Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trophies grade four

Here is a poster for The Gardener, the first story in the 4th grade Trophies anthology. The focus skill is narrative elements. I copied this poster directly out of the TE. It is interactive (Velcro is stuck to the back). I think I would also use my retell glove to emphasize major and minor characters ( why are they major, why are they minor). I would also discuss who is the narrator and from whose point of view is the story being told.  Setting: time and place. Have them give text based evidence for both. Time is confusing here because of the genre. The story is told in letters. You have to pay careful attention to the dates above the letters to know when the events are happening (picture clues are also helpful). Problem: the conflict in this story is character against society ( the Great Depression causes the major event). Solution: the solution is interesting. You could say making Uncle Jim smile, but I also think the solution is making the best of a difficult situation. Lydia shows a positive attitude and it makes all the difference. The solution is tied up with the theme of the story. Christine

Saturday, August 28, 2010

tools not toys

Here are some tools I use with small reading groups. The place marker is just a piece of laminating scrap with a line drawn with permanent marker ( red or black) down the middle. I have the kids use it to help them track while reading. I like that you can see above the line and below the line. A regular placemarker like a bookmark does not allow you to do this.This great idea was given to me by Sue, our resource teacher. (I love the recycling idea as well.) The I spy glass is great to use for "word work". I copied them on color paper, then cut the middle out. Next I laminated them and then drew the rectangle in the middle. I have the children use them to look for an adverb or a compound word...any skill you are working on. It also works nicely to have them capture a word in the spy glass and then look for the context clues which surround the word. The witches finger is also good for tracking. You can buy these for $1 a pack at the Dollar store around Halloween. Of course kids look at these tools as toys. I like to get the playing out of the way first. Then we concentrate on using these as tools to help us learn. Christine
I keep my witches fingers in the box!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Harriet Tubman week

My mother is a quilter.(No, she's actually an artist who quilts.) Years ago she made me a queen size quilt called: The Story of the Underground Railroad. I asked her to make me a "mini" quilt of it because I couldn't easily show the large one in class. Here is a picture of my mini. It hangs on the back of my chair in reading circle. During Harriet Tubman week I introduce it to the kids. They love the panel that explains the significance of each quilt square. It acts like a puzzle. I posted both pictures but unfortunately the story panel is upside down :( I think you can still get the idea. Christine

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Number The Stars

Here is a word sort for the story Number The Stars. I had the students sort the list into 4 categories:

  • Character

  • setting

  • problem

  • solution 
After discussion as to where to put each thing on the list I asked them to add more possibilities. We also did a map for Number The Stars.  I will post that at a later date. Christine

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mysteries from history

I really like this series by Jane Yolen. Each book is a different unsolved mystery from history. The text features she uses are really unique. This is a picture of the bulletin board I made after reading The Mary Celeste (my favorite of the 4) with my class.You can see she uses "stickies" to define words the kids might not know (in this book the words were about sailing). She has another box with background information for the reader. I haven't found a lot of picture books that are mysteries. This series inspired some of my readers to look for paperback mysteries. One thing the kids didn't really like was that these historical mysteries were never solved. At the end of the book,  the author encourages kids to use critical thinking skills to come to their own conclusions. Christine

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eve Bunting

http://prezi.com/4h_czvbuopkv/eve-bunting/  I have been trying to learn how to use Prezi. What is interesting about it is you can use Prezis that other people have already made. I liked this one especially. Christine

chapter books for the coming year

I like to have my 5th graders read at least 10 chapter books during the school year. Sometimes we read these stories in class and sometimes we read them for homework a few chapters at a time. I think I have decided on at least 9 for the coming school year:
  1. Among The Hidden. It has been a frantic search this summer to collect a class set but I think I will have enough books. If I can get them hooked on the first book in the series, many kids will want to read all 7 books. (Science fiction)
  2. The Cay. Thank you Deb for recommending this to me a few years back. (Historical Fiction)
  3. Tuck Everlasting. This is a great book to use to apply all of the reading strategies. (Fantasy)
  4. Shiloh Always a class favorite (realistic fiction)
  5. Shiloh Season (realistic fiction)
  6. Yang The Third and Her Impossible Family An excerpt is in our Trophies but I prefer to read the whole book. Very funny. (realistic fiction)
  7. Bud, Not Buddy (historical fiction)
  8. Island of The Blue Dolphins  An excerpt is in our Trophies but again I'd rather read the whole thing.(historical fiction)
  9. Number The Stars (historical fiction)
  10. ????
As you can see my list is a little lopsided towards historical fiction. Christine

Thursday, August 19, 2010

more on summarizing

This is my poster for summarizing the story How To Babysit an Orangutan in the 4th grade Trophies book. You can see that it is interactive.We build the summary together during class. (I used velcro after laminating the strips to attach them to the poster. ) All of these posters are hung on top of each other for easy storage. You can see the red hooks at the top of the picture. I tried to take the focus skill from each story and make an interactive poster for teaching the lesson. I got many of my ideas for the posters right out of the teaching manual. Although it was a lot of work at the beginning, I have used them for many years now and they are so easy.Christine

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Visualizing assessment

Emily Kissner wrote this amazing book: The Forest And The Trees. She has a great visualizing lesson that I will share with you:
There was a spooky house on Erin's street. It was made out of brick and seemed to tower over everything else. The crumbling chimney looked as if it was about to fall on the sagging roof. Shutters hung by their hinges next to the second-floor windows, which had tattered curtains hanging in them. The porch looked like it would fall down at any moment. Erin stared at the weedy, overgrown walkway and the bushes that clustered around the front door. She couldn't imagine being brave enough to walk inside. But there was one thing that seemed out of place. The doorbell was bright and shiny, as if it were brand-new.

The directions are to draw a picture of the scene described. This is not a test of your artistic skills.

I have the children draw this scene without any further explanation. (colored pencils are best) After I have them "grade" each others picture according to a checklist which gives everything a point value. For example:
  1. crumbling chimney 1 point
  2. tattered curtains 1 point
and so on. At the end of the checklist I have written: critical detail: 10 points! This activity really helps you understand how well children visualize when they read. It also lends itself to talking about questioning and inferring. The critical detail is the bright shiny doorbell. Why would a house in such disrepair have a "new" doorbell? (questioning) Hmmm, maybe this house is not what it appears to be (inferring). Some children miss the critical detail entirely. It is important to have them reflect about why they missed it. Christine

Main idea and supporting details

Here is another lesson from 4th grade Trophies. The story is The Kids' Invention Book. The focus skill for the story is main idea and supporting details. We "build" the poster together after having read the story. You can see that the poster has the answers velcroed on which makes it interactive. I have done this with many of the focus skills from the stories in Trophies for grade 4 and a few for grade 5. Christine

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trophies lessons

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man By David Adler is in the 4th grade Trophies anthology. I like this lesson to teach summarizing. I have the kids do a timeline of Lou's life using the dates in the story. You can see from the poster that we picked eleven important dates and put them in the order in which they happened (using a sticker for each one.) Next they write the events in paragraph form. It is important to talk about what is missing. I ask them, "Can you think of any other IMPORTANT details that would need to be in the summary that were not on the timeline?" I have them search out three or four other important details and write them on stickies. (determining importance reading strategy). Christine

Glogster website

http://cjken.edu.glogster.com/gr-5-books/ Here is a copy of my glogster. It is like a poster you create. Children could do these as projects. Christine

Monday, August 16, 2010

favorite lessons

A copy of Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express comes as a nonfiction companion book with the 4th grade Trophies reading series. Its the true story of a young girl who rescued some drowning men and then went on to stop a train from crashing through a bridge. Its an easy read, though very suspenseful (high level grade 3).My friend Nancy the awesome sent me the following lesson: Read the story together (I have gotten a class set from the Used Book Superstore) and have the children write a newspaper article using a who, what, when, where, why template. You can see from my picture what the final product looks like. I have them add some pictures and a catchy title for their article. Christine

Homophones - MindMeister Mind Map

Homophones - MindMeister Mind Map another interesting site. Christine

Sunday, August 15, 2010

great website

http://www.ideastoinspire.co.uk/index.html#4    This is a great site for all things technological if you are a teacher. I have blogged about some of them. Christine

compare and contrast text structure

 Text structure is a difficult concept for children but it is one of our fifth grade standards.  Comparing and contrasting is one of the easier text structures to identify. My sister Caryn recommended the picture book The Yellow House to me and I have used it every year to teach (or review) compare/contrast text structure. It is easy to make an art connection with the book as well.I also use When Harriet Met Sojourner another great picture book by Catherine Clinton. Here are the posters for both lessons. Christine

Friday, August 13, 2010

retell glove

http://www.pcboe.net/les/elderweb/Retell/retell%20glove.pdf                                                                      If you are interested in making a glove to retell the narrative elements here is the site I used. Christine

symbols in poetry and stories

Sometimes authors and poets use symbols to deepen the story for the reader. Here is a poster of a lesson I do on Langston Hughes.(He is a recommended poet from our 4/5th grade state standards.) The poem is Mother to Son. Hughes uses a staircase as a symbol in his poem. Eve Bunting uses lots of symbols in her stories. The feather is a symbol in Train To Somewhere.I think it represents Marianne's longing to find her mother. The bird is a symbol of freedom in Fly Away Home. The suitcase is a symbol in Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. It stands for everything that is precious to Bud. Caution: Once you introduce the concept of symbols in literature (something that actually represents something else) kids start seeing them everywhere. Christine

I also use this picture book biography on L.H. while we study his poetry. Learning about his childhood helps you understand his poetry. Christine

Thursday, August 12, 2010

inferring with pronouns

I got this lesson out of Kylene Beer's book When Kids Can't Read:
He put down $10. at the window. The woman behind the window gave him $4. The person next to him gave him $3. but he gave it back to her. So, when they went inside she bought him popcorn. This paragraph is so loaded with pronouns its very easy to get lost in the text. As an adult reader you can figure out rather quickly what is going on. Two people on a first date at the movies??? Kids don't have that kind of background knowledge. They might miss the clues which help you to infer (woman at a window, popcorn, he gave her the money back). I pass out a copy of this paragraph and have the children read it three times with a pencil in hand to write notes, and circle important details. Then I bring out the poster and dissect the paragraph with them. Its a quick easy inference lesson. Christine

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

inferring with poetry

Eraser and the School Clock is a poem by Gary Soto. It was on the 5th grade MCAS reading comprehension test a few years ago. The poem is about a child struggling through a math test. During the test he/she starts daydreaming about time stopping. Teachers are frozen in time, but not him. He dreams of going out to the schoolyard to hit homeruns. Children need to have strong inferencing skills to tackle this poem. As you can see from the poster I wrote key phrases from the poem in which the student would have to infer.Student responses could be put on the right side.Christine

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

can't live without these books

Here is my list for the top ten picture books for 4th/5th graders. I am answering  Cathy's challenge http://reflectandrefine.blogspot.com/  from her blog 1. The Watertower by Gary Crewes. Boys love this book. Its science fiction which is really hard to find in a picture book.  The pictures have "clues" hidden in them. I had to read this book three times and really STUDY the illustrations to understand it.

2. Mysteries from History: The Mary Celeste written by Jane Yolen. She wrote four of these books but this one is my favorite. The text features are really interesting as well. If you can get the kids hooked on this one they will read all four.  
3. My Freedom Trip by Frances Park. I love this suspenseful story about a child escaping  from North Korea.4. Phillis Wheatley: A voice of Her Own. This is a beautiful picture book about a fascinating American poet.A great choice if you teach American History to kids because the setting is Boston during the Revolutionary War.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  5. El Chino by Allen Say. Wonderful story about a Chinese-American who wants to be a bullfighter. Its a great book to use to teach the theme: Be yourself.

6. and 7. Eve Bunting is the best. It is hard for me to just pick one of her books for my top ten so I will pick two: Train to Somewhere and Gleam and Glow.
8. Netties Trip South by Anne Turner. This story, written as a letter to a friend back home, is about the conditions of slaves in the south right before the Civil War. Nettie witnesses a slave auction and it changes her perspective on her own life.

9. Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill. Molly becomes an indentured servant and moves to the American Colonies. Great choice if you teach American History as well.  (She is also the grandmother of Benjamin Banneker).

10. Up North In The Mountains by Marsha Wilson Chall is an easy book to make connections to . Its about a child who has fond memories of her days at the lake with her grandparents.Hope you enjoyed my list! Christine

Monday, August 9, 2010

I'm trying to share the good stuff

I found myself in here a few times. Maybe you will too. Christine

From Geeky Mommas Blog

An Open Letter to Teachers (My 2 Cents)

Bud Hunt wrote an excellent, thought-provoking blogpost, An Open Letter to Teachers, that gave me just the lift I needed today as I get ready to return to school in two days. I urge you to read the full text from Bud, but just a few things he suggests are that teachers:

Try hard not to work all the time.

Take learning risks; for yourself and your students.

Be a good role model for your students.

and my personal favorite:

Need no one's permission to postpone a due date or modify an assignment for the benefit of a student.

Any time I've had parents express concern over an assignment, my response is to offer to modify the assignment and to ask what the parent feels the child is capable of doing. This is typically not where the parent was going and usually diffuses a potential confrontation. There are however, times when I've made modifications based on individual needs and it has meant the difference between success and failure for the student.

I'd like to add my own 2 cents to Bud's list; just a few more suggestions. Please add more of your own in the comments.


Eat lunch every day with another adult. Do not eat alone in your classroom while you work. It's important to have some adult time during the day.

Draw big circles.

Circle items in your plan book that you didn't get to. Get to it the next day. When you rush just to get through something, you're not doing your students any favors.

Ask and you shall receive.

Build an online Personal Learning Network of colleagues using Classroom 2.0, Facebook or Twitter where you can go, after hours, and share resources and ask for help. Do not add students or parents (current or past - unless they are truly like family to you) to your Facebook friends.

Beware of The Energy Suckers

You know who they are. The teachers who have nothing nice to say, complain all the time and won't go away? Learn to look at your watch and say, "I have a meeting"or just don't encourage the conversation. It's difficult for one person to carry on a conversation entirely alone when all the other person does is smile and nod their head.

Enjoy the Autonomy

Having been in the classroom for 26 years and district admin for 5, I can tell you that classroom teachers have a lot of autonomy. Enjoy the fact that you can get a creative idea and implement it the next day if you like. Everyone above you must jump through flaming hoops of red tape in order to move anything forward. Believe me.

Beg forgiveness

Should you ask permission for everything or beg forgiveness for a few, if any, mistakes? I say, beg forgiveness. Your students will be better off. Just don't be stupid; after all we don't want to read about you in the paper.

Be realistic

As an elementary teacher, my first day of school motto has always been, "If they get lunch and they get home, the day's been a success!"

Bud says, "And share the good stuff. Your stories are all human ones, and they are all special, just as each one of you, and each of your students, is special. There is always someone curious about what you’re up to."

using mosaics in the classroom

Mosaic for Bud, Not Buddy    http://bighugelabs.com/mosaic.php

I used a Flickr (big blue labs) to create this mosaic for a story I read with the 5th graders, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. A mosaic could be used to discuss the narrative elements of a story.The teacher could make the mosaic for class discussion or the students could make them as a classroom project. You could also ask the children to provide text based evidence as to why they chose each picture. Mosaics can also be printed and displayed on a poster board.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sythesizing lesson

I got this lesson directly out of Debbie Miller's book Reading With Meaning. At first glance the book seems to be written for primary teachers. I've read it a few times and I got a lot out of it for teaching 4th/5th grade.Synthesizing is the most difficult of all of the reading strategies to teach. I really like this lesson because it is easy to see how the readers thinking changes. Those key words: I'm thinking, At first I thought...but now I'm thinking are so important to model with kids. They need to have plenty of experiences with text in which they come across new information and it changes their mind about what is really happening with the characters. I received a class set of Smoky Night by Eve Bunting from Donors Choose so I am able to do this lesson whole group. Christine

Friday, August 6, 2010


What is culture? What are customs? Nim and the War Effort  by Milly Lee is a great book to help children understand what it is like to grow up in another culture. I have the students look for text based evidence of Chinese culture under these three categories:
  • mealtimes and food
  • language
  • other customs
You can also use Nim and the War Effort to teach theme and conflict.
Another great picture book choice when you explore the concept of culture/customs is Encounter by Jane Yolen. This book is about a Taino indian boy who meets Columbus. It fits in nicely with my 5th grade American History curriculum but I also like it because it is told from a different point of view. Elementary grade children are so familiar with the story of Columbus. This book turns that story on its head. It really helps children think about what they are reading. Christine

Thursday, August 5, 2010

companion books

Eve Bunting is one of my favorite authors. I love to read Train To Somewhere with my class. It is the story of an orphan who is sent on an "orphan train" trom NY to the Midwest in hopes of being adopted. The genre is historical fiction. Orphan trains did really exist in the U.S. in the early 1900's. I really enjoy combining fiction and nonfiction related to the same subject. The story Ophan Train Riders is the perfect companion piece. It is the true story of Lee Nailing, a child who travelled on the orphan trains. You feel like you are with Lee as he travels on his journey in hopes of finding a loving family. You can see from my poster the BIG Question that arises: Why were their so many orphans? Great opportunity for further research but the book does give you the reasons in a clear cut way. Christine