn't work, they draw a number line, as shown. This also allows students to conceptualize the process (with the aid of a diagram). Finally, if neither of these two strategies are working, they may use the next-door neighbor. Finding the next-door neighbor has little or no conceptual value, but for those who struggle, it will work until they gain a better understanding of the number system.

Next I modeled rounding the number to the nearest 100; 1,000; 10,000; and 100,000. After demonstrating with a few more numbers, they worked some problems with me, and finally they set off on their own.

This year we'll use rounding a lot! As students review longer addition and subtraction problems then learn long multiplication and division, I will require them to estimate. In fourth grade, students will estimate on paper, but in subsequent grades they should be able to estimate mentally. This arms them with a powerful tool! Estimation (which is addressed in 4.OA.A.3) allows students to know if the answer to a complex problem is reasonable (or if a red flag is being waved), and it allows them to go to the store with $50 and figure out if they have enough money to buy a series of objects. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Practicing Multi-Digit Numbers in Standard Form, Words, and Expanded Form

The time has come to practice writing multi-digit numbers in standard form, words, and expanded form (4.NBT.A.2). Why not have some fun? We began today's lesson with a game and an activity involving students' birthdays.

"I Have, Who Has?" - This game switched between place value, words, expanded form, and numerals. Students received number recording sheets (shown below) and were required to write each number presented, keeping everyone on task.

How does "I Have, Who Has?" work? Each student receives a card like those shown below. The first person says, "I have..." and the person with the answer has to respond, "I have..." then pose the next question. 

Click here to try it in your classroom.

The second activity involved students' personal numbers. They entered their dates of birth then translated each to standard form, words, and expanded form. These fold-overs are perfect for hanging on the classroom wall!

Finally, each student demonstrated their competency in transferring numbers between standard form, words, and expanded form on tables like this:

Yes, students need to practice writing numbers in various forms. But why not make it fun?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Introducing Multi-Digit Whole Numbers in Standard Form, Words, and Expanded Form

Fourth graders usually have some background with writing numbers in standard form, words, and expanded form. To continue toward mastery of 4.NBT.A.2, I like to use dry-erase boards like this one from Really Good Stuff:

When we used these boards today, my students told me they'd used them in second and third grades too. Numbers they had experienced looked similar to the one shown above. Today we moved into the millions (and on their request, the billions!) Later this year we'll use these same boards for decimals.

After a review of how to write numbers in words and expanded form, I had students build numbers as I called out the value of each place. Here's an example:
  • nine hundreds
  • three ten thousands
  • five ones
  • six tens
This left some places blank, and students were again required to hold the place value with a zero. After this, they wrote the number in standard form, words, and expanded form. As students finished each step, they flashed their boards at me for approval. Great formative assessment. What problem areas did we experience?
  1. A few children had difficulty moving the number straight down to the standard form lines. This showed me that these students were not grasping the concept of place value.
  2. Many children forgot to put commas after the period names or hyphens between the tens and ones places. It's typical, and I filed this knowledge away to review over and over this year.
  3. Some students kept the tens and ones places (in one or more periods) together when writing expanded form. I had to remind them that EVERY non-zero digit is translated to a separate number when writing expanded form.
After this activity, each child practiced with traditional worksheets. Although this lesson is procedural, it's also conceptual. Don't underestimate its importance! When students understand and can manipulate place value for multi-digit numbers, they possess a sturdy foundation for the study of mathematics.

Building Multi-Digit Whole Numbers

To continue mastery of Common Core State Standard for Math 4.NBT.A.2, fourth grade students must work on writing numbers in standard form. In the first lesson, students learned to read numbers written in standard form aloud. You would think that knowledge would logically transfer to writing standard form when given words. As a veteran fourth grade teacher, I can tell you it doesn't work that way.

What's the biggest problem? Holding the place value with a zero. I've found that when children are asked to "build" their own numbers, they immediately understand that something's missing when a place in the middle of the number is empty. You can do this in a game-like activity with cards or dice, or it works just fine with worksheets or the teacher calling off the numbers for students to fill in. Just tell them which digit to write in which place - - - but don't fill every place.

In my classroom, we use the term "collapsed" to describe a number with a missing zero. Kids can now see that each period needs three digits, each in its proper place. If you do this step before asking your students to write numbers in standard form from written or oral words, things will go much more smoothly in your classroom. Soon your students will understand that when you say "two hundred three thousand," they write 203,000 (instead of 23 or 23,000). Try it! You'll like it!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Reading Multi-Digit Whole Numbers

In fourth grade, the first standard I like to tackle is CCSS 4.NBT.A.2, which gets kids reading and writing large numbers. Here's how our lesson went this week.

First, we talked about the Base-10 number system. My students had no idea what I was talking about! They tried to tell me that we have a Base-10 system because there are only ten symbols, 0 through 9. I explained that man made up the ten symbols, and that ancient civilizations had used different bases. That was a hard thing for them to swallow. "Why," I asked them, "do you think we finally decided on a Base-10 number system?" As we pondered these basic ideas in mathematics, I kept gesturing with the ten best reasons I could find:

Some of them began to catch on. They began to talk about how they learned to count with their fingers and toes: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 and then 10 was one group of fingers. Eleven was one group of all of their fingers plus one more from a second group. They were beginning to "get" the Base-10 number system.

By and by we moved on to place value. They already understood ones, tens, and hundreds. That, I explained, was one period. The next period, also comprised of three numbers, is called the thousands period. It contains the one thousands place, the ten thousands place, and the hundred thousands place. The students were excited to know that once they knew about periods, they could read any large number. Then, of course, we had to stop to discuss millions, billions, trillions, quadrillions, quintillions, and especially google. These mathematical concepts really motivate fourth graders: it's big kid stuff!

The time had come to actually read large numbers. This poster illustrates how I teach the skill. (Just click on the image to download it.)

In no time, my students were reading big numbers. Each student read one large number aloud. When I felt they were getting the hang of it, they got in groups to read to each other, and I gave them homework for more practice. (Everyone knows that practice makes perfect.)

Reading multi-digit numbers, even really big ones, becomes a snap when kids realize that they just chunk the numbers into three-digit periods and state the period name after each. Anyone can do it!

Talking about math, really getting into the nitty-gritty of how the Base-10 number system works, is essential. Teaching mathematical processes must be coupled with strategies for grasping mathematical concepts. This is Job #1!

If you're looking for worksheets, activities, and assessments for teaching 4.NBT.A.1, 4.NBT.A.2, and 4.NBT.A.3, take a look at Multi-Digit Whole Numbers - Differentiated in my Teachers pay Teachers store.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beginning of Year Common Core ELA Assessment

School has begun! My first order of business has been getting to know my students. In addition to their hobbies and what they did over the summer, I'm really interested in each student's starting points. What do they already know? What can they already do?

I decided to assess their reading abilities using the Common Core State Standards for Literature. First, I had to find a story. My go-to place is Project Gutenberg, which offers over 42,000 free ebooks in the public domain. For access to a short, age-appropriate story, I headed straight to The Aesop for Children. This book has dozens of fables, written especially for kids. One of my favorites is "The North Wind and the Sun," so I copied it, pasted it, and adapted it (all totally legal because the book is in public domain) to fit my needs for the reading preassessment.

Next I wrote seven questions to directly assess RL.4.1 (answering an inferential question), RL.4.2 (finding a theme and summarizing), RL.4.3 (describing a character), RL.4.4 (using context to find word meanings), RL.4.5 (discriminating between poetry, drama, and prose), and RL.4.6 (determining point of view).

My students were finished in about 30 minutes. What did I learn?
  • They can write answers using question parts.
  • They can answer inferential questions.
  • They either cannot or will not support their answers with evidence from the text.
  • They don't know about citing.
  • They do not write conclusions.
  • They do not know the word "summarize."
  • They do not know how to find a theme; perhaps they don't even know what a theme is.
  • They understand how to use context clues to find word meanings.
  • They do not know the word "prose."
  • A few of them can determine point of view; however, even those who could do it did not use the terms first-person and third-person.
This is awesome! My students are right where I expected them to be. I'm ready to teach them all of this, and they're ready to learn. Let the year begin!!

P.S. It's relatively easy to create an assessment like this yourself, but if you'd like to use mine, fourth and fifth grade versions are available at my Teachers pay Teachers store for $1.50 each. Stop by on Sunday, August 18th, or Monday, August 19th, for the site-wide sale! Everything in my store will be 20% off---and TpT will also give you an additional percentage off.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 10

The final standard for nonfiction asks students to "read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts . . . independently and proficiently." Guidelines for text complexity can be found in this document.

This is not the first time I have written about this topic. Measuring Text Complexity, my March 16th topic, provided information about the Lexile Stretch Bands, as well as qualitative and quantitative measures for evaluating texts. On March 18th, I discussed balancing genres and recommended this short video, which reviews the importance of bringing more nonfiction texts into the classroom.

What can we take from the directives of this standard? Students need to read lots of nonfiction texts, and those texts should challenge (or stretch) their reading ability to ensure growth.

And now, dear readers, I am off to meet a new class of students and start another year in the fourth grade!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 9

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading 9 (CCRA.R.9) asks students to "analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take."

The third grade Common Core State Standard, RI.3.9, addresses the last part of the standard: "Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic." This works well with many basal readers, which tend to provide several excerpts organized around the same topic. It's also easy to pull a related article or picture book to compare and contrast with sections in health, science, and social studies books. Using simple graphic organizers, such as Venn diagrams or T-charts, makes it a snap!

RI.4.9 and RI.5.9 tasks fourth and fifth graders with integrating "information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably." To me, this goes hand-in-glove with W.4.7/W.5.7 (conducting short research projects) and W.4.8/W.5.8 (gathering relevant information from print and digital sources). In terms of the Internet, this may be the most important standard. We look at several sites to glean information, reconstruct the new knowledge in our brains, then communicate our findings to others.

This ability to create something new from various parts is what makes us human. Here's the thought for today: Synthesis is a whole created by combining parts; synergy is a whole greater than its combined parts. How can we help our students pull information from texts, insert a little twist of their own, and create something magical and magnificent?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 8

College and Career Readiness Standard for Reading 8 (CCRA.R.8) was created especially for informational text. It states: "Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning, as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence."

Third graders (RI.3.8) are asked to "describe the logical connection between particular sentences and paragraphs in a text (e.g., comparison, cause/effect, first/second/third in a sequence)." It's time for them to start looking critically at text to determine which structure was used by the author. Building this into each nonfiction reading experience during the year will guarantee that students are ready for the next step in their progress toward evaluating claims made in informational texts.

In fourth (RI.4.8) and fifth (RI.5.8) grades, students must  "explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support points in a text," with fifth graders identifying specific reasons and evidence support that support a claim. Determining main points (or main ideas) in informational texts, such as social studies and science books, then identifying the supporting details will give students plenty of practice with this skill. Try simple graphic organizers like this to help them get started.

Higher order questions naturally follow exercises such as this. You might ask:
  • Why did the author include these points?
  • What other points could he/she have included?
  • Why do you think these points were excluded here?
  •  How could this argument be strengthened?
  • Is this argument valid? Why or why not?

Students in these grades are ready to read with a critical eye and realize that not all written words should be taken at face value.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 7

For College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading 7 (CCRA.R.7), students must learn to "integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words." Here are the Reading: Informational Text standards for third, fourth, and fifth grades:

  • RI.3.7 - Use information gained from illustrations (e.g. maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
  • RI.4.7 - Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
  • RI.5.7 - Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.
Notice how the Common Core again steers us toward student-driven learning. Younger students must independently notice and integrate all text features to gain understanding about a topic. As they get older, they move toward multiple text features in multiple formats. By fifth grade, children are asked to "quickly" locate and integrate resources to answer questions and/or solve problems.

Yes, they will use print resources, but for the quickest answers, students will turn to the Internet. How can we help them to become expert searchers and researchers? Webquests, web scavenger hunts, and web-based assignments are a good place to start. Check out Nellie's English Projects for access to a variety of webquests for students aged 9-12. Kathi Mitchell offers Internet Scavenger Hunts for Kids. Making web-based assignments is relatively easy too. Just find a site that offers information about a topic your class is studying and give students tasks that require students to use multiple features of each website they search.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 6

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard 6 (CCRA.R.6) deals with assessing "how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text." Here's how it shakes out for intermediate grades.

RI.3.6 asks third grade students to "distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text." This can be as simple as asking your students, "What does the author think about this topic?" and then "What do you think about this topic?" I didn't find many resources on this standard, but a reasonably priced product with worksheets, activity, and poster for this standard is available from havefunteaching on Teachers pay Teachers.

Fourth (RI.4.4) and fifth (RI.5.4) grade students must read primary and secondary sources then compare and contrast. As you include speeches, music, artwork, diaries, and artifacts in your social studies instruction, you will not only address this standard but also make your class a lot more interesting!

It's easy to bring primary sources into your classroom. American Rhetoric online speech bank holds over 5000 full text, audio, and video versions of speeches. You can find a variety of America's Historical Documents online. (For a more comprehensive search, try Archival Research Catalog.) With the Internet, primary sources are just a click away!

Instruction can begin with a Venn diagram and scaffold to full-blown analysis of perspectives of various primary and secondary sources.

Here are a few additional resources to get your students thinking about the difference between primary and secondary sources:

With the start of a new school year only days away, reviewing this standard gives me new resolve to bring in more primary sources. Not only will I use them in social studies, but I can see possibilities in math, science, and much more! This will be fun.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 5

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard 5 (CCRA.R.5) states: "Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole."

For this standard, third graders (RI.3.5) must "use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a grade 3 topic or subject area."

Library Skills: Text Features from the University of Missouri lists a variety of great resources for teaching nonfiction text features:

To help kids with hyperlinks, try The Frog Beyond the Fairy Tale Character: Searching Informational Texts written by Janet Beyersdorfer for For use of clickable images, check out Types of Rocks (also mentioned in my July 8 blog about W.3.8).

For fourth and fifth grades, this standard changes gear. RI.4.5 tasks students with describing the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text." RI.5.5 builds on this by asking students to "compare and contrast the overall structure . . . in two or more texts."

A must-have is 20 Strategies to Teach Text Structure from Literacy Leader. This 29-page document gives you strategies, posters, tables, and practice activities. Head over to Teaching My Friends to see photos of how this was used in a classroom.

What am I taking away from today's standard? Instead of just using nonfiction texts in my classroom, I need to actually teach students how to use them. You can bet that I'll be pulling out Stopping a Toppling Tower and 20 Strategies to Teach Text Structure for my fourth grade class this year!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 4

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading 4 (CCRA.R.4) deals with vocabulary. In grades three, four, and five, the Common Core asks students to "determine the meaning of general and domain-specific words and phrases in a text" that are relevant to the student's grade level.

Let's look at one way we can ensure that students build domain-specific words: emphasizing terms related to academic subject matter. What does this mean? It means that we need to make sure students are picking up all of the vocabulary related to what we're studying in math, English, social studies, science, health, etc. Not only will this build students' vocabularies, it will also help them master subject matter content.

The title of my blog tells you that I tend to be a serious-minded teacher. It will come to no surprise to you that I believe in teaching and testing subject matter vocabulary.

Vocabulary is a big deal in every subject. If we don't know the vocabulary, how can we communicate about a topic? I found a great summary of strategies for vocabulary at I've provided a freebie with multiple vocabulary organizers (using the Frayer Model) for you below.

Holistic word analysis is great, but sometimes students also need to employ knowledge of word parts. For example, when studying measurement, students need to know prefixes (centi-, milli-, and kilo-), as well as what each root word measures (liter = volume, gram = mass, meter = length). For polygons, they use their knowledge of the root word "gon" (angle) and its various prefixes.

A few days ago I explained how I would be using word strips to help my students construct meaning of words with Greek and Latin parts. Here it is again. To introduce the polygon terms, I'll use these two sheets (printed back-to-back).

Students will prepare their word strips, practice, and take a test, as shown in the example below.

I've only hit upon a few ways to improve your students' domain-specific vocabulary. There are so many more! How we do it is not nearly as important as getting it done. This standard reminds me that I need to emphasize subject matter vocabulary every day. 

Do you have some great vocab strategies to share? I'd love to hear them! Just comment below.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 3

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading 3 (CCRA.R.3) asks students to "analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text." The Common Core State Standards have some specific directives for middle-grade students in regard to this anchor standard.

Third graders (RI.3.3) must "describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas, or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect." This relates to W.3.1c, W3.2c, and W.3.3c, which ask students to use connecting and temporal words when writing.

Over the past few months, we have explored dozens of standards, some with very detailed expectations. At this point, you may be wondering how you'll be able to add one more thing to your plate! The beauty of the Reading: Informational Text standards is that you can easily integrate them into your social studies, science, and health curricula.

When reading history or biography, third graders can create timelines then explain the sequence of events (orally or in written form) using order and cause/effect words.

Flow charts work can be used to organize science and health concepts. The life cycle of an insect or the progression of a disease, for example, may be mapped out on a graphic organizer.

RI.4.3 tasks fourth graders with explaining nonfiction content. While  similar to RI.4.2, which asks students to summarize, RI.4.3 requires students to understand what happened and why, as well as explain it to someone else. Fourth grade teachers need to ask, "How did this happen?" and "Why did this happen?" often, and kids must be accountable for thinking then sharing. Journaling and think-pair-share work well for this. Additional methods to ensure student engagement can be found in the book Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner by Persida and William Himmele. I highly recommend it.

To assess students' learning, why not introduce essay tests in fourth grade? If a student can explain an event or process, it's his forever!

In my fourth grade class, an essay answer is normally worth five points, and most history tests have four questions. It's a lot for nine-year-olds, but with guidance, they can handle it. At the beginning of the year, the four questions are announced in advance, and we discuss what types of information would be appropriate to use. If you were a fly on the wall, you would hear advice like this:
  • Answer the question with a topic sentence that uses question parts.
  • Add important details that tell who, what, where, when, and why or how.
  • If you're writing about a war, include who won.

RI.5.3 asks fifth graders to "explain the relationships and interactions between two or more individuals, events, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text." This ratchets the expectation up one more notch. Questions for journaling, discussion, and tests must now include two or more components and how they interact(ed). Here are some examples of the shift from fourth to fifth grade:

Fourth Grade: Describe the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Fifth Grade: Describe the interactions between William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh.

Fourth Grade: What is an anemone?
Fifth Grade: Explain the relationship between anemones and clownfish.

Fourth Grade: Explain the force that allows an airplane to fly.
Fifth Grade: Explain how multiple forces affect an airplane in flight.

These questions address the standards, but what about higher-order questioning? Here's a great opportunity to get your students thinking! Try some like this, especially with your high ability learners:

*To what could you compare the relationship between William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh? Why?
*What conditions allow the symbiotic relationship of the anemone and clownfish?
*Draw a diagram that clearly labels and explains the forces working on an airplane in flight.

*If you were President Madison, what might you have said to William Henry Harrison to avoid the Battle of Tippecanoe?
*Select two other organisms that might benefit from symbiosis. Explain how their relationship would work.
*Research the difference between airplanes with propellors and those with jet engines. If a plane had both types of engines, how could each be used effectively to maximize thrust?

*Whose perspective do you favor, Harrison's or Tecumseh's? Why?
*Which of these three examples of symbiosis is most effective: anemone/clownfish, coral/algae, or bees/orchids? Why?
*Rank these malfunctions from least to most dangerous when flying an airplane: reduced engine power, loss of rudder, loss of flaps. Explain why using the terms lift and thrust.

This was a great standard to review as I head back to school next week. It reminds me of the importance of asking thoughtful questions, providing students with time to ponder, and insisting that all  respond.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 2

The second standard for Reading: Informational Text deals with finding main idea(s) and key details, as well as summarizing. Graphic organizers can help kids find the key details then determine the main idea. It's easy and fun!

You can make graphic organizers yourself using the Microsoft Word or Power Point SmartArt feature. Here are a few examples I whipped up in under five minutes:

These were created using the "colorful" format, but you can choose black and white, if desired. 

I've uploaded these graphic organizers to get you started. Just click on the graphic above, and they're yours! 

After finding the main idea and key details, students can simply translate them into a paragraph, and voila! A neat little summary has been created.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Common Core Reading: Informational Text Standard 1

It's time to circle back around to Informational Text, which is such an integral part of the Common Core. These standards are also based on the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading; therefore, they are parallel to the Literature standards.

Standard 1 (CCRA.R.1) includes these important directives:
  • read closely
  • determine what the text says explicitly
  • make logical inferences
  • cite

Let's discuss how this plays out for middle grade students. Third graders (CCSS RI.3.1) are asked to refer explicitly to the text when answering questions. Students in fourth grade (RI.4.1) must "refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text." In grade 5 (RI.5.1), students are also asked to quote.

Some work I did for LearnZillion relates directly to this standard. Today's blog has two purposes: (1) to discuss RI.1 using a specific set of LearnZillion lessons and (2) to introduce you to LearnZillion, which can be a valuable (free) resource for your classroom.

In this featured LearnZillion series, the process of answering a prompt with a constructed response (RI.3.1) has been broken into eight short video lessons. The students read a text (which you can download from the site), and the videos model each step in the process:

Each lesson is followed by guided practice, extension activities, and a quick quiz. LearnZillion offers over 2000 videos for Grades 3-9 that were specially designed to address either ELA or Math Common Core State Standards. Check it out!