Tag Archives: Reading comprehension

Reading Folks

My 7th grade Language Arts students will be starting the novel, Seedfolks by Paul Feischman this week.

I really wanted to do something different, like my Literature Circles. However, I only have 8 students in this intervention class, and I knew I needed to make some modifications for something like this to work this year.

This new collection of Seedfolks Chapter Worksheets has 13 graphic organizers (all the same, but labeled with each character’s name.)

Screenshot 2018-01-07 at 4.48.30 PM

I plan on completing the first few together, and then have them work with a partner or group on others.  At some point near the end of the novel, they will do one on their own for a grade.

I also made 8 different pages that look like this:

Screenshot 2018-01-07 at 4.51.43 PM

Each page will ask the students to list three character traits, which is a review from earlier in the year.  Also, on each page, the students will have to ask one question, as if they were talking to the character in the chapter. I’m excited to see what they come up with for this box!   The box across the bottom and the box on the right-hand side are  different on each of the eight pages, covering a variety of reading skills including:

  • Inferring
  • Visualizing
  • Characters
  • Making Connections
  • Author’s Craft
  • Asking Questions
  • Reflection
  • Evaluating Text

My plan will be to pass a different one out to each student at the start of the chapter, and then we will discuss in a literature circle type fashion.

Seedfolks is based on the concept of individuals coming together to create a community garden.  My lessons will be based on the concept of a community of readers.

I may just call them my “Readfolks. “

Improving Reading Comprehension by using “Signposts”

As the Resource Room teacher, I have some flexibility in choosing my novels, based on my group each year.  This semester, I chose The Giver. What a wonderful book!! I’ve always loved it, and after seeing the movie, I knew this was the perfect book for my 8th graders.

My thematic foundation for this nine weeks is a continuation of the 2nd nine weeks: “Opinions, Choices, and Consequences.” My students are continuing to make connections between their choices and actions and the consequences of those decisions.  This life lesson is one that all young adults need to learn.

As we are have just began the novel, the focus is on “Adherence to the Rules” and how the rules shape the setting, affect the characters, and create conflict. The students need to understand the general rules of the society before we move on in the story. In the first few chapters of the novel, students have been making observations and inferences and analyzing the text to predict and determine the conflict in the novel.

Through the close-reading and analysis of The Giver, students will actively use reading strategies that will enhance their comprehension of the literature. The strategy I am using is called “Notice and Note.” It comes from the book Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading  by Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst. This is a strategy I read about over Christmas break. The strategy prompts students to seek 6 different signals from the author.  Over the course of the novel, students will learn to use these signposts independently as they read.  The Signposts include:

  • Contrasts and Contradictions
  • Again and Again
  • Memory Moments
  • Words of the Wiser
  • Aha Moment
  • Tough Questions

I did not purchase the book which was a little pricey. Between Pinterest and some general research I was able to piece things together and find a way to make the strategy work for my students.

So far, so great. I can’t think of a more perfect book to introduce this strategy. The first three chapters alone are full of examples of Contrasts and Contradictions, Again and Again, and Memory Moments.

It has been very exciting watching my students’ hands shoot up in the air as I read something that needs to be marked. Right now, as a class, they have a lot of questions:

What is going on in this community? Why are there so many rules?  Who made up these rules? Why don’t the people think it’s strange? When does this book take place? Is this our future? 

Some students caught on very quickly and only needed a day to understand the signposts, which I introduced one at a time. (We’ve only covered the first three so far.) Others are having a little more difficulty, but through guided practice and a lot of discussion, I see more and more students participating with confidence.

I typically read a short passage from the chapter out loud. When I see several students marking their books, I pause and we talk.  One thing I’ve noticed is my students aren’t highlighting EVERYTHING like they typically do. They are searching and listening for specific pieces of information (the signposts) which helps them really focus on what’s happening in the novel.

As I hand out assignments for community work or dwelling work (more on this later), I remind students to look at the annotations they’ve already made in their books because that is where they will likely find the answers to important questions.

If you are in need of something simple and applicable to all novels, “Notice and Note” may be a strategy that works for you.

Do you use Notice and Note in your classroom?

Have you purchased the book? Is it worth the pricetag?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Making Text Connections (Handouts and Tips)

To improve reading comprehension, I will often ask students to make connections to their own lives.

This simple handout works for any text.  (See the links at the end of this post.)  I have edited this handout several times to get the responses I want.

Four things I’ve learned about this activity that are worth sharing:

1. Avoid any sort of question that allows students to find a loophole. 

Ex. “Does this text remind you of anything in your own life?”
Is this text similar to anything you’ve read before?
What does this text remind you of from tv, the news, or Channel One?

My students were quick to figure out they could write “No,” “Nope,” “Yes”, or “Nothing really” as an answer.

2. Require students to give a specific example from the text.  

Otherwise, you’ll get answers like these:
 “She did the same thing I did.”
“When I had a dog.”
“Yesterday on Channel One they said the same thing.”

3. Two out of three isn’t bad.

For some of my IEP students, I allow them to choose two of the three connections.  This allows them to have a choice and is a slight modification that still requires them to think about what they have read.

4. It’s important for students to share their responses.

Sharing can be a whole group discussion, a pairing of students, or a rotation.  Allowing students to share does two things.  First, it sends the message that their connection is important. Secondly, it gives others an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective or spark their own connection if they had trouble.

PDFs for you to download:

Making Text Connections – This is the basic template following the ACE model.

Making Text Connections with LINES – This is a modified version for students who need the lines to write on. The prompt is slightly different. This is the version my Alternate Assessment students received.

How do you get students to make a personal connection to a text?

What do you do if your students aren’t big readers and don’t have a lot of texts to connect to?

How do you explain text-to-world? (This is so difficult for my class!)

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Comprehension Strategy: Say Something

When I was working on my master’s degree online I remember reading an entire article and thinking “What did I just read?”

I also do that when I’m reading my 7th graders’ Social Studies book!

I know my students zone out,  exhaust themselves with decoding, or simply struggle with comprehension itself.

Not a new strategy, but new-to-me, I introduced a modified version of Say Something for my Resource Room.

One description of this strategy can be found here. Free downloadable bookmarks can be found here.

Here is how my version goes:

Phase 1:To introduce this strategy, I chose an article in a Scholastic magazine.

“Use your right hand and cover the first part of the text. That is approximately how much I am going to read to you before I stop. This is a reasonable chunk of text.  When I am done reading you will have to Say Something. 

You can:

1) Ask a question.

2) State a fact.

3) Make a prediction.

If you cannot do any of those three things, I will have to read it again, until you can.”

With only ten students, this is doable and everyone gets to Say Something.  I modeled this with several chunks of text. It only took one time of me rereading for all the students to be able to comment.

Phase 2: Have students read a small chunk with a partner and respond. Again, modeling may be necessary.

Phase 3: Have students read a small chunk silently and then, as a class, ask them to respond.

This strategy really forces the reader/listener to be engaged and think about what is being read. Knowing that they will have the opportunity to discuss and share after reading just a short selection keeps them interested as well.

I don’t use all the suggested prompts for my Resource Room, but I think I could introduce more response options over time. I just wanted to keep it simple as we started.

Did I explain this well enough?

Let’s try it!

Say Something in the comments!

Starting out Big ~ World Record Unit

You know how you get coupons online or via text and they burn a hole in your pocket?  A few weeks ago I had a 50% off for Joann‘s.  Our local Joann’s is small and lacking in everything. However, there is a larger store up north and my friend and I often make a stop there when we get together.

How excited I was to find this bulletin board display in the teacher aisle! Cool motivational posters based on Guinness World Records. Each poster has a brief blurb at the bottom about the record.  Having just finished up my iPad training, it all hit me super fast!


I wish I could show you these actually hanging up in my room, but we don’t get our keys for a few more weeks.

This will be a great kick-off to the year.  I have a huge bulletin board in the back of the room and these posters are definitely conversation starters.  I can introduce the iPads with some QR codes and simple writing prompts with Show Me or Explain Everything.

And….the best part?  It naturally leads right into our first novel, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. The whole story revolves around the “fattest boy in the world”, Zachary Beaver, and the effect he has on two young boys one summer.

While I am just starting to put a plan in place, I thought I would share some of the ideas I have come across.  As we know all too well, the first few weeks of school never go exactly like you think they will.

Writing and Language

  • Use these images for great journal prompts or story starters.
  • Adapt these lesson ideas created for ESL learners to meet the needs of your students. (Reading, grammar, speaking, and writing activities – I plan to use them all!)


For use with the iPads

  • Check out the Augmented Reality feature in the 2013 edition (I know my students will love this.)
  • This web quest isn’t quite updated to the current Guinness site but the activities are still good.

Teamwork and Cooperative Learning

  • This Goal-Makers, Record-Breakers lesson plan has students plan for their own sports related record-breaking ideas.  (I feel like there needs to be a disclaimer like “Don’t try this at home!”)
  • Maybe geared a little more towards STEM courses, this Strong Structures lesson plan would be another good cooperative activity.

Lastly, a short promo for the book:

The Last Hurrah: Text Structure Review

To go along with my Prezi, I decided to create mini-lessons for the five text structures.

The plan was to spend one day on each, using the Prezi as an intro, taking notes in the Text Structure Flip Book I created, and then doing corresponding activities.

The activities took me a little longer than five days but ended up making a great unit.

I used many of the graphic organizers from a PDF I found online (Comprehension and Text Structure Graphic Organizers)

I also used many of the nonfiction reading selections from www.readworks.org.

Here are some highlights from each mini-lesson.


Students used a graphic organizer that really helped them think spatially as they described our classroom. I gave students the option of describing their bedroom if they wanted to.

Students completed this graphic organizer in class and then had to write their paragraph for homework.

Students completed this graphic organizer in class and then had to write their paragraph for homework.


Compare and Contrast

For this lesson students rotated in groups to three different stations. Each station had a nonfiction selection from ReadWorks.org.  I picked a variety of Lexiles and highlighted some text features like footnotes, headings, bold words, and captions.

At each station they had to record three details showing similarities and differences.

Overhead view of one group working hard on their graphic organizer.  I have no idea why a protractor was involved in this lesson.

Overhead view of one group working hard on their graphic organizer. I have no idea why a protractor was involved in this lesson.

I used the questions that come with the selections the following day as a review of test taking strategies on the SMART Board.

Cause and Effect

I used the cards and activity that begins on page 29.  I cut the cards and students picked one from the bag. They then wrote their “cause” statement on their paper. I played some music and students walked around until the music stopped. They plopped down and wrote one “effect” on the paper.  We repeated this process about 5 or 6 times and each time the students had to read all of the effects listed and come up with something different.  I loved the creativity of some of their responses and they loved walking around and writing on their classmates papers.

Cause and Effect cards pg. 30

Sequence or Process Writing

For sequence writing, I used three nonfiction selections spread out over a few days. We completed these individually just like we would the OAA – I read the directions and questions, they read the selection, and I repeated the directions (per their IEP accommodations).  This provided some practice and forced them to pay attention to detail and read headings.

sequence pg 57

Students used this organizer to write a paragraph about their morning routine.

Problem and Solution

I turned this mini-lesson into a speaking/listening/social skills lesson where students had to rotate with small groups to 6 different “problems.” For each problem they had to come up with a good solution and they had to use a signal word from the list on the Prezi in their response.   After reading some of their solutions, I realized we needed to work on some of our social skills so I will be coming back to this activity later this week.


At least they said “please.”


I was happy to see the vocabulary word “protest” in one of the solutions.

"You just suck it up and eat it"  is actually the best response.

“You just suck it up and eat it” is actually the best response.

The final activity was a matching activity and part of the PDF file.

Students can cut and paste and submit for a grade or they can just match them up on the table.

Students can cut and paste and submit for a grade or they can just match them up on the table.

Wow! That is a lot of information.  I hope I provided enough information to show the variety of the lessons.  The last thing I wanted to do was bore them with a bunch of worksheets but with the OAA coming up tomorrow I wanted to be sure to cover a lot.

And on THAT note….I should probably wrap this up and relax a little before the fun starts tomorrow! If you happen to be in Ohio, or are taking any sort of achievement tests this week….Good luck!  It’s all downhill from here!

Another Graphic Organizer for Summarizing

Each week my Resource Room students have to complete a reading passage and comprehension questions at their specific ability level. This ranges anywhere from Beginning-Low to Intermediate-High. I like to use stories from ReadTheory.

Students are expected to complete these one page readings independently. The last few times we did this activity, I made them circle the text that supported their answer. This forced them to go back, locate the “evidence” and confirm their answer. I’m happy, and not suprised, to say their scores have drastically improved since I starting enforcing this rule.

To get the most out of this leveled reading I created an additional activity which students have been completing in groups. On the first page, students have to identify:

  • title
  • setting
  • character
  • conflict
  • resolution

Short Story Summary


Identifying the conflict in this story was challenging. My students couldn’t understand why a woman would leave a baby on a bus.

On the second page I decided to throw in some grammar/language and vocabulary. Note the small boxes in the right hand corner of each. This is where I can modify the assignment for each student. I put a number in each box to tell them how many nouns, verbs, and adjectives they need to find. I do the same for the vocabulary words.

Short Story Language and Vocabulary


This ended up being a great review of parts of speech.

This activity takes them quite awhile and is very challenging for this group of students. I direct them to their journal notes or the Part of Speech bulletin board to figure out what they are looking for. It takes about 20-25 minutes for most groups to complete it. This provides me with some time to circulate and talk to all the students and note what they are having trouble with. It also gives me time to point out things like capitalization of names and cities.

The way I designed this, it can work with any short story. If you think of any ways to improve or to add additional skills let me know.

I Live For Challenges Like This

I found out yesterday I will be teaching a multi-grade level Language Arts Resource Room this fall. I will have a dozen 6th, 7th, and 8th graders for 84 minutes a day 1st and 2nd period. And as this is the first year of this class, I have to come up with the curriculum and materials!

Here are 10 of my first 100 thoughts:

  1. I still get to teach my own class!
  2. YIKES!
  3. The first class of the day? This could be good…or bad.
  4. How do I fill 84 minutes?
  5. How do I teach 3 grade levels at the same time?
  6. How will 8th graders and 6th graders get along?
  7. I’ve never taught 7th grade!
  8. There are so many possibilities!
  9. Where do I start?
  10. I can’t wait to start figuring it out!

I will admit, I spent 30 minutes grumbling/stressing/freaking to Admiral Bodee on the phone (he reminded me I like challenges like this) and then another hour grumbling/stressing/freaking to Captain Algebra who is on vacation.

Then I painted my nails, took a drive to the pharmacy, cleared my head, took a deep breath, and I got down to business.

My first goal was to find a series of printable resources that could be used as bell ringer or transition activities. I am not a huge fan of worksheets, but with 84 minutes I know I will need to break class up with group work, independent work, and whole class activities.

I plan to use the things I found in a variety of ways. For example, I like to take worksheet content and put one question per page on a SMART Notebook file. Then students use dry erase boards to show their work. No paper and pencil needed.

Here are the jewels I found this afternoon all on one related site:

English for Everyone – This website has almost 40 categories with tons of free printable worksheets. With answers! There are beginning, intermediate, and some advanced levels.

English Maven – This specific site takes about half of the above categories and includes interactive activities that could be used on individual computers or the SMARTBoard. Some are exactly the same as the worksheets in terms of questions. Some are different. You do not have to register to use it.

ReadTheory – The link will take you to the BETA page with a big “Coming Soon” at the top. At the bottom is a link to the current webpage for reading comprehension resources. There are three levels (Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced) and all of the stories can be completed online or printed out. It includes short stories at all three levels and informational selections for the beginning levels. It just did a spot check, but it looks like there is audio for all the stories through the low-intermediate level as well.

My next mission: To find a novel that none of them have read in previous years that is appropriate. I’m thinking around a 4th grade reading level???

Do you teach a multi-grade level class?

Do you have any great online resources for Language Arts?

Can you recommend any novels?

Using Graphic Organizers in History: 5 W’s

I never had an interest in history as a student and never had much experience teaching it until I did OGT (Ohio Graduation Test) tutoring. I think that year was the year I learned everything I always should have learned about history but didn’t.

It was easy for me to sympathize with my students who hated history and failed the 10th grade state test one (or more) times. I will admit that I have said more than once, “History is so in the past. Who needs it?” But, it was my job and these students needed me to teach it so they could graduate. I figured out ways to do so and now, after 3 years of 8th Grade Inclusion History, I feel like I finally almost enjoy learning about history. (I love teaching anything!)

This did not happen until I started viewing history as a story of time. Who doesn’t love a good story? Every event in history can be told as a story with characters, setting, conflict, and resolution.

I spend a lot of time making graphic organizers, study guides, and modified assessments for our history class. I get feedback from a reading specialist who uses my materials with her small group reading and writing class. Students complete the study guides, verbally talk about the events in the chapter, and then write about the events in paragraph form as well. (See how this works for a reading teacher? Students are skimming, scanning, comprehending, and synthesizing throughout this process.) It is our thinking that if they can visualize the information in the graphic organizer, talk about it, and then put it into written words, they will surely remember at least some of it.

I plan on regularly posting samples of the graphic organizers, strategies, and study materials I use with my 8th graders. Hopefully they will give you ideas to use in your classroom (in any content area). Below is my first example:

Students read the section and locate the details to tell the story.

*Here is a PDF file of an original 5W’s +1 (a blank box for additional info.) for you to download: 5ws+1

Keeping “Classics” vs. The Common Core

For the past three years I have taught Language Arts 8 in a Resource Room setting. Working with students with decoding and reading comprehension skills below grade-level, I am forced to modify the materials and curriculum used by the other Language Arts teachers. Choosing reading material isn’t always easy – it must be high interest and low readability. I feel like I have a pretty good choice of novels and selections from the text book that cover everything I need to cover.

The four novels I read during the school year are

*With the exception of Stargirl, the general education teachers at my grade level use these exact same novels.

However, with the adoption of the Common Core, I am faced with a decision. All because of increased lexile bands.

According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the lexile levels will increase for each grade level band. 6th-8th graders who were previously reading in the 860L–1010L range but will now be expected to read in the 955L–1155L range.


Taken from the Common Core, Appendix A

While the jump is not earth shattering for high ability readers, it is significant for students with reading disabilities.

Look again at the novels I use with my students with disabilities:


According to the lexile levels, only one of these books falls into the new range for 8th graders. In fact, three of these books are apparently in the range for 2nd and 3rd graders! If you haven’t read The Outsiders or The Giver, there are definitely some scenes that are not appropriate for 7-8 year olds. (I do understand the the Common Core is not recommending students at that grade level read these particular books, but you must get what I am saying.)

So does that mean that we ditch the books that have been middle school “classics” for years? The content is appropriate and the literary elements are there. I’ve seen these books make non-readers read because of the story lines. I’ve seen non-readers take these books home or ask if they can keep a copy because they love them. I’ve had students say that their parents are now reading these books because they’ve raved about them so much. In my mind, these books are keepers!

My frustration is in the fact that some people think that these novels, because of their lexile levels, must be thrown out. How can I justify not using three of the four books I have built my curriculum around? Especially when these novels are perfect for the students I work with.

At this point, I plan to use these novels and supplement with increasingly more difficult text as my students are able to handle it. Supposedly, we will be getting some software that will allow us to determine a student’s reading range. This should be helpful in writing the IEP and planning instruction, but will I be allowed to use these novels with 8th graders? That answer will hopefully come when we receive additional training in the Common Core later this summer.

How do you feel about the new lexiles and the Common Core?
Would you discard a classic novel that is grade appropriate because of its lexile?
How will you select your novels as your district adopts the Common Core?

%d bloggers like this: