Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thinking Through Theme and Linking Life Lessons

We ended our character unit by naming themes and life lessons and something finally clicked this year in our approach to teaching these troubling things! It was super successful and I'm about to break it down how we covered them. We used this visual of these steps/cake/pyramid (those are the names they gave it) to help us organize our thinking.

This work started when we first thought about the main problem our characters were facing. 

We used these past mentor text to gather a few different problems characters might face in books.

We talked how some books have one large problem and then some smaller ones also. Some have a problem, but it looks different for different characters. We need to pay attention to how our characters create, react, and solve their problems... more on this later.

We'll use Amber Brown as an example:

We then learned what a theme is. I phrased it in a few different ways- the main focus being that it is a big message the author wants to teach us about. I'm linking up with Deb at Crafting Connections to share the anchor chart we made about theme below!

We made this chart then. They came up with most of the themes- some aren't as strong as other (like stealing) but I put it up there anyways. They came up with many others, but we ran out of room! We linked it back to the problem then we thought of a "big message" or theme for some of our books. We started with just one/two word phrases like friendship. I then extended it to be a short statement about that theme. This scaffold really helped with life lessons. Here is our example for Amber Brown:

Think: What does the author want me to learn about in this book around this problem?

Once we had our themes, we went back to look at how the character reacted to the problem. What did they do, say, or feel? This shows us what to do (or not to do) if we were in this situation and can teach us about life. We went back and noticed how our characters reacted to this problem and it led us to some possible life lessons.

We took the extended themes and added personal pronouns to it to make it "universal." I emphasized this to help students not be super tied to the exact examples to the story. For example...

  • Without personal pronouns: Abigail wanted to ride a bike and practiced. (from Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One)
  • With personal pronouns: If you want to get better at something, you need to practice.
When we are all down, we have this visual:

Here is an example from a student in one of their own books:

Approaching it in this order and in this way really helped students pick appropriate themes and life lessons. Plus, it really forced them to go back in their text to look for how the character reacted to the problems, as this is the core to this process. It took us about 4 days from start to finish to talk first about problems, then themes, then life lessons during our mini-lessons and each day built upon the previous day's work. I was so impressed with their work and it showed on their assessments as well!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

From Review to Resource: Student Created Handouts

We've just about wrapped up our 2nd unit of the year: Following our Characters through Series Books. There were ups and downs, as my team once again tried to find the best way to teach this unit. It didn't all go over the best, but there were some great successes in this unit that I hope to replicate next year while we once again keep our wheels turning on how to teach this unit.

I gave my students two major assessments on Thursday and Friday and to help support them, we did this review activity inspired by one of my teammates. I'm a huge advocate for graphic organizers (especially this unit- they saved me and gave me SUCH good information on my students), so I knew I wanted to whip up something to support my students in a review. My teammate simply had students just write ideas on a piece of paper as their "planning page" and then turned it into posters for the classroom. He then took photocopies of the planning pages and had students put them into their RW binders. I didn't have that time due to co-teaching reading. But I did like the idea of having something in their binders that they could reference all year long. So I created a g.o. of different things to consider about a given focus from this unit that each group would work on. That group would review that focus or skill and create a resource for the rest of the class to put in their binders. I modeled (very, very quickly) with "retell." Don't laugh at my absolutely awful symbol. (When I was doing it, I didn't think anyone else would see it besides my students.). The students helped me fill in the boxes while I did this under the document camera.

Then, each group was assigned one focus. They divided the work together and planned on post-its first. Then they transferred their ideas onto their graphic organizer. We did this whole thing (from model to final g.o.) in about 30 minutes. I wish I had given them more time, but we didn't have that. Anyways- here are their resources that are now in everyone's binder for reference:

Do they have perfect spelling? Not quite. Best wording? Nope. But it was very insightful on what they remembered about these concepts and what they didn't. We'll revisit these throughout other units and create new ones throughout the year o keep in our binders as a growing reference!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Scoop: I'm Already Pooped!

I am so envious of all the bloggers out there who teach full time, have children and families of their own, blog on a regular basis, and create things often for TpT.


Looking back at my blogging history, September thru December are pretty dead around here. I just can't find the time. And I only have a husband to look after (or more like he looks after me... except now basketball started so he's coaching and I have to "cook" dinner myself- boo).

So, it's nothing too earth-shattering, but here's my Sunday Scoop and perhaps it will explain why I can barely function as it is, let alone blog about it.


  • If I could get rid of homework, I would. Our school day is so intense and kids don't get home until after 4:00 pm (for some of them, they don't get home until 5:00 3 days a week now that we have Targeted Services- more on that later). They read for at least 20 minutes and fill out their book log (which seems to be going fine) but then they also have a math page most nights too. And they are pretty good about doing it and turning it in. I'm not so good at checking it in though and have a huge pile that needs correcting. I need to do it before report cards. But I just wonder how valuable it is (for both my students and myself).
  • Targeted Services is an after school program where we invite students who need extra support in certain skills. One of my teammates and I are sharing the load and only teaching one day a week. But I want that time to be purposeful and helpful. I teach on Tuesdays and all we are working on is addition and subtraction (word problems, multi-digit, money, etc). We only have like 50 minutes, but it takes up a lot of my time to prepare for it still. 
  • I'm helping out this committee and have to prepare resources for the members before the end of November. I've been putting it off since the beginning of November. I've got to get going.


  • I've been making stuff and testing it out in my room. I just haven't had the time to make it "TpT" ready. Maybe soon. (But not likely)
  • Report cards are due soon. Next Wednesday, yes, the day before Thanksgiving, we have a PD day and half of it is for report cards. My goal is to have report cards done before then so that I can use that time to organize my room and finally sync all my files over to Google Drive. Our district is moving our current cloud system to Google Drive and we have to move it over before December 31st. Ugh. 


  • My sister in law is returning to MN after spending the last few months at a salmon hatchery in Alaska. We're having dinner with his parents and his sisters tomorrow night to welcome her home and hear her stories. On Friday, we are celebrating my Grandma's birthday. I'll be going down to spend some time with my family members, which will be nice since we haven't seen everyone since the summer up at the cabin.

Well, until next time (which who knows when that'll be).