Monday, September 15, 2014

Ten Ways to Encourage Reading in Your Classroom

Clip art: Whimsy Workshop font: KG Fonts

Of course, we all want our students to become readers - we want them to read way beyond the classroom, not just when they have to, but also because they want to. In many ways, that is becoming more and more difficult. While the emphasis the Common Core gives on informational text will likely benefit our kids in many ways, in many classrooms, it is at the expense of fiction. Large amounts of standardized testing only adds to the problem. What can we do to instill a love of reading in our students? Here are 10 suggestions.

Make your classroom a reading Mecca. Your classroom library should be well organized, inviting, and constantly evolving. Rotate in seasonal books. Stock books that are popular with your students, grab new and interesting titles. Make book check out easy. Decorate your classroom with motivational sayings/posters about reading. Get kids excited about book orders with a scavenger hunt or other activity.

Don't lose read aloud time, even in the upper grades. It is really quite lovely to be read aloud to. Personally, I think my love of reading probably stems from my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Watson, who found the best books to read out loud. Two great strategies he had: He almost always picked a book in the middle of a series to read. Instead of reading us The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, he read us The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Of course, I had to read the rest of the series. If he wasn't reading a book from a series, he selected an author with many other books in print. Again, I had to have more. The other thing he did was to stop reading at a cliff hanger. We could not wait for the next day to find out what happened.

Don't lose silent reading time - whether you call it SSR (Silent Sustained Reading), DEAR (Drop Everything And Read), DIRT (Dear, It's Reading Time), NIB (Nose In Book) or whatever, don't let it fall by the wayside in favor of instruction time. For some of your students, this may be the only time during the day that they read for pleasure.  Develop a system so that you know that every student has a book. Allow students to read away from their desks - if you can manage pillows, beanbags, cozy reading nooks, all the better. And be a good model - read read yourself! 

Allow your students (especially reluctant readers) to read whatever they want, as long as it is school appropriate. Comic books, graphic novels, joke books, books about TV shows or movies, books that focus on things that are gross, books that have the word, "butt" or "underpants" in their titles, etc. Good literature is important and hopefully, all your students will get to a place where they will love and appreciate it, but for the student who is still struggling to sound out words, making sure the content is fun and motivating is super important. 

Make reading at home easy. Most teachers require students to read at home for a given number of minutes per day. Whatever system you use to track it, make it easy. If it is too complicated, parents will either skip it, or fill out your form with fake numbers. 

Don't make reading for pleasure into extra work. Avoid requiring students to write book reports or answer a bunch of comprehension questions about the books they read for pleasure. If you would like some accountability, below are two FREE possibilities (just click the images to download).
Take advantage of movies that were books first, which does't mean spending valuable class time to watch them. But, you could make sure to have several copies of the book available before the release of the movie and during the run. You could also create extra credit assignments based around comparing the book to the movie. Another idea is to keep a lending library of DVDs of movies that were first books. A student would only be allowed to borrow the movie after he/she had read the book.

Use audio books to motivate reluctant readers. One strategy is to allow students to only listen to the first chapter or two. If they want to know what happens next, they will need to read the book. 

Avoid competitons and rewards. This one is up for debate, but in my opinion, reading is one of those things that really should be its own reward, right from the start, at least for most kids. There may be a few where a reward system for number of pages or books read makes sense, and it could be that external rewards at first lead to an intrinsic love of reading, but I would only use a reward system if deemed necessary. I also am not a fan public competitions where it is clear to everyone how many books each student has read. Some kids read fluently from the start, others struggle. It isn't fair to pit them against each other.

Find ways for kids to share. It could be an after school book club, pair sharing what you've been reading, making video book reviews or any number of other things. One of my favorites is to have everyone get in a circle right after silent reading time. Go around the circle and have each student hold up his/her book and say one sentence about it. It often helps to give a prompt such as, "I like this book because...." or "One interesting thing about his book is..."

How do you motivate student reading your classroom? Please share with a comment.

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Making Inferences

 Minds in Bloom is happy to introduce Sharon Fabian, from the Classroom in the Middle with her post on making inferences.
Making inferences may be a difficult skill, but it is a fun one to teach – especially when you see those little wheels start to turn! Here are a few ideas for getting started.    

Using Close-up Photos For a different way of introducing inferences, try using really close-up photos. Photos of most any object will do. You will need a photo of the whole object and a close-up photo of just part of the object. For example, look at this one.   Red Car - close up copy  
 The kids may figure out right away that it’s a car, but that’s only the beginning. How do they know it is a car? What clues tell them that the white and yellow part is a headlight? Maybe they will say that the red looks shiny and curved; maybe the white and yellow part looks like a headlight because of its shape or because of the grey areas that make it look shiny, too. And what about the two small black areas? What makes one look like a car’s grill and one look like a tire - maybe their location in reference to the other colored parts? However they describe the clues, kids will be thinking and putting their inferencing skills to work.   Red Car copy   
 Now, how about this one? It’s shiny and red, too, with chrome attachments. Is it another car?   colander - cropped   
For this one, I might have kids list their clues and write their inferences individually first. Then to follow up, discuss how the students were able to determine that it was not a large object such as a car. Also, discuss which clues were most helpful to those students who made the correct inference, and maybe touch on how background knowledge may have made a difference as far as what individual students thought the object was.

Using Riddles I also love to use riddles to introduce the topic of inferences. I have used this interactive Inference Riddle Game often, and it has always engaged my kids. It has fifteen free riddles, which are plenty for a lesson. The riddles are easy, but what I really like about this game is that each riddle has ten clues – more than many kids will need to solve the riddles, but great for demonstrating all of the little details that build up to make a good inference.   I also like to create interactive riddle games of my own using the Question Flippers on Smartboard. Students can flip the bars one at a time to reveal clues and then move an object to reveal the answer.   Using Favorite Picture Books Of course, we want students to move on eventually from “fun” activities to making inferences in stories. Nearly any story will have some opportunities for making inferences, but it’s nice to have one or two favorites to start with. Here are two picture books that I like to use. Both are good for upper elementary or middle school kids.   The Stranger, by Chris Van Allsburg, is the story of an unusual visitor who arrives, by way of a traffic accident, at Farmer Bailey’s farm and stays to create quite a mystery. Here are a few inference questions to get you started:
  1. When the stranger arrived in their home, why do you think Mrs. Bailey inferred that he didn’t know how to talk?
  2. During the doctor’s visit, how do you think the mercury got stuck at the bottom of his thermometer?
  3. At dinner the first night, what do you think caused Mrs. Bailey to say, “Brrr. There’s a draft in here tonight”?
And the big inference at the end of the story: Who was the stranger? Kids might not agree on one definite answer, but they should definitely be able to come up with some good clues to back up their inferences.   Riding the Tiger, by Eve Bunting, is the story of Danny, who takes a ride through his neighborhood cruising on the back of a tiger. Here are a couple of questions:
  1. Why do you think the tiger said to Danny, “Too bad you’re not wearing my colors”?
  2. Why do you think the police car slowed down when the officers saw Danny riding the tiger?
  3. At what point in the story do you think Danny first began to suspect that riding the tiger might not be a good idea?
The big question: If the tiger is really a symbol representing a more realistic problem that some young people face, what problem do you think the tiger stands for? Some students seem to come up with a good answer right away, while for others this is a difficult question, so you might want to be prepared with a few clues of your own for the kids who need prompting.   And finally, here is one of my own holiday riddle freebies, in case you would like to try it – Halloween Riddles.   Halloween Riddles 
me 3-8-13  Sharon Fabian, from the Classroom in the Middle blog, is a retired middle school teacher with experience teaching reading and a variety of other subjects. She loves having more time now to create teaching resources – especially materials for teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing. Here is the link to her store, also called Classroom in the Middle.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Writing Across the Curriculum

Minds in Bloom is happy to present another stellar post from Shelley Rolston on Writing Across the Curriculum. Enjoy!

I heard it a lot from students when I taught the upper elementary grades: "I'd like Science if I didn't have to write about it." Or, "This is not Math, it's Writing!" Have you ever heard this?  In the younger grades they don't often express it in such a way. Instead, those students will just sit back and not participate very much, knowing that they have to write about it.  Sound familiar?

Back in the day, I didn't really see a solution to this other than to encourage the students to get the writing done so that they could go on to the fun part of the Science or Math or what have you. Partly this was due to curricular outcome expectations and testing that required written "evidence" of learning and partly this was do to the fact that I was a newer teacher and really didn't know any other way to find out what students knew without having them write it down. My, have things in education changed!

 Thankfully, with Howard Gardner's book Frames of Mind (1983) came a whole new way of thinking about students.  Gardner outlined 8 different "intelligences" that a person could have:  self smart, word smart, logic smart, nature smart, picture smart, body smart, music smart, people smart.  This new way of thinking helped to shape some of the future thinking in how kids learn.  In a word, differently.

Across the curriculum, there are many advantages to students being good writers.  They can express themselves so that others can "see" their understanding.  However, to a large majority of students, understanding is one thing, explaining their understanding is a whole new ballgame.

Here are some ways that I encourage students to "write across the curriculum" without them even noticing!

For younger students, writing what they think they know on sticky notes and coming up to put them on a class chart is an active learning (and writing) strategy that is meaningful and fun. Having them culminate their understanding later in a little hand made book makes writing fun!

Writing about Math can be fun and meaningful too.  Here are a couple of ideas:

Social Studies is always a tough one because there is so much writing involved but there doesn't need to be. Class discussions are very valuable as well as the following tips and ideas:

There's nothing worse than having to write a summary, review or retell of a book you just read, right? Sometimes a different kind of writing can spark more of an interest.  Boys especially seem to feel frustrated when asked to write about a book.  Why? It's because it doesn't mean anything to them. Many boys read books out of necessity.  A book about how to build something might be useful. I've had boys tell me that when they read something that they find meaningful, they quickly break it into 3 areas:  stuff they already know, stuff they absorb easily and then the rest are things that they must write down because they don't know it and need to write it to remember it. Obviously as a teacher, we must expose kids to all kinds of genres so here are a couple of tips to get students writing about reading:

If students have a home reading program as a primary student or a novel study as an intermediate student, the potential for students to want to write about their book is higher if they choose the book themselves. I have students do home reading presentations that can be anything from a lego representation to a diorama. Oddly enough, many kids choose to write.

Other ways to motive writing and sneak it into their daily life is to have kids "apply" for jobs in the classroom or for student council or what have you.  Here, my students were asked to submit a letter of application to be technology monitors in my classroom.  Only those interested submitted.

And here, students began projects that ended up full of writing based on their own "passion" or "genius".

Writing can be a fun way for students to "show what they know" in their own way that is meaningful for them and helps you to assess their level of understanding.

Shelley Rolston teaches in a suburb just outside of beautiful Vancouver, BC.  She is the mom of two teenage daughters and she loves the great outdoors and getting into nature.

 Here are some other places you can find her and some of the ideas she has talked about:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Games in the Classroom

Minds in Bloom welcomes Krista Mahan of Teaching Momster. We know you'll love her post on games in the classroom!

Let's take a look at two classrooms.  

In the first classroom, students are all sitting in their seats, taking a timed test.  Some are already finished and doodling on the back of their page.  Others are using their fingers to figure out an answer.  A few are looking very frustrated and anxious and one is near tears.  

The second classroom is a little noisy.  Students are sprawled out around the classroom.  Some are rolling dice, others are shuffling cards, and a few are using scrap paper to do some quick calculations.  The kids are talking with each other, most even smiling.

Obviously, most of us would prefer to be in the second classroom, but many of us have been in both classrooms!  I will be the first to admit that I have been the teacher in the first classroom.  Timed tests were what I did and what the other teachers in my school did.  They were easy (although, a huge waste of paper).  But, were the kids really learning anything?  Were they engaged?  Sure, some of them were competitive enough with themselves, which might motivate them to study their facts.  But, many were not.  In fact, many of them did the opposite.  They realized they were not getting any faster or better, so they just slowed down or gave up.

A few years ago, I decided to try something different.  What if the kids could play some games at the beginning of each math class INSTEAD of taking a timed test?  I decided to turn it into a research project (I happened to be in my master's program at the time).  Would kids improve their scores more or less by playing games as opposed to continuing to take timed tests?  


My results showed an increase in scores, although it wasn't as high as I had hoped for.  However, the thing I hadn't counted on was how much happier the kids were!  Taking timed tests everyday was tedious and almost like forcing them to do something.  Playing games is fun, interactive, and can easily be changed up to make them fresh.  And, the social skills my kids practiced every day was a hidden benefit.  I hadn't counted on so many kids NOT having played simple games before.  Many of them didn't know rules for popular card games and board games.  This led to some mini-lessons on how to play the games (the actual directions as well as the unspoken rules of how to play games with others). 

 Fast forward a few years……

My son is autistic and really struggles with social skills.  When I say he HATES to lose, I mean he screams, turns red, makes a fist, groans, moans, and hates himself if he loses!  When we decided to practice this skill at home, we tried to come up with ways to keep the games fresh and not boring, while not changing up the rules too much so he doesn't have to learn new rules all the time (also not easy for him).  Since he liked Uno so much, I decided to make some games of my own!  We started out easy.  I made some addition and subtraction versions.  He loves math and is really good at it, so these were easy for him.  Of course, for him, I was focused more on the social aspect of playing games than I was the academic portion.  As we played, we talked.  The more we talked, the less anxious he became and the more natural his conversation became.  As he did better with losing, we added his sister into the games too.  Now, the conversations were even better.  We laughed so much!  And, he started focusing on the skills (which were now more difficult) and the fun rather than the winning or losing.

It was an important lesson to the teacher in me.  Our students do not all have great social skills.  Even if they are not autistic, our world is not the same as it was when we were growing up.  Students play on phones and tablets, often without any interactions with others.  They text instead of making a phone call.  Don’t get me wrong!  I love technology and what it can do for our kids!  But, I want my kids to be well rounded.  I still want them to be able to hold a conversation!  Why not let them practice an academic skill while practicing social skills too?  

I have created an entire series of WILD card games that put an academic spin on an old favorite!  They cover topics in math, ELA, and Science.  The best news is that I have some versions that are FREE so you can try them out yourself!  In my TeachersPayTeachers store, you will find a sampler, a full version of multiplication, and a summer vocabulary version.  And, just for Minds in Bloom readers, you can grab my Telling Time version for FREE too!  Click {HERE} to snag your copy.     

As I began creating these games, I realized that I wanted to track the games and make sure they didn't get mixed up (although, at times, we purposely mixed some of the games to make a new one!  We put the multiplication and division cards together to make it a little more difficult).  So, I came up with a way to easily sort the cards so we could quickly see which group the cards belonged to.  I wanted to share some of my ideas because I know we (teachers) often print our own games, files, task cards, etc.  These ideas could be used for any of these ideas!

 First, I printed on colored tag board (this deck happened to be printed on white tagboard that has colored specks in it, but they didn't show up well in the pictures).  That alone can help you sort them! 

And, I added a label with the name WILD on the back to make it look like an actual card (I didn't want to waste ink by printing a backside as well).

But, we have so many versions of this printed and there are only so many colors of tagboard!  So, I grabbed some decorative masking tape (it was on sale at Office Max, so I picked up several rolls) and got to work.  First, I put a strip of the tape across the back of the page.  Then, I cut the cards out and put it through the laminator.  Now, they are coded (and pretty)!  

I hope you you and your students get a chance to play some games this year.  Not only does it help the kids become more interested in their learning, but it is FUN for you too!  Watching kids chat, learn, and have fun energizes the whole class!

My name is Krista Mahan and I am Teaching Momster.  I taught for 12 years in grades 3-5.  I am now staying at home with my two kids, volunteering in classrooms, and making products for busy teachers.  My specialties include games, interactive notebooks, lapbooks, and other ways to combine FUN and LEARNING.   

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fold the Line

Minds in Bloom is happy to present Terri Izatt from KinderKapers with a guest post on the game Fold the Line. We know you'll love it!
This is an exciting time of year as we are thinking about going back to school and getting to know a new batch of students.  How do we build rapport with all these new little (or not so little) people?

One of the best ways to get to know your students is to get them talking.  Get them discussing topics that are relevant to them and you will gain insights that can impact your teaching the rest of the year.  Getting them to interact and connect with each other, will impact their learning as well.

The game I have for you today is called Fold the Line.  To play this game you first need to set up a spot for a line.....somewhere in your room, the gym, outside.  You do need a little bit of space, but you can make almost anyplace work.  The line should be set up as a number line....1-10 or 1-5 (that would be your choice).  You can define your line with a rope, some surveyors tape, a sidewalk, any long straight line that will help your students "see" where they need to be.  Label your number line with numbered circles, squares, cones, flags, anything that will help your students know where along the continuum they want to be.

Next you read a statement.  Have the students decide if they agree or disagree with your statement, and how strongly they agree or disagree.  Students line up along the line.....1= they agree strongly, 5= they both agree and disagree, 10= they strongly disagree (okay, it would work the opposite way too, just make sure they know which end is agree and which is disagree).

Now comes the tricky part....wherever the middle of the line ends up being, that is where you fold.  If your line tends to be bunched up at one end....don't worry.  You just want to have about the same number of students on each side of the fold.  Bend the line, there at the mid-point and the students walk towards each other.  Ones should end up across from the tens, and the four, fives, and sixes are in the middle, across from each other too.

Now comes the fun part...Discussion!
Begin with questions that have lots of opinions, but are not very controversial.  Those kinds of questions are good for getting to know each other, establishing trust, and learning the rules for a good discussion.

Those ones and tens need to have lots to talk about.   Choose topics that are relevant to your students and the area you live in.  The fours, fives, and sixes, may have close to the same opinion, but they should still be able to discuss why they think there is both good and bad, right and wrong in the topic.

You can use this teaching strategy to move into statements that are more controversial, local, and important to your students.  Recently there was a debate going on about whether a new highway should be built across wetlands.  Lots of good chances for students to establish their own opinions (or express the opinions of their parents) and learn to express and defend them politely.  You could give the statement. "Legacy Highway should be build across the Great Salt Lake Wetlands." They would have to choose how strongly they agreed with that statement.  Line up on the number that corresponds with the strength of their opinion, then fold the line.  Those that have the most differing opinions would be talking to each other.  Just remember the rules!

You can use this type of discussion at other times with topics that you know will have common misconceptions, like Newton's third law.  If you push on this table it pushes back (with equal force).  If you use these types of statements be sure to start the discussions before you teach the concept. get to know you discussion game I use is Walk the Line.  This time I pose a question with two possible answers.  "Which do you like best, cats or dogs?"  Students line up on either side of a line according to their answer.  They turn and face each other, walk toward the line, and then discuss.  You can find this game in my TpT store for free.  These questions can be used with Fold the Line, if you change it from a two-choice question to a one-choice statement.

One last activity is Stand Up For Friendship.  You can find this on my facebook page in the fan freebie section.  In this activity you read a statement like, I have a baby at my house, and everyone stands up for whom that statement is true.  It is a great way to see who has things in common with you and with each other.  You can have a discussion about the commonality, if you want (and have the time) to extend the activity.
Get your students talking this year.  Listen to what they say.  Practice the art of conversation.  Then craft your lessons to take advantage of what you, and your students, have learned.

 Terri has taught for 28 years while raising four beautiful children and now she is blessed with 12 wonderful grandchildren. She has taught every grade K-6, but most of her teaching years have been in 2nd. Recently, she has gone back to Kindergarten and thinks she would love to stay there for a good long time. 

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