Sunday, March 1, 2015

If You Teach Them a Graphic Organizer...They Will Draw It

I don't know about you, but I have a strong love affair with graphic organizers. They are multi-purposeful in my eyes. They can help my students be stronger writers, readers, and speakers. It allows me to see their thoughts and ideas, clear up any confusion, and help them strengthen their overall understanding of whatever we are working on. You can use them across content areas and best of all- they can be slightly modified to fit your needs, while keeping it accessible for the students. 
The first part of the year, I often gave students a pre-made graphic organizer for them to gather their thoughts while reading. This allowed me to see what they were able to do, and where I needed to step in and help more. They worked great and gave me a ton of information on my students, not to mention, it held them accountable during our independent reading time. We began to shift now to graphic organizers that we can create ourselves. The beauty of these: they can change to fit our needs. Here are 3 graphic organizers that we use often and just slightly tweak!

These can be used in many different content areas. We use them most often during our read aloud and independent work time to gather ideas to show our thinking and talk with others about our reading.



Some of the uses we've used this style for: Cause and Effect, Inferences, Multiple Pieces of Evidence

We used this graphic organizer last week when we focused on multiple pieces of evidence and patterns to give our character traits. We used this awesome book for our biography unit. 



If you have a chance to read it, I strongly encourage it. The students really connected to it due to what Steve Jobs created, but the quality of character is excellent too. We see Steve change throughout his successes and drawbacks and we had excellent conversations as to what caused these changes. Here are a few examples of how we tweaked this flow chart graphic organizer to show our thinking using text evidence.

(don't mind my chicken scratch...)


For this time around, we put events in the boxes at the top, then we jotted why the author would add these events in the middle, followed by a trait word. I choose the flow-chart style to show how these are all connected: the text, the author's ideas, and my ideas.


This allows me to see: 1) Can they identify important events 2) Can they identify the reason those events were included 3) Can they develop an idea of their own based on the events

For example, in the example where the student said Steve is careless, I'd like to meet with this student to discuss how we want two or more events that show the same trait. Crying himself actually shows me that he does care, but I agree with the student that Steve seems to care about things that seem little to the rest of us and ignores things that seem important. 
Some of the uses we've used this style for: Sequencing, Author's Purpose, Cause/Effect, Inferences

I love the timeline graphic organizer! I often use it during read aloud. Students divide their paper into half. On one side, they always jot important events in the story. On the other side, we change it up: Sometimes we write down our ideas to, "Why did the author add that part?" Other times, we write down, "What is my idea?"  It's great to keep events in sequence and to go back and look for patterns, cause/effect, and retelling. Here are some student examples. Some were done during read aloud- others were done during independent reading time.


You'll notice that the one on the left wrote down that the text is on the left and her idea is on the right. She did this during independent reading to be prepared to discuss at her book club. The one on the right was done during read aloud. We were focusing on events/text on the left and why the author would add that part on the right. I would simply tell them to stop and jot and they would pick out the events they found important and jot those down, along with their idea as to why the author would add those parts (this was for our mystery read aloud). 


Some of the uses we've used this style for: Narrative Elements, Genre Studies, Poetry, Close Reading

I pull this one out when I want to focus on many skills at the same time. I might want students to focus on the setting, characters, problem, and solution so each box would be labeled with those words or a quick picture to remind students. Or, I might want students to focus on things that stood out to them, questions, places that they stopped, and unknown words for book club meetings. I recently began using it for genre studies and test prep. We are taking our reading test on the computer this year, so we are learning different ways to keep track of our ideas. One way is through this 4 square box so that students can look at different things they've gathered across a text. (I'll be showing you more of this when we do some work on close reading with poetry this week.) Here are some student work samples that they did independently when preparing to discuss at book clubs.


Notice how this student wrote little pictures (that we learned) in each box to keep track of her different ideas. The stick person stands for character events/things that stood out; the ? stands for questions to ask my group or questions I had while reading; the "No" symbol stands for parts that were confusing and made her stop; and the W stands for words or phrases that are confusing to her.

I love putting the power into my own students hands to use an organizer that works for them to show their thinking. The scaffold of using pre-made organizers I believe was very helpful and necessary and made our journey to self-created ones easier.

What is your go-to graphic organizer? Do you use pre-made or student created one? I'd love to hear!


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Who Done It? Mystery Genre Kick-Off

It's nice to move on from Nonfiction. That unit seemed to dragggggg. Maybe because it was both before and after winter break that we worked on it. Anywho, I was excited to start our next unit: mystery genre book clubs! Here's a peek into our first 2 weeks!


For this fictional unit, we bring out all the engagement strategies we know! We launch with a real life classroom mystery that lasts the whole day. We do book clubs. We do exciting read alouds. We watch mystery movies. It's a great unit before we transition into test prep.


We started with a real life mystery. I didn't take pictures really because it was a crazy day! Not only was it the day of my last formal observation of the year, but I had to perfectly choreograph all the suspects and clues so that I could teach into the mystery vocab. Here's a little run down on our mystery:


Due to severe allergies, snack is provided each day for students. A favorite is puff corn. Knowing this, I brought some and told them that was our snack that day. Pumped! Little did they know that it was going to go missing. I had my principal in on it, who was going to be in the room anyways for my last observation. She even was sneezing and coughing on purpose to make sure that students knew she was there so they would suspect her. I had the music teacher have some on her desk for when they went there for music. I hoped at least one observant kid would notice... and they did. I had our instructional coach walk in with some as her 'snack' to give me something. We had pretend announcements over the intercom, generated questions to ask our suspects, nonchalantly walked around the school looking for clues, called suspects, the whole 9 yards! I had kids who literally couldn't contain themselves with the excitement. We had indoor recess that day to the cold and all of them wanted to write down notes on this case so they made their own graphic organizer and whenever we learned something new, they wrote it down. All the while, I was plugging in mystery genre vocabulary. To quote one student, "It was the best day of my entire life." (Ok- maybe not MY life... but for an 8 year old, perhaps this isn't too far from the truth.)

The next day, we did this matching activity for the vocabulary we learned the day prior. We used my teammates awesome mystery pack. It's in our binder to reference if we forget.


I also had to be gone one day due to a committee meeting. So students got to watch a movie! But not just any movie, a Scooby Doo movie to reinforce vocabulary, story structure, and inferring.


We also promoted engagement by doing mystery book clubs. We learned how to prepare and what roles we can play when we meet. It's going pretty good. Our wonky schedule with testing is making it difficult to keep track of things, but we're trying. It'll look different these next two weeks because I loose my coteacher to ACCESS testing. Boo. We finally were getting into a good rhythm.


We've talked about story structure quite a bit to help us review fiction since we've been out of it for what seems months. We used this story arc during our fiction unit:


I then showed them this story arc:


We compared the two and why they are similar (mystery is typically fiction so it has the same elements) and how they are different (mystery typically escalates in spurts due to clues and suspects, reaching a very exciting parts and then wrapping up quickly). This was a nice refresher and helped them to know what to look for.

To wrap up our first bend, we created this chart inspired by my other teammate! I loved his thinking with organizing this chart. We've been all about the trees this year as a visual for our learning. Not sure of our fascination with it, but it just works for so much! And so we continue with it.


We reviewed that we have to be rooted in the text by rereading, reading closely, and stopping and jotting. We should be noticing the different characters and what kind of people they are as well as the clues (evidence) the author is giving us about the mystery. Lastly, we talked about the type of thinking we do with mysteries: questioning, inferring, and predicting. I had all the post-its off the chart and we sorted them together. Then, they talked about which part of the tree they wanted to focus more on in the second bend of our work. I loved how most students knew exactly where they needed to grow!

We are onto the next bend in this mystery genre. I wonder if we will run into any red herrings??

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Convince Me: The Start to our Persuasive Writing Unit


This is probably my favorite writing unit. I've found it very easy to scaffold and build, which is super important for my EL cluster (and really- most of my students). It's engaging and it shows how writing can impact others. We've been working on it for about a week now and we are slowly learning the art to persuasion. This is a work in progress- some charts aren't complete yet, graphic organizers only half-filled, but by the end of the week (hopefully- I'm home sick) we should be ready to write our first draft!


I wrote my own persuasive piece in a morning message one day to launch our new unit. In addition to that, we watched a few Kid President videos. I literally had kids say out loud, "I want to make today awesome!" We talked how Kid President made his message so believable to them and that we would be doing the same thing as him: Trying to make the world better through persuasive writing- starting right at our school.


I wanted to do an On Demand to see what they would bring without any of my teaching. I told them to think of a problem here at school and write a persuasive (opinion) speech. This gave me great insight into what the previous grades focused on and it allowed me to give some feedback to my students. I wrote down a glowing moment (lightbulb) and a growing moment (seedling) to tell them what to keep doing and what a goal might be.
We then started this chart. We'll continue to add to it as we learn about the structure of a persuasive speech. The top part as to just define it and state the reasons as to why write this type of writing. They then began to brainstorm problems in our school that they could image solutions for. We used my teammates AWESOME resource for our planning purposes. 

I've used the same student's work throughout this post so you can see the different steps we took. I'm really proud of this kiddo, as he is one of my ELs who have found a love for writing this year.


After we brainstormed and selected a problem to solve, we stated our solution in the form of an opinion. Our curriculum has them call it a thesis statement. We did some work around bold and brave vs. wishy-washy statements and they had their opinion ready to support!


We started talking about audience right away so that when we start thinking of examples and reasons, they are tied to our audience. We did this activity that I made up last year to get them thinking about talking to their audience throughout their speech (which is exactly what Kid President does too).  We practiced with the cards from my updated pack Convince Me that includes this hand out and the cards! They had to talk to the audience listed on the card and convince them of the opinion also on the card by thinking how their audience might react and what they might think. Check it out!

I put this item on sale for the next 10 people to purchase!

Now, it was time to come up with reasons. And this was the part they always struggle with. Their reasons are usually weak and they don't think about their audience at all. I found an excellent post from Teresa at Confessions of a Teaching Junkie and used most of it in my room this year and it worked like a charm. You should definitely check out her original post.

We defined the word "valid" with a shade of meaning visual. I found the book Teresa recommended on Youtube since I didn't have a copy. As the book was being read, I jotted down the different reasons the boy gave to his mom as to why he should have a pet iguana, while the students enjoyed and listened.
Sorry for the poor quality- these were taken on my phone up on the SMARTboard


We then thought about the audience, which was his mom, and thought which reasons would be most convincing to a mom. As long as they could defend it (defensible) and it made sense (logical) we considered it valid. We slowly erased the reasons until we had what we thought were the 3 strongest reasons. I didn't necessarily think that the iguana being eaten by another animal was a valid reason, but two kiddos had rather convincing statements, so as a class, we kept it. 

We then tried it with my reasons I jotted down the previous day for my "model" persuasive speech. They helped me determine which ones were most valid.


Then, it was their turn and I saw a lot of students going back to the reasons they jotted down originally and adding more, crossing out invalid reasons and picking their top 3. 


Once we picked 3, we added them to our planning page, my free OREO page from my store.

With this kiddo (and many others) we'll go back to our reasons and write them as strong, full sentences as opposed to ... because... so... etc. type of statements during our revision stage. But, his reasons are pretty valid in my eyes!

What's next for us?
  • Come up with strong examples
  • Add in transitional phrases to flow from one reason to the next
  • Add a hook involving a question or anecdote before we state our problem and solution (opinion)
  • Add in a conclusion to call our audience towards action
  • Find places to "talk" to our audience
My hope is to get these drafted, revised, and editing and then actually record these speeches into mini-videos so we can send them to our target audience and get their reactions. Time will tell if we can accomplish all of that!