Being Responsive with Anecdotal Note Taking

Another Throwback from the iTeach3rd blog that you may find helpful this time of year!

Anecdotal notes are a huge part of my formative assessments all year round. What are they exactly? It's a super fancy word for writing down your observations. Observations can tell you A LOT about your students for both academics and behavior. Don't believe me? Here are few reasons why I use anecdotal note-taking in my classroom:

  • They help me track things in a variety of subjects including behaviors
  • They help me be responsive to my students' needs
  • They help me to notice patterns for a particular student or groups of students
  • They provide explicit examples for discussions with my team, service members, and families
  • They help teachers stay on top of each student and not just those who are struggling for the feedback that all students (and families) crave.

What's even more awesome about this formative assessment technique is how versatile it is! You can truly test out many different ways and use what works best for you. I for one have tried many different strategies to house my notes: binders, notebooks, post-its, labels... you name it. After 4 years, I finally found my "go-to" ways of collecting these notes. Here's a few different ways I collect this important data:

Paper & Pencil Strategy
Note-Taking Boxes

I give each of my students a number. That is one reason why I like this strategy and anecdotal note taking in general. Instead of trying to write down a student's name, I can just quickly jot their number down. It saves precious time.

How it works:
I write my focus at the top (an example template is in the cover photo). It might be an engagement inventory during reading, problems they got wrong on a math assessment, or participation during a group discussion. Then, I create a little "code" at the bottom. Usually it consists of symbols that are easy for me to jot quick and that might be repeated for more than one student. As I interact with students or scan the room, I jot down a quick note or symbol inside the student's box. This allows me to see who I have missed and lets me see everyone at a glance all at once. If I'm not writing a ton of information, this is definitely one of my favorite routes to go. I simply keep a clipboard with a bunch of these blank note taking boxes on hand so I can grab it at  moments notice and grab some information. And since I keep it all in one place on the clip board, I know where to find them for when I need them!

Apps and Technology Strategy
   Google Docs

What's cool about the note-taking boxes is I can take it digital too! I also have a blank Google Doc with the note-taking boxes and use my iPad to gather some data. I use the emoji keyboard for my symbols and since it saves my most used one, they are easy to find and tap and use for my students. I go digital with my note-taking boxes if I need to access them from multiples and don't want to bring my clip board or if I want to share them with my team, co-teacher, or service provides because it's easy to do so without loosing my original copy or having to make a paper copy. I still label them at the top (2) and just make a copy to start a new one. I add my key (2) at the bottom as a reference.


Another app I found last year that I liked for anecdotal notes is the app Evernote. Here I can take notes based on subject. So I have my reading "notebook," writing "notebook," etc. This way, all my notes are organized by whatever I want to name it (1) in one spot that is easy to find and just like Google Docs, I can share my notes with others (2). I especially like using Evernote if I want to take pictures of student work to keep and show at our PLC or with my co-teacher. I don't love the limited formatting of the app, but I'm finding ways around it (plus I haven't fully dove in and explored it, so I'm sure I'm missing things). Both the app and computer version are helpful to take quick looks (3) of notes before opening them.

I've got my notes, now what?

Once I have my notes I do one of the following:
1. Plan strategy groups

  • Is there a group of students who would benefit from some reteaching or the teaching of another strategy? My notes allow me to look for similarities in confusion on topics we are learning about or opportunities for students to have an extension of our learning.

2. Reach out to others for support

  • "Hmmm I notice __(insert student name)__ is repeating the same work avoiding behaviors at this specific time. I wonder if my team has any suggestions on how I can help him/her be successful at this time."

3. Reflect on your teaching practices

  • "Wow- we really struggle with carrying on a conversation. I'm going to need to help scaffold this work a bit more."

How do you keep track of student performance across the school year or unit? Leave a comment below!



Time SAVER: Math Talk Matrix

In hopes of blogging more, I'm going to try a series of posts called

All the ideas featured take very little time to implement on your end, but can have great results for your students.

Each post will include 1 tool or idea to try to help students in some way, in some subject. Pretty open ended, I know. The goal is for the posts to be short and to the point so that you can implement it right away!

The first time SAVER I'm sharing about is a math talk matrix. I learned of this concept from my EL coteacher a couple years ago. We noticed students (both ELs and native speakers) wouldn't always use the correct operation language when discussing math. Some examples included...

"I plussed 6 and 8 and got 14."

"I used times to solve it."

She used a matrix to help them and it worked! Instead of correcting students constantly, offer prompts and options so they can start pausing, reflecting, selecting and using the correct form of the word you want them to in the right situation.

When working with word problems, students need to find out what operation to use. Start by asking, "Which operation should you use?" You are asking for a noun (-tion turns words into nouns). Have students circle the noun and then speak or write the sentence to answer the question. Then they write the equation. Ask them, "What is the equation?" You are having them join numbers, so you want them to use the conjunctions plus, minus, times, divided by. Again, have them write or speak it out. I like to have them add the word to match the symbol. Finally, you can ask them, "How did you solve the problem?" You are asking for a past-tense verb here. Have them circle the word that matches their past action.

Gives this a try to help correct that math talk! Click the image below to download!



Miss Maple's Seeds pt. 2

I have blogged about this book already before. It's THAT good. I have not done it yet this year with this group of kiddos, so I wanted to add something a little different to go along with our read aloud.  But first, I must introduce you to this wonderful read!

Miss Maple's Seeds is about a little old lady who goes around and gathers seeds over the summer that did not get planted. She then takes care of them, she "learns each seed by heart all similar, yet none the same." Are you already seeing the possible connections?? I normally read it at the beginning of the year this year, but with my grade change, I always had it penciled in but never got to it. However, it makes a wonderful read aloud for the end of the year as well, which is why it's perfect for this time of year!

The book explains how Miss Maple takes care of the seeds and teaches them how to be the best seeds they can be. She explains how they all need different things in order to grow, to watch out of "sinister characters" (a.k.a. weeds) and that they will journey to different places and locations before they begin to take root and grow. 

I normally end of crying towards the end because the similarities between this story and the classroom during a school year are so spot on! You spend 9 months with these kids- getting to know them and what they need in order to grow. They have a lot to learn and sometimes, things can seem challenging and almost make us want to give up. But we also have so many amazing moments and before you know it, it's time to let them go and begin again. 

This year, I'll have my kiddos dive into some of my favorite quotes from the book and try to relate and connect them to themselves. I made this simple "mini" book that is super low prep.

After we go through and read it once for enjoyment, we'll discuss what these quotes could mean if we applied them to people. I picked 3 quotes (although there are so many more) to have us reflect on, as well as for them to compare themselves to a seed.

There's space for them to write a short reflection and after trimming off the edges and folding it twice.

I can't share enough how much I love this book. Take a peek at my first post about it to see how I've taken the whole "growth" concept and applied it to other parts of our classroom in years past. There's a freebie over there too to grab!

Want the mini-reflection book for the read aloud? Snag it below by clicking the image!



Vocabulary Supports to Start Using Now!

Here's yet another throw back from the iTeach 3rd blog all about vocabulary support in your general ed classroom!


For the last two years and continuing next year, I teach an EL (English Learner) cluster classroom. In my case, each year I get ELs who need the most support in their language acquisition.  To help me out, I also get to co-teach with our EL teacher during parts of our day. That is a whole other post, but co-teaching has been amazing and I have learned so much from working so closely with another professional who brings a completely different lens. Even when I'm not teaching with my co-teacher, she's left her mark on me and I'm slowly beginning to wear a whole new lens when I approach a lesson, objective, or activity. One of those lens is trying to build vocabulary, but more importantly, how to get it to stick with students and for them to use it.

The beauty of it all, as that even though I began using a lot of these strategies to support my ELs, it actually benefits ALL my students... including my native English speakers. And that's typical of all ELs supports- they are not meant just for ELs so even if you don't have any in your classroom or very few, these strategies and supports can be used in your room as well!

One of my first strategies is to add movement. I am currently studying more about a method called Total Physical Response which attaches movement and actions to vocabulary, idioms, and phrases to name a  few.

Where do I implant this strategy... umm... EVERYWHERE I CAN! As you know, kids love to move! Why not put that energy into our learning??

Here's a quick scenario: Maybe one day we are going...
"to create a list of adjectives to describe a character."

Here is a place I can stretch their vocabulary. I'm going to change the word
create to generate. 

Seems like a small change, but I'm always looking for ways to build their tier 2 (high frequency/multiple meaning/across domains) vocabulary. I'll simply add the action of me rolling my hands around in a circle like I'm spinning and creating something when I get to the word generate.

I'll now say we are going...
"to generate (while moving my hands) a list of adjectives to describe a character." I have students then teach their partner or group what the word generate means, while they also act it out. It literally takes an extra minute in my lesson, but now, whenever we use the word generate or create, I and my students use our action with it. You'd be surprised how after doing it a couple times, they will remember it months later.

Side Note... Later on in the year, we began reading The City of Ember and in that book, there is an important component... a generator. Student's picked up on the connection almost immediately and were able to determine that a generator (suffix told us it is a noun) is creating something. We later found out that it creates energy for the city. Boom.

Switch up those objectives and learning targets a bit to make them more interactive and you'll reap the benefits!

Before the lesson begins, I show them the before slide.

If there is a checkmark over a word (I just select them quickly) they are to begin to think up an action or movement for that word with partners or groups. This is great while you are transitioning as students who are ready are engaged right away being creative and interacting with your objective as you and slower students get settled.  I leave a gap sometimes and that is meant for us to use a related word or synonym to the word before it. Again, another easy support for students to make it interactive.

Then when we are all ready, I read the objective one word at a time and if there is check mark, they are to show me the action they came up with. I scan the room, noticing what they came up with, and then do one of two things:

1) I use one that I saw someone use and we all use it for our action for that word -or-
2) I make up my own or combine parts of students to make it into our action #truth

We briefly discuss why that action is a good fit for showing that word and move to the rest of the objective. We also discuss and fill in the blank. Before we go onto the actual lesson, we "teach" our partner what we are doing that day (aka- they reread out loud and act out the objective with their group or partner).

Final Run-Down

The fun part: to see if they are able to remember what our focus was for the lesson.

The last slide I show is this blank one on the left with the objective covered up. I ask students to remind their partners or group what we learned that day. They turn and teach and believe it or not folks- they remember it completely as they use the actions to help them!

And now when that principal comes walking in the room and asks little Timmy, "What are you learning about?" I won't have that look of horror come across my face, but rather I'll  know that each student will be able to communicate it and describe what it actually means thanks to our actions.

Another way I like to bring vocabulary to the forefront is with the use of visuals and connecting the new word to other words we know. This one does take a bit more planning on my part, but when delivering it to my students, it's well worth it. I use it often in read aloud and content specific areas.

Here it is in one of our read alouds this past year:

(These are screen shots from my SMART Notebook slides. I save them each year so I don't need to recreate them. They aren't as busy to my students because it doesn't have all the arrows and such of course.)
I try to prepare slides for our read alouds ahead of time to do some front loading and activate their background knowledge. Plus, it helps me prepare for connections to our other literacy focuses. One way thing I may include are visuals. You'd be surprised how many students don't know some tier 1 vocabulary (everyday words) based on a lack of experience. So I try to find real photographs (when possible) to accompany vocabulary words in our book. I also include the part of speech. Knowing how the word is being used can be very beneficial as well.  Lastly, I often include a comprehension question to connect it to other learning we are doing. This takes a bit of time, but I find our read aloud is much more accessible to students this way.

(Of course there are days when I just read a book to read a book to them... there's a place and time for that as well!)

Other times I use a 'shades of meaning' graphic to help support students. The underlined word is the word in the text. I provide a scaffold of other words that mean about the same thing to help show a connection. This is also great when talking about authors and word choice. Again, I include a comprehension question that we work out at the end of the chapter as well. *don't mind my chicken scratch... I was just trying to get their ideas down quick- do as I say, not as I do, right?*

Final Run Down


Use the words! Notice when students use it and praise the crap out of them! Tie it back to your previous learning! Bring those actions back! Heck, sometimes we make up chants and rhythms (clapping, changing our voices... you know) to say a new word so they can build confidence in knowing how to say it before they learn when to say it. Little chants and ditties get stuck in their heads and I've seen my students (again all... not just my ELs) use those ditties to say the vocabulary word when they speak because they feel confident. If a student says the word "create" and you've taught and discussed "generate," after they finish their thought, ask them or others another word they could use (always acknowledge and validate their original word choice first) and they jump at the opportunity to show you they know other words for that one.

You don't always need fancy vocabulary programs and resources to enrich your students (they can be nice though, right???). You can use what your given and apply some simply strategies to get students thinking and moving and most importantly USING words around them!



Book Teachers Love: April's This is Just to Say

As many of you know, April is National Poetry Month. So naturally, I had to share a poem anthology for this month's Books Teachers Love post!

This anthology was recommended through my writing curriculum and I fell in LOVE! To launch our poetry writing unit, we read the poem that inspired Joyce Sidman to create these poems. Joyce included this original poem written by William Carlos William titled, "This is Just to Say."

How We Use It As A Mentor Text

"This is Just to Say" is was an apology poem that we used as a mentor text (2). We analyzed what Williams did to create his poem- what craft moves he included (short line breaks, eliminated unnecessary words, repetition, word choice, wrote about a realistic topic) and what moves he did not include (no rhyming scheme). We noticed grammar moves as well- what was capitalized, what wasn't, what punctuation was used and where. Then we read the second poem in the anthology (3). We compared how this poem written by Joyce was similar to Williams' original. Some lines started the same, some parts were added. We also used this book to talk about perspectives, as the first half the book were all apology poems, while the second half was the responses (1). We read two poems about playing dodgeball (4) and noticed mood and the use of line breaks. This book packs a great punch for lots of poetic moves that we want our students to implement when writing poetry.

What Can You Do With It

I should mention that there was one poem in the response section that may not be appropriate to share (as it says the word "pissed" in it... that was definitely a bummer). Because of this, I kept the book and used it as a read aloud so that I was able to pick and choose which poems to share. Be thoughtful if you put it in your classroom library for students to have all access to it if you are worried about this.

We used this book as inspiration to write some of our own apology poems. There is such a variety that all students were able to write at least one and implement multiple craft moves mentioned above. Mentor text are so valuable in this way! We created our own class anthology all about apology poems. I had it bound and ready to share at conferences. Parents LOVED it! It's funny that when your child apologizes about a mistake (like eating your Twix candy bar) in poem form, they laugh at it and find it so cute. 

Take a look at a few of the poems they created. They made a simple brainstorming page to help them think of ideas. They wrote down who they had to apologize to and what for. They then used our mentor text examples to help them craft their own apology poem.

Topics ranged from taking earrings for an outfit, hiding the remote to save $ on internet and cable, eating a candy bar that didn't belong to them, not petting their dog enough, and scooting away from a friend with peanut butter breath. Others that aren't here included saying sorry to a friend who moved away and telling them they've been replaced, saying sorry to a sibling for fighting with them, and apologizing to a parent for waking them up early. I LOVED reading each and every one of them! It was a simple, low-production project that really made a lasting impact on many of them.

Want your chance to win a copy of this book and try it with your students? You can enter below to pick your choice of 4 books featured in this month's giveaway! Scroll down to see the author awesome books to support learning in your classroom this April!

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Multiple Word Lists At Once? Here's How...

The beautiful thing about switching grades is that it forces you to rethink and switch up some of your old routines. However, for me, word work has always been switching up and changing because it rarely ever felt successful for me. Last year, I started to make some key changes. They were possible though due to the fact that I had 2 other adults in the room at that time to help. Nevertheless, the way we did it last year did help me find a way to make 3 different word lists happen this year, even if I was alone now. Curious what it looked like last year? Click here. This time around though, I'll share some tips and routines that help word work happen this year, even with 3 different word lists.

The General Routine

First day of the new word list, I take about 30-40 total minutes and teach each group their sort. Normally, we do word work and then read aloud before our recess begins. When we are ready for a new list, we skip read aloud for that day and I use that extra time to teach each group.

On day one, I meet with my yellow group first and teach them the sort. I just use a white board and have them join me on the carpet as we talk about the pattern, look for oddballs, and define any words. I use the Word Their Way books to help guide my instruction for the sorts. While I meet with my yellow group, my green group (also a WtW sort) is scribbling on the back of their sort, cutting out the words, and trying to sort it on their own. My blue group (the morphology group) is doing the written sort based on the meaning of the roots and is using a code to reflect on if this word is brand new, a word they've heard before, or a word that they are confident with the meaning. They also will use dictionaries at this time to try to figure out words while they wait for me to call them.

I take about 10 minutes with each group. By the time I am done with my yellow group instruction, I send them back to scribble, cut, and sort their words. I then call up green group and we discuss what they noticed about their sort as they practiced, define any words, and explicit state the spelling pattern.

Green group goes back and sorts one more time. If they finish, they may move onto the written sort (more on this later). Yellow group is also sorting their words and if they finish, they may start on the written sort too. I call up blue group and we discuss the meaning of their roots, the meaning of the words, where we've heard the words before etc.
This ends day one. From here on out, students participate for about 10-15 each day with their words in a variety of activities. But first, you may be wondering who get's what and how it came to be that way. Here's a short explanation.

Who Get's What and Why

Our district uses Words Their Way. I don't always have access to all the books as we share them as a team. I give all students the Spelling Inventory that comes with the Words Their Way book before we start our word study routines. I then put kids into 3 groups based on how they did on the inventory. That means, some students may need to go to a slightly easier group at first. That's ok. It's impossible to give each student a list from this curriculum at their exact spelling level if you have spelling ranging from kindergarten to high school level. So I combine and hit the largest needs. Previous years, I would have some spellers who needed basic sight words, so I created my own word lists that just go over sight words (I talked about this in my older post). This year, I have students who nailed the inventory and so I decided to incorporate some morphology for them. Ladybug Teacher Files has the greatest resource and so I use her word lists for my morphology group. So this year I have one group who is starting in the yellow book around common long vowel spelling patterns, one group starting at the beginning of the green book, and my last group starting with 2-3 root words each cycle. You can give the inventory again and shuffle kids around or change where you are in the book if you see enough growth.

Below are 5 tips that have helped me be successful with implementing 3 different lists all on my own.

Don't Limit Yourself To Weekly Plans

I would originally try to do a weekly routine with words: Get a new list on Monday, practice T-Th, test on Friday. The problem with this... we miss random days all the time! Holidays, assemblies, testing... they can easily throw off our schedule. Instead, I start a list when I want to! I also no longer try to finish a list in 1 school week. I typically have students practice their words in class anywhere from 6-9 days. So if I give them a new list on a Tuesday, we will test on that list perhaps the NEXT Friday. Since we only have 10-15 minutes a day, this has worked out really well. I communicate to families when to expect a new list and when we test on it in our weekly newsletter so that they can keep up.

Give Yourself Time To Model And Practice Routines And Activities

When we rolled this out, it was s.l.o.w. I had to teach them the activities, what I expected of them with these activities, where to find materials needed, etc. It's easy to rush it, but we just took our first list and went slow and steady. They had that list for a much longer time than typical, but that was ok. When I introduced the new activity, I made it into a chart with what it was called, what materials they needed, where they would complete it, and then the steps of the activity. I of course forgot a picture, so I will add that after my spring break. I kept them in a poster format and put them on metal rings since sometimes, different students are on different activities. They can easily flip to the page if they forgot what they need for that activity. It's at their fingertips to reference.

Post An Agenda With Completion Expectations

I started to dabble into this in the previous tip. Our activities expectations were left on posters that I leave for students to flip through. For example, one activity for my blue group is to write cloze sentences. I put expectations that they had to have at least 7 sentences to be considered "done" and each sentence had to have at least 7 words in it. This made sure that they were actually putting effort into their work. I also have an agenda posted on the Smartboard. I made the simple template in Google Slides, took a screenshot of it, and put it in Smart Notebook. They know what they need to do first, by the #1 finger pointer pointing to the activity. #2 is the activity to do if they finish. Most of them don't get through the 2nd one. That will become #1 tomorrow. I just move the hands around based on what I want them to work on. I do have two agendas: one for the green/yellow spelling groups and one for the blue vocabulary group, as the activities are different.

It's OK To Use Low-Tech Options

We don't have a lot of technology at our finger tips in our classroom, and that can at times work to our advantage. Our word work activities can be applied to any list they have. Since we have about 9, they don't get bored with the activities so we don't need a bunch of fancy tools (although sometimes they would be nice). Don't let not having technology or other materials stop you. Students can be engaged with other low-prep, low-tech options. Our word work practice time practically runs itself because of this so I can check in with students.

Don't Test All The Words... in fact.. Add Some That Aren't Even On The List

This is a newer revelation I found. The blue group has 15 words a week, the green and yellow group has around 24. That's a lot. Instead, I pick 8-10 for blue group and 12 for the yellow and green group. They don't know which ones I'll pick, so they practice them all. My blue group will get to pick 2 words that I didn't pick to spell on their test. For the yellow and green group, I add 2 words that were not on their list to see if they could apply the spelling pattern. This is really what I want my kiddos to be able to do- learn a pattern and use it to help them spell. Words Their Way gives additional words in the sort description space in their books so I pull from there.

To help testing go fast, I pick the words ahead of time and put them on a color-coordinated post it (the word lists are on the same color too-yellow book = yellow sort = yellow post it with words for test). Students come up and get their spelling test page (they look different based on if they are a yellow/green or a blue list). I then begin:
"1 yellow ___________. Sentence using the word. 1 yellow is __________."
"1 green ____________. Sentence using the word. 1 green is ___________."
"1 blue _____________. Sentence using the word. 1 blue is ____________."
And then I repeat. It usually takes us 10 minutes to go through all the words for all the groups. Yes, they have to pay attention, but they do pretty well and they have enough time to write their word as I am reading 2 other words before I get back to their next word. On average, I have to go back and repeat 2-3 words total. Not too bad.

They turn in their spelling pages and we are done with that cycle! When we meet again, they will record the words they missed in their notebooks and we'll learn a new list and begin again.

You won't be able to implement this exactly I'm sure in your room, but I hope you find these tips useful to help you schedule a way to make multiple word lists seem a bit more manageable and not as time consuming to plan.



3 Ways to Improve Students' Responses to Reading

This is my second throw back post that I originally shared over on iTeach 3rd. Take a look to help your students improve in their responding to reading.

I'm here to share 3 ways to improve your students' responses to their reading. As I tell my students, we respond to our reading for a few reasons. 1) I'm not in their brains! I don't know what they are thinking, what's easy for them, what's hard... so we need to take time to respond to our reading. We respond to our reading both with the speaking and the writing domain so both are included here today. 2) As we learn to become better readers, we need to stop and check our thinking often. I always tell them that they won't do this for the rest of their reading lives the way we do it right now in 3rd grade... but the things we practice now will help it become automatic for us later so we spend time writing and sharing about our thinking often to help it become automatic. 

Usually with that, I have them buy into the importance as to why we do this. It's also a good talking piece with parents who sometimes think that because their child can read fast and accurately, they don't always fully comprehend their reading. So how do I get students to think deeply and completely about their reading? I've got 3 tips!

If you've been around here for a little while, you'll know that I love rubrics and language. Both are in this post. I'm guilty though of not always using rubrics to help both me and my students know what to expect. I've found that a simple rubric for each skill/focus is easiest for me to see what students know what to do and what they are missing to get to the next step.

These rubrics are based off of specific skills and focuses. The top is a 3-point rubric that focuses on 2 things: the reading focus and the language focus. The reading focus targets "how" the student is able to respond to their reading on a particular focus (such as character motivation). The language focus is usually a grammar focus to help them  communicate their idea more clearly. The bottom rubric targets "what" their work tells you as a teacher on their thinking level when it comes to that focus. 

Two ways to use this: 
  1. Cut them in half and just give students the top half. Have them glue it into their reading notebooks to reference so when they are completing a jotting on that focus, they now what you are expecting. You can keep the bottom half as a talking point if you need to pull a strategy group. 
  2. Have them glue the whole page into their notebook so that students know clearly what to work towards and what their work tells you of their thinking while reading.

I'm a big proponent of graphic organizers. I've found the most success when I give a graphic organizer and have students fill it out. Later, students draw it themselves and modify to make it work for them. I've given my students a blank page in their reading notebooks and have told them to just jot during their reading... all I get usually is a mess of thoughts and I struggle to identify what my students are even thinking during their reading. So graphic organizers help both my students think completely and help me notice what they rock at and where they have some gaps for me to help fill.

For our character units (we have a series unit, mystery unit, and biography unit that we can use all these organizers for), we pay attention to our characters... a lot. We think about their problem, but not just their problem- we think about how they react to it and what that tells us about them. We think about their actions and choices and how they impact relationships and problems. We think about character motivations and what is pushing them to do things. All of this helps us develop strong ideas and traits for our characters. I've found simple box graphic organizers with question prompts to be very helpful to get students to think deeper.

The last tip to is help them communicate their thinking clearly through language. This is a great time and way to integrate grammar into meaningful instruction. I've made little mini-charts that students glue right into their notebook to reference often. Even better, if you change the printing settings and scale down a bit, they fit perfectly into a composition notebook. These mini-charts are meant to provide language supports and expand vocabulary to help students get to a deeper level. I've used an adjective chart to help students recommend books, adverbs to describe how their character reacts to something to give a better picture of their characters intent, question matrixes to help them formulate stronger questions, and sentence frames to initiate conversations about books in book clubs. 


Sometimes I add the language cues right to my graphic organizers to help it become even more accessible. 

I've found that by implementing these 3 tips, my students are producing more quality work and it allows me to see where I need to put my efforts. 

Want to give it a try? Click on the image below try using it. If you find it helpful, you can check out the whole set of rubrics, graphic organizers, and mini-charts in my TpT store!

Image Map



The Unicorn In Reading: 5 tips for making small groups happen

A unicorn happened in reading guys. What's a unicorn you may ask?

It's that moment when you can't believe your eyes. The moment that you plan and prepare for but are not even remotely confident that it will happen. The moment when the stars all aligned and BOOM! Unicorn!! Any guesses yet?

I had an actual "mini" lesson followed by not one, not two, but THREE small groups! All within our 60 minutes reading block. Even more, this is day 3 of this happening! So what's helping me make this happen (because if I'm honest, small groups is definitely an area of weakness for me)? Let me share a few small changes that have helped me big time.

1. Set a timer.

I'm trying to make my lessons just that, mini. A lot has changed over the last 5 years of me teaching reader's workshop and one major shift is how important it is to keep this lesson actually mini. I'm focusing in on a set skill and teaching point, modeling, thinking aloud, having students practice and then PEACE OUT! To help me keep the pace, I've been setting my timer to about 12 minutes. Once it goes off, I need to wrap up and get to small groups.  If this happens, it gives me about 40-45 minutes to work in small groups and my kiddos a huge chunk of independent reading time.

2. Show your students your plan of attack.

On our Smartboard, I put a slide that includes my student's job during independent reading as well as my plan for meeting with groups. I put 3 boxes up there and that's my goal- 3 groups. When my students are expecting me to meet with them, it forces me to stay focused and get to each group- they often look forward to our small group work time and I don't want to disappoint them.

3. Use formative assessments to create strategy groups.

Sometimes it's a post-it I collect during our interactive read aloud. Sometimes it's a short text with some questions. Sometimes it's from conferring or observing. I have post-its out constantly and when I start seeing 2-3 kids needing help with a certain skill, I start to form a strategy group. Sometimes, I might have 10 students who need work on one skill, but I might have different strategies to show them to help them get to the next level. So I'll analyze what they are already doing and where they need to go next and further split kids up on my post-its into more specific strategy groups. I've tweaked a lot of planning pages and this one has been my current go-to. I simply slide them into a clipboard and I'm good to go for the day. When I add a student to a group, I cross their classroom number off on the bottom to help me see who still hasn't been met with.

4. Plan and pull your resources together.

One of my go-tos is Serravallo's book. If I know I have a need, but don't know exactly what to do with it, this book swoops in and saves me. The lessons are short and to the point, the charts are amazing, and I've found them to be super successful in terms of helping to scaffold skills for my students. I also have been using more task cards as practice in our strategy groups before students try in their own just right books. I'll also use our read aloud as a common text to practice before they give-it-a-go in their own books.

5. Reach out and ask for help!

I made it quite clear to my new team that small groups is an area I struggle with. I can give formative assessments and put kids into groups, but I struggled with implementing them. I often felt like things had to be "perfect" in order for me to pull them, and if I didn't have a super clear plan, I would put them off and wait until I felt confident. But as I shared this with my instructional coach, she reminded me that meeting with them and it not being perfect is better than not meeting with at all (of course I would meet with groups, just maybe 1 or 2 a day and spend the rest of the time conferring, which has its benefits too, but you don't get as much bang for your buck). One of my new teammates also helped motivate and guide me to help me dive in this year and just go for it. Because of this, I've never felt more confident in creating and leading small groups. And even though they still aren't perfect, I'm meeting with most of my readers multiple times a week, and that is huge.

I'm hoping that this phenomenon of getting 3 groups a day will go from a unicorn sighting to just a normal day in the classroom. The reality is some days will be better than others, and I have to be ok with that.

Want to try my planning doc for yourself? I added a few slightly different versions in a download. Click below!


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