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Three Ways to Help Struggling Readers in the Classroom

At different points during the year, any good teacher will take time to reflect on their reading and mathematics program.  We decide what is or is not working, what we think we need to keep and what needs to be changed or tweaked in some manner. Today I wanted to share with you three strategies that keep my struggling readers engaged in the classroom.

 #1: Increase Common Vocabulary
Literacy study after literacy study has proven that having a high vocabulary is a key indicator in the reading ability of students.  We all have vocabulary that needs to be taught in our classrooms. Sometimes this is content or story specific, but recently, I found this great LIST from Flocabulary that I plan to use with my new fourth grade class.  These are common vocabulary words that students should know at every grade level. When I teach vocabulary, I like to have my students create vocabulary slides.  We use Google Slides, and I assign each student or pairs of students specific words.  They create a document slide that contains the vocabulary word, definition, two synonyms, and an antonym.  I always like to have students include two synonyms because it gives me an opportunity to teach and discuss shades of meaning with students.  I try to challenge them to use thesaurus.com to find synonyms.  These slides provide so many opportunities for conversation because we can really discuss whether a word is really meant to reflect a similar meaning.  When we finish, we add the word to our vocabulary/spelling dictionaries, so we have a spot for further reference. The vocabulary section is set up with a Fray model for vocabulary similar to the slide, so our shades of meaning synonyms are always included.  My students use these during our writing block as well.

#2 Use Audiobooks as Reading Partners
I was so happy to read a recent article  in the ILA's Literacy Today magazine that discusses the use of audio books as companions for struggling readers.  Just as the author, Lisa Trottier Brown comments, having struggling readers use an audio book and follow along, reading aloud themselves increases the reading rates of students. This can also be done with a strong reader and a weaker reader.  BOTH students read at the same time from the challenging text.  It allows the struggling reader the opportunity to hear speech patterns and inflections, which is effective when scaffolding difficult text. Audio books in the classroom are perfect for this.  You can often get audio books from Overdrive which is through the public library system, or Audible which is from Amazon if you know several of your students will be reading similar books.
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Just be sure that the book is read by a real person, NOT a computer, because a computer generated voice will not provide the weaker student with the important voice inflections etc. that they need to hear.  Having a paired reading experience is also a great way to use your volunteers in your classroom.  Especially if you can get Dad's in to read.  The importance is for your weaker reader to be reading at a more rapid rate, sitting together using a challenging text. 

#3 Have Students Leave Tracks in Their Reading
Reading Notice and Note by Kyleen Beers and Jeff Probst this year was so affirming for me.  I needed a fresh set of ideas for helping my students leave tracks in their reading.  Many of them were blowing through books and not remembering a single part of them, or remembering just enough to take an AR test.  They weren't sharing their reading experiences or talking about books in ways that made them become better readers.  By teaching my students about the Signposts, and following up with picture books, excerpts, and videos that helped them see how monitoring their comprehension made them better readers, my students gained a deeper level of understanding in their independent reading books.  I saw them choose books to read together, and then while reading series of books have conversations about where a character had had an AHA Moment, or how an older character showed signs of being a Words of the Wiser.  They began to discuss books much more frequently, and read more books on their levels, rather than easy books they could forget quickly after AR points were achieved.  To help them keep track of Signposts, I used a Tabbed Booklet which students kept in their Reader's Notebooks.  It gave examples of each Signpost as an anchor chart with the anchor question as well as picture book and video examples that would help keep them focused.  The anchor charts were especially helpful for my struggling readers, because it gave them something to refer back to.  I put the videos I used to teach the Signposts in our Moodle account, and they could also be an easy reference if those students were really stuck.

Do you have reading strategies that may help struggling readers?  I would love to hear about what you incorporate into your classroom!
Have a great day!

Happy World Emoji Day!!!

Hi friends!  Thanks so much for hanging in there with me as I went through some blog design changes.  What better day to post again than on World Emoji Day!

I love the craziness of these types of days, and when I recently saw this new coffee by JavaMoji, I knew I had to check it out.  I mean, how much fun will it be when I go back to school and pick out my coffee emoji for my morning brew!  Y'all know I don't run without my morning coffee!

JavaMoji is a pretty new company, so I'm eager to see what my first batch may bring.  I think these K-cups will be really cool in our teacher workroom...

What a great pick me up!  I'm thinking Secret Santa, or something fun for my team,  and I'll definitely be remembering them when it comes to parent gifts, or a birthday gift for a colleague.

If you want to check them out for yourself, you can go to their website {HERE}.  You can also order them from Amazon:  JavaMoji, Emoji K-Cups, Dark Roast Coffee, 24 Count (affialiate link) starting today!!  Happy World Emjoi Day!!

Awesome Clipart and Activities for Memorial Day

Hi friends!   I'm just popping in to say a quick hello and share some awesome resources that I've found to celebrate Memorial Day.  Most of them are freebies created by hard working teachers like yourselves.  If you love the item and download it, don't forget to leave them a little feedback love too!

I love this Memorial Day clipart from Messare Clips and Design
Check out these cute freebies:



PATRIOTIC PAPER AIRPLANE-- Who doesn't need THIS to entertain kids the last few weeks of school!!

Plus, how cute is this puppy!  It doesn't have anything to do with Memorial Day, but I love him anyway!

Here are a few other pieces.  They aren't freebies, but they are still pretty cool!




I loved using this Arlington Freebie from I'm Lovin Lit.  It uses song lyrics to teach ELA skills.  My students really like a different way to practice strategies.

I've also used this cute FREE HERO Flipbook.  My students created these, and then we passed them on to a local Veteran's home.  They were do grateful.

Have you read America's White Table? This is a beautiful picture book that describes why a small white table is set up in the American Legions around the world.  If you don't own the book, you can find a Youtube Video for it.  I usually teach several lessons on symbolism and American symbols.  I also use it as a text for our mentor sentence for the week.  You can go {HERE} to check it out.

I hope you've found a few things you can use at home or with your students to honor our troops! Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Numbers Battle- A Math Card Game {Mid-Week Math Motivation}

For Mid-Week Math Motivation this week I wanted to share a game my students really love to play. It is perfect to keep them working on order of operations,  positive and negative integers, and mental math skills.

Numbers Battle:
Deck of Cards
Dry erase boards and markers

Create the highest (or lowest number) with a set of 4 cards
Face Cards:  Kings = 20, Queens = 15, Jacks = 10, Aces = 1 
Of course you can make these whatever value you would like, or eliminate them.  I use these numbers because I want my students to practice mental math skills when we play, and these numbers are easy to work with.

How to Play:
When we play this game black cards are positive integers and red cards are negative.  Students shuffle the deck and split the cards evenly in the group.  The game is best served with 2-4 players.
Each student deals four cards from the deck.  They use any set of operations they choose to create the highest or lowest number possible.  I allow my students the use of a dry erase board and marker. They have to write the equation they created to prove they have the highest (or lowest) number.  We use a calculator to check answers as needed.

The winner takes all of the cards from the round.  The game winner is the person with the most cards.

I really love that even younger students can play this game.  It can easily be modified for younger grade levels by limiting the integers to only positive and/or limiting operations.  Students can also get help by using a positive and negative number line. They could be allowed to move the cards or limit them by keeping the cards in order. Even as I'm creating this post I'm thinking of how I can incorporate new skills next year by having my students physically walk the number line in my classroom.  It would be a great way to have a class math battle, and an easy five or 10 minute filler or brain break.

How do you keep your students motivated about math?  I would love to hear from you!
Have a great day!

Notice and Note: Tough Questions

The third signpost in the Notice and Note Signpost for Fiction is Tough Questions.  When a reader is tracking her comprehension and she comes across a situation where a character is reflecting on a big moment, they are asking themselves a Tough Question.  As easy as this signpost sounds, it was by far the most difficult one for my students to look at.  Every time a character asked a question, they wanted to claim it was a tough question.  We needed a lot of examples and work to get on the right track with this signpost.  But, once we got moving, it really helped our comprehension grow.

Tough Questions allow readers to dig deeper into the meaning of text.  When we look for Tough Question signposts we need to think about character because Tough Questions help students learn about internal conflict.  This is a great time to teach types of conflict as well!! Usually I teach Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. The World and Man vs. Self.  The Tough Questions signpost is taught after Man vs. Self.

In the Signpost book, Beers and Probst use A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Have you read this novel?  AMAZING.. truly an inspirational story.  It should definitely be in your library.
(Link to Amazon)
I've also found several other resources that I used to help my students.  It was helpful for us to use our Notice and Note Signpost Tabbed Booklets to keep track of our comprehension.

Here are a few resources I used to introduce and practice Tough Questions:
Cooler Self - A Short Animation by Ozan Basaldi from Ozan Basaldi on Vimeo.

We also used a clip from Mulan.  Usually I show them Prepping for the Matchmaker, and we talk about whether this is the best choice for Mulan.  Then we watch the Reflection sequence.

Here is a student example of the page in our Tabbed Booklets.  

I've also used these books to help students:
Have  you read The Yellow Star?
(Link to Amazon)

I love to use this book because it fits in with our Social Studies curriculum and World War II. Though this story is a legend, it has a remarkable message, and does a great job getting students to think about the Tough Question.  The king of Denmark is faced with a difficult decision when his country is about to be occupied, and Jews are forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing.  He must chose what is right for all people.  

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
(Link to Amazon)

Eve Bunting, deep on so many different levels.  her books are amazing for students because of her messages.  You have the ability to think about conflict and theme with both fourth graders and middle school age students with this type of book.  Bunting's books always have a twist and can really get a reader to think about the messages people send.

Bully by Patricia Polacco

(Link to Amazon)

Again, Polacco is an amazing author on so many levels.  I love this story because for Upper Elementary students the idea of cliques is all too much their every day reality.  Even in grades as low as third and fourth we start to see girls form cliques and shut others out.  Add in the social media of the 5th-8th grade set, and the Tough Questions asked in this book are an amazing way to have a conversation about more that our reading comprehension!

Do you have any favorites for Tough Questions?  I'd love to add your suggestions to my book list! Also, if you are looking for a way to help your students keep track of the Signpost questions and have their own anchor charts, you can go {HERE} to see my tabbed booklet.  Happy Reading!!

Making 2D Street Art {Mid-Week Math Motivation}

My students only are scheduled to go to Art class twice a month. So whenever possible I like to add some sort of art work to my lessons in my core areas.  I first saw this fabulous idea for completing 2D street art from Jen Runde who blogs at Runde's Room.  When I read her post, I knew I had to try this with my students! It is sort of like directed drawing for Big Kids!

We started out using our rulers to create a diamond with our papers in landscape mode.

Then we drew vertical lines in the center to create the street corner.  Follow the slant of lines (slanting to the right on the right side of the street, slanting to the left on the left side) we created rooftops, windows and sidewalks for our street.  We erase the top line of the diamond as we create the rooftops.  Once all of the buildings were drawn, we filled in titles of our favorite shops, and colored all the space.  Some of my students chose daytime street scenes, while others chose a night drawing.

I'll be honest, this was NOT a one day and done project.  It took my serious students about 3-30 minute class periods to complete the piece.  But I believe the project was WELL worth the time.  If you save this project for after your state testing it is a great brain break!

I especially love this project.  My student knows how much I love drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee. She made her street corner a huge Dunkin Donuts store.  She also told me I could have unlimited coffee <hee hee>.

Thanks for stopping by for a little Mid-Week Math Motivation!  I would love to hear what you are up to with your students!

Making Mother's Day Interactive and Memorable in Upper Elementary

Sometimes creating holiday activities in the upper grades can be a little tricky.  There are so many cute ideas for Mother's day on Pinterest and TpT, but many of them are little too young for my sixth graders.  This year we have been working a lot on spatial relationships and geometry.  I was playing around with some foldable shapes, and came up with the idea having my students make their mom's (aunt, grandmother, special person) a geometry flower.

I add some writing elements, including asking students to describe their moms, write similes, draw a picture, and let their mom know why they love them.

We cut out the circles after writing and coloring both sides and folded the shapes back to make triangles.

Next we stapled the pieces together with the triangle point at the bottom to make a four-sided flower.  I had my students color a large Popsicle stick with a green marker (you could also paint them) and I hot glued the stick to the bottom to create a stem.

To pretty them up I asked my students to bring in rolls of ribbon that they may have had left over from other projects, and we tied and glued ribbons to the stem.  Lastly, we filled the bottom of the flower with about 7-8 Hershey's Kisses and Hugs candy.  We decorated small gift bags that I purchased at the dollar store, and made a card for our moms.

But you could also have your students just create a card and attach it to the flower with ribbon like this:

One of the things I liked about the project was that it involved several elements of learning.  Writing, reflection, math and art.  My students had a great time discussing words that may describe their parent, and we all laughed at some of the similes they came up with.

If you are interested in doing something similar, you can go {HERE} for the product.
I would love to hear how you make Mother's Day special in your Upper Elementary Classroom.
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