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Sunday, April 27, 2014

I Spy

I Spy books aren't just for little kids! My fourth graders had a blast reading these seek-and-find books and then writing their own. 

Here's how we did it:
  1. Ask students to bring in a collection (or just random) "junk" from home. They can bring toys, stuff from their family's junk drawer, whatever. The pages are more effective if students bring at least 35 items.
  2. For students who forget to bring their collections, open your classroom games, manipulatives, and supplies.
  3. Allow students to organize their items all around the room. (Be prepared for a little organized chaos.)
  4. Take photos of each collection. (This year I used an iPad and found it easier to manipulate than a standard camera for this project.)
  5. Upload photos.
  6. Create a document (I prefer PowerPoint) and insert the photo. Choose a font and type "I spy" to get them started. Save with child's name in file.
  7. Analyze the rhythm (four beats per line), rhyme (couplets), and organization (two stanzas with two lines each) of several I Spy poems from one of the books.
  8. Ask each student to type a poem using this format. In my experience, most of them will need some help, so it's a good time to call on your parent helpers or classroom aides.
  9. Check poems and print.
  10. Bind into a classroom book . . . and use a second copy as a hallway display. Share with younger grades. They love it!
Once students get the hang of writing couplets, they can't get enough. One of my students just had to write three stanzas.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Helping Kids with Difficult Texts

I know that my students need to read more difficult texts in order to grow as readers. But taking them to the next level is risky. What if they fail to comprehend? Ah, the double-edged sword.

The mystery novel I had chosen for my advanced fourth graders, The Westing Game, had no less than twenty key characters and a winding, intricate plot written to mislead the reader. My students, on the other hand, were exhibiting evidence of the dreaded "surface reading." How could I help them understand this book (and grow as readers)?

My unit already used literature groups with key questions designed to bolster comprehension, but that didn't seem to be working. I'd have to use my walls!

First, we began to summarize the chapters (CCSS RL.4.2). After hanging them on the wall, we discussed the plot in depth.

Second, students began listing information about each of the main characters (CCSS RL.4.3). This helped them keep the characters straight and discover any information they'd missed while reading.

Third, I typed and posted key parts of the text needed to solve the mystery. In our discussions, we kept coming back to these excerpts to avoid being totally misled (and not understanding the book at the end).

It worked! As we wrapped up the book this week, shouts of "This is really getting good!" and "I've figured out the REAL solution to the mystery!" reverberated against my classroom walls. Thank goodness for those walls. They've lifted my students to a higher level as readers.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mapping Mysteries

Explore the power of mapping mysteries! Let's look at a few ways this simple process helps kids pump up their reading skills:

  • Sifting through the plot to pinpoint key events (clues).
  • Exploring genre-specific vocabulary (mystery, clue, sleuth, suspect, red herring, solution, etc.)
  • Summarizing with a flow chart.
  • Recognizing unnecessary information and/or false clues (red herrings).
  • Inferring to find a solution.

In my class, we map one mystery together. (This picture shows the puzzle pieces from our map of an Encyclopedia Brown mystery.)

After they get the hang of it, students love mapping their own mysteries!


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Word Relationships

Yesterday my class explored relationships between three sets of 25 words for our WordMasters Challenge. I attached half of a brightly colored index card to a magnet for each word. Each set of words was randomly arranged on the magnetized chalkboard.

Each group of students was assigned to one set of words and worked together to group them. They looked for all kinds of relationships: synonyms, antonyms, related adjectives and nouns, words with varying intensities, etc. Some groups devised ways to position words to show relationships (for example side-by-side for synonyms and perpendicular for antonyms).

After about ten minutes working with their own set of words, the groups set about grouping all words.

Granted, not all of their work was perfect, but it was a perfect (and quick) way to review sets of related words and employ higher order thinking skills.

We had a blast! I plan to use this activity again and again.

P.S. If you're looking for a great way to review vocabulary on the computer, check out Quizlet!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Science Centers for Big Kids

Science centers for big kids can really get those wheels turning! I wanted my fourth graders to make their own generalizations on concepts relating to sound. I set up six simple centers, and---wow!---it worked! They were interested, engaged, and excited about concepts that they discovered themselves.

After working through these six centers, we discussed each generalization, polished it, typed it, and hung it on one section of a bulletin board entitled ENERGY. Next step: science centers for light, electricity, and heat!

Looking for the complete package? Exploring Sound (complete with lesson plans, pretest, student sheets, study guide and flash cards, corresponding website, and posttest) is available at my Teachers pay Teachers store.


Sunday, April 13, 2014


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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Diamante Poetry

April is National Poetry Month (and a big month for test prep too)! This quick, creative poetry writing activity will help you address both.

To write diamante, students will address these ELA standards for third and fourth grades:

  • distinguishing between poetry, prose, and drama (RL.4.5)
  • identifying nouns, verbs, and adjectives (L.3.1.A)
  • choosing words for effect and to convey ideas precisely (L.3.3.A, L.4.3.A)

Have fun!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Always a Teacher & Forever a Mom

Today it was my pleasure to be the guest of honor on the blog of Catia Dias, Always and Teacher & Forever a Mom. Many thanks, Catia! Please visit her Teachers pay Teachers store for some awesome products!