Making Government Come Alive

I blogged over at iTeach Third how I created a Classroom Congress to really take our learning of the United States Government to the next level. To see the process of one of our most fun activities of this year so far, head over there after this post to see what we did!


But before we got there, we had to really lay sound ground work as most of this learning is brand new to them! So in this post, I'll share what we did to lead up to our own Classroom Congress.

Step 1: What is Government and why do we have it?


We used our trusty text book for this first day. It was not super engaging, but it helped us practice our skill of main idea and detail as we read paragraph by paragraph to learn what government is and why we have it. We learned some basic vocabulary and learned the basics that government creates rules and laws to keep everyone safe. I took the next sections in our text books and compared it to our standards and made up my own resources to cover the necessary concepts, but to make it more engaging and at my students level as the reading level of the text was way above most of my students.

Step 2: What is the Constitution and why do we have it?


We watched this Brain Pop Jr., but just the first minute to learn the basics of the Constitution. I was going to skip this part all together, but it turned out to be essential for our Classroom Congress, so it was important that we didn't skip this part.

After we watched the first minute, we did a little flip flap activity to record our learning.



We finished the rest of the Brain Pop Jr. Video then to prepare for our next focus: The Branches of Government.

Step 3: What are the 3 Branches of Government and what do they do?


We watched the Brain Pop Jr. the previous day and it was time to discuss each branch a bit more in depth. We created a triarama over the next 3 class periods that would help us think about the different branches. You can get the pieces to this project here in my TpT store. I wondered if I should do such a project with students as it would take a while to assemble, but I'm really glad I did as it proved to be beneficial when I was discussing each branch during our Classroom Congress. Here's how I broke it down to make these with students:


Day 1: Assemble the triangles and make the triarama base
Each student needed 5 pieces of paper: 3 blue, 1 color of their choices, and 1 green. The blues were for each branch of the government. The other color was for their check and balance section. The green was cut up to make grass for the branch portions.



I used this awesome picture and video tutorial to teach myself how to create the basic triarama structure.


Day 2: Color, cut, and glue the people and buildings
Students then colored the separate pieces for the triarama. Before they glued them down, they had to sort them and show me.


Day 3: Add facts (clouds)
We talked more in depth about each branch and wrote down facts such as the power of the president to veto, how many senators and reps there were, how many justices are there and how long they serve, etc.

In my example above, I used card stock for everything which I would suggest to use. However, my students used construction paper for theirs and it worked okay. My students did use card stock for the people and buildings in their triaramas.

I also just emptied some glue bottles onto plates and used clothespins and pom poms to make glue dobbers to make it easier for glue control. Overall, these displays were not hard to make at all... yes they take a bit of time, but they were easy for my third grade students to assemble on their own.

After we discussed the roles of each branch, it was time to learn how they work together to make our government run. This is where we learned how bills become laws and we created our own Classroom Congress. Head over to ITeach Third to see that fun process!

If you want these resources to try in your own classroom, check them out in my store by clicking the button below!

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Stop Worthy Words


If you missed my first post in my series on academic language, be sure to start there! Click below to go check it out and then come back for a lesson you can use in your classroom!

BICS and CALP: The Basics to Academic Language

Today's focus is around noticing and stopping at unknown words so that we don't have this happen:



Today, I'm sharing a lesson I did for Martin Luther King Day that also worked well for our nonfiction unit and context clues! I love it when multiple things align at once!! However, you can use this lesson for Black History Month, a biography unit, a character unit, or just because you need to teach into context clues!



I thought of the book, Martin's Big Words. And I remember in years past that when we heard some of his words in this book, they weren't big, as in, long and difficult. They were big in terms of being important. That thinking got me to think about the different types of words that students encounter that might make it hard for them to fully understand a text.


I read the book pretty much, without stopping and thinking aloud on what words might possibly mean. I wanted us to use these words over the next few days as we learned about different context clues to help us solve unknown words. I also changed the name from unknown words to "big" words or "stop worthy" words- words that should make as stop and check our understanding. The 4 types of words I came up with include:

Multiple Meaning Words: I know this words, but it doesn't make sense here.

These are words that students can typically read, but they may have different meanings and those meanings can be very different. Take the word strike for example. Most students won't know of the type of strike in Martin's Big Words. Their minds will go to baseball or bowling most likely! Same with the word right. In this book, it meant a person's rights... very different from what many of them use the word in their daily life. It's important to stop and notice these words to check our understanding.

Difficult to Read or Understand Words: I can read it, but I don't get it. -or- I can't figure out how to say this word.

These are the words that students can't read on their own, but once someone helps them, a lightbulb goes off and they are like, "Oh yea! I've heard of that before." However, they still might not be fully aware of what it means in the context.

New Language Words: I've heard this word in other places before.

These are the words that students have heard in multiple contexts, but they may be a bit more abstract to understand or explain the meaning to someone. They shouldn't be overlooked, but rather used as a teachable moment.

New Learning Words: I know this word goes with the main topic.

These words are words that students know go with the main topic of their text, but they aren't quite sure what the meaning is. These are very content specific that they probably will encounter with similar pieces of writing on the same topic, but they won't use it often in their other learning. 

We also discovered that some of these words might fall into more than one category, such as segregation. 

Throughout the week then, we used different context clues to figure out the meaning of these different types of words and began to apply them in our own reading. Here's the chart we created over the week adding different types of clues to help us solve different types of words!


I've noticed students being much more purposefully when they are jotting about their new words. I'll be showing a strategy that we use to help us jot about stop worthy words in an upcoming post.

What context clue strategies do you teach your students?


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Language for All Learners: Basics



I'm starting a new series where I'm sharing my love of language! And by language, I wish I could say that I'm an expert in foreign, romantic languages and that I'd be sharing about that through my worldly travels. But alas, not quite. I'm sharing my love of language in the classroom, specifically, academic language. 

It's a recent, new found love of mine. Perhaps because I love learning and I'm having to learn a LOT myself to help my students reach their full potentials. But now that I'm a "Masters" (my diploma with my maiden name was delivered this week- you can't win them all I guess), and I spent the first part of this year fully engulfed in all things language, I have seen the huge impact it makes on my students.

All my students.

Not just my 13 ELs. Although the language they've been able to use is pretty remarkable.

I think as an elementary teacher this is especially important but also especially challenging. We wear so many hats all day long. We teach multiple content areas. Some may say, "I'm not a language arts teacher... I teach a lot of other things too!!" However, language is the vehicle in which students share their learning and understanding so in a sense, we all are language arts teachers all day long!

The series will be called, "All Students as Language Learners" and each post will share on the topic of academic language in the elementary classroom. Some will include information that you may not know about academic language, others will include strategies and tips, while others will share resources I use in my room to help make learning stick. I'll also include a quote to kick off each post  to guide the content. I hope to do this once a week, or heck at least once a month... but if you've been around this blog for a while, you know that my blogging during the school year can be hit or miss!

Let's start with the basics.

If students speak English as a first language, they more likely than not have the BICS under control, meaning, they can carry on a conversation with others in a social setting just fine. Typically, the context of the conversation is very clear and easy to distinguish. ELs also may have a great grasp on their BICS depending on where they are at in their English acquisition.

It's the CALP that is like a foreign language to all students. Even students who have grown up speaking English their whole life, will need to be explicitly taught both academic vocabulary and language in order to really take their learning to the next level. We can't assume they know the more abstract, limited context words that we use to discuss our content. So, what is a part of academic language then? It's more than just bold words in a text book!


The bricks are those words that we come in pretty much KNOWING we have to teach students about. Think about a content area and the words you would think to put on your word walls or vocabulary charts. The bold words in text books and articles. Those are your bricks. But just as important are those words that help construct clear meaning, especially when speaking and writing. They hold the thought together.

These are the words and phrases that often go untaught because for (one) they are abstract and hard to explain to students and (two) they aren't as obvious compared to the big bricks. These are our mortar words. They are words and phrases that are very abstract and can be used across content areas, but they are essential to complete our thoughts.

Take a look at this following example. Can you identify the bricks and the mortars? For those mortar words and phrases, do you think even your native English speakers have a good grasp on when to use these phrases and what they mean without any direct instruction on it?
Which words are the bricks? Which words are the mortars? 

Throughout this series, I'll be sharing ways to teach into those mortar words that I've found successful in my classroom. I'll also share ways to make those big brick words stick with learners so they can confidently use them to communicate their ideas and learning. Lastly, I'll share how to broaden and take language farther. I'm just starting out on this journey and just got on the freeway so I know I have a lot to learn still and I'm excited to explore and share it with you all!

Other posts a part of this series:

Stop-Worthy Words and Context Clues



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