During the 3rd nine weeks, my Resource Room Language Arts students read the Jerry Spinelli novel, Stargirl. This fiction selection’s Lexile is 590L. This is a little low for the grade levels I teach (6th-8th) but the text fits the needs of my students.
It takes me a long time to get through a novel – longer than I really want most years. I like to throw in writing activities, games, and projects which lengthens the time I need to get through it.
This year I am working with a block schedule and may find it easier/faster to get through the book.
To keep a good balance between fiction and non-fiction, I am going to incorporate a piece of informational text every few chapters.
I have previously mentioned the huge non-fiction selection at ReadWorks. I decided to use this resource to come up with related non-fiction texts. I used the keyword search to looks for passages including: bullying, high school, fashion, and names
While I haven’t quite decided exactly where each of these selections will fit in the book, this is the list I am working with. I have noted the Lexile and the skills covered for each passage.
Fashion Do or Don’t ; Lexile 980; Fact and Opinion
How to Overcome Shyness; Lexile 860; Multiple Skills
Back Off (Deals with bullies; Lexile 630; Multiple Skills
Stop Bullying; Lexile 740; Genre
Boys Only – Girls Only (Same sex schools); Lexile 690; Multiple Skills
The Billings Middle School Badger News: Are School Uniforms Really That Bad?; Lexile 990; Fact and Opinion
What’s in a Name?; Lexile 860; Theme
You may want to consider this option with your next novel. I think it will break up the daily reading of the novel and provide an opportunity to incorporate more Common Core standards.
I have been struggling with two things in particular lately.
1) How to best use the limited technology that I have available to me
2) How to increase my students’ vocabulary
I am trying at all costs to avoid: looking words up in a glossary, copying definitions, matching words and definitions on a test, and completing worksheets to teach vocabulary. It’s boring, it’s ineffective, and I’m not seeing results.
Vocabulary instruction like this does not help kids make connections and any memorization that may occur…simply doesn’t last.
I wanted something authentic, interactive, and hopefully technology-based for use in our small, fairly outdated computer lab.
I spent over two hours researching ideas the other night and ended up with way too many of the same old ideas, nothing that I envisioned as I started out, and a headache.
Feeling overwhelmed and guilty I wasted two hours of my night during the busiest time of year, I took a break and came back to the computer after dinner with a plan in mind.
I used the “Polls” on Edmodo to create 6 vocabulary-based questions for our upcoming novel, Stargirl.
I chose some particular vocabulary words that I knew I would need to explain to my students as we were reading the novel: mesa, saguaro, ukulele, cactus, canyon, and porcupine. Students also had to understand a little about Arizona and where it was located.
Here are my six questions: (and their votes)
What is a “saguaro”? Research the word and make your choice. Find a picture and insert it into a Word document. Be sure to label the picture.
- a type of boat 0 vote(s)
- a type of flower 0 vote(s)
- a type of cactus 75%, 3 vote(s)
- a type of car 25%, 1 vote(s
Which of these would not be found in Arizona? Find pictures of the three found in Arizona.
- canyon 0 vote(s)
- mesa 14.29%, 1 vote(s)
- grass 57.14%, 4 vote(s)
- cactuses 28.57%, 2 vote(s)
What animal has quills? Find a picture of this animal.
- a shark 0 vote(s)
- a muskrat 0 vote(s)
- a porcupine 100%, 7 vote(s)
- an octopus 0 vote(s)
Which state does not touch Arizona? Find a map that shows this.
- Utah 0 vote(s)
- California 12.5%, 1 vote(s)
- Texas 87.5%, 7 vote(s)
- New Mexico 0 vote(s)
What instrument is a “ukelele” related to? Find a picture.
- a trumpet 0 vote(s)
- a guitar 100%, 7 vote(s)
- a piano 0 vote(s)
- a harmonica 0 vote(s)
What is a road runner? Find a picture of a famous one and a real one.
- a type of internet service 0 vote(s)
- a very fast bird 100%, 5 vote(s)
- a type of race 0 vote(s)
- a car part 0 vote(s)
I reminded my students how to enter a search term in Google, locate an image, and create a mini-poster using Word. We’ve been working on computer skills lately, so this was good practice of the steps for inserting a picture and formatting the picture.
The students had to answer the poll questions while doing their research. Because there was no “right answer” given, students were not as likely to share answers with their neighbors.
Students had two windows open on Firefox and a Word document open. They had to turn in the assignment on Edmodo when they were finished.
It may not seem like a lot, but for my students this was a big task. These kids were multi-tasking and learning.
When we return from break, they will share their posters on the SMARTBoard.
So, this is not the most traditional use of a poll, but it provided enough motivation and variety for my students to keep it interesting and help them learn the vocabulary.
Here is what I loved about this activity:
- Students didn’t touch a single worksheet during this lesson.
- Students were not asked to memorize or write a definition.
- Instead, students found their own definitions by researching.
- Students had to use some logic and reasoning skills to eliminate and determine search terms.
- Students practiced computer skills (Word, Google search, and Edmodo)
- Students now have a visual for when we start the novel after break. Students will share their products on the SMARTBoard when they return.
- Students were engaged for two 40-minute periods in an authentic learning activity.
- Students have made meaningful connections with half a dozen words that they had little prior knowledge of.
- I am inspired to create more activities similar to this one.
How do you teach vocabulary? Do you have some ideas that will meet my goal for authentic vocabulary instruction? Share your ideas with the comment link at the top of this post.
We have been working a lot on theme lately. And one of the best ways I’ve found to do that is through music. This is my second Prezi and one that the kids really enjoyed.
We reviewed the intro each day and did one video a day. I did this activity throughout Stargirl. Since YouTube is not blocked for teachers, it was very easy for me to just pull up the video that morning during homeroom (I always look for videos with lyrics to help with reading, plus some videos aren’t always school appropriate.)
More on novel playlists (including my Stargirl playlist) and using music in class can be viewed here.
As we finished up Stargirl,I knew I wanted to do a final plot diagram activity. I found a pretty good Prezi of a story map for the novel. I had to change some of the vocabulary to make it appropriate for my class. (The fact that Prezis are editable and reusable is one of the things I love about the whole Prezi concept.)
I printed out a PDF of the plot line and passed out the pages randomly. I challenged them to put the events in order correctly. As we sat in front of the bulletin board,which I temporarily covered with a giant plot diagram, we took turns reading and placing the events in the appropriate place. We used push pins so that it was easy to rearrange when we needed to.
The final result was pretty impressive and showed me how they understood the story. They loved doing this activity.
Big impact. Little preparation. No worksheets. Win-win-win.
The past 7 weeks we have been reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. I love reading this book with the kids. I do a lot of fun things with this novel and I had every intention of sharing the activities here. However, January and February were a complete blur with everything going on with Ian and his diabetes.
I did want to share a few things that went really well. One of those was the “Reader’s Theater” type scripts for a few of the chapters. It started with Ch. 13 (The Hot Seat episode) and the kids loved it so much. I then adapted three of the other chapters that had a lot of dialogue and wrote short scripts with 2 or 3 parts. The students were put in groups and they had to read the scripts two or three times, trading parts. This was a nice break from reading aloud to them, or having them read aloud.
I have no idea if you are even allowed to do such a thing. I hope it’s not some weird copyright issue. I would hope that the author would be so thrilled kids were reading and loving his book. (I bought 13 copies for my classroom.) If you don’t have time to read the novel as part of your curriculum, I highly recommend you read it out loud, or have a copy in your classroom library.
Today we started reading our novel, Stargirl. I love reading this book outloud. Actually I just plain love teaching it.
I especially loved, when after the first chapter, one of my boys practically squealed, “Read us some more!!!!!”
I found a really neat activity while I was searching for something for my after school study group on Wednesday. ReadWriteThink had just what I was looking for!
The 7th graders I am working with during this time are reading A Christmas Carol. Using the Trading Card Creator, students will be in the computer lab making character cards for each of the characters from the book.
The fictional character option covers appearance, appearance, thoughts, feelings, problem, goal, outcome, quotes, action, interaction, and personal connection.
Students can also include an image and save their card as a PDF to be cut, folded, and taped together.
This is going to be a great activity for my Resource Room when we read Stargirl. For my class, we will probably create these together on the SMARTBoard as part of our reading discussion and then I will have a set made for every student.
There are also options for other topics as well: real person, fictional place, real place, physical object, event, abstract concept, create your own.
I think for this Wednesday I will do use the random word chooser to assign characters to students.
Or…maybe I’ll put them in groups of 4 and have each group member choose a main character.
Or…maybe I’ll let them work with partners to create one card.
I don’t have the details hashed out yet, but I guess I’ll figure it out by Wednesday.
What would you do? Suggestions are welcome!
Loose papers. Lost handouts. Missing homework. Unorganized binders.
All of these things happened daily in my Resource Room until I decided to make packets for each instructional unit.
Some people might think handing out packets encourages dependency and doesn’t teach organizational skills. I will argue this point by saying that packets create structure and improve the flow of class. Students are still expected to have their packets each day, complete their assignments on time, and are able to see the relationship between what we did yesterday and today and tomorrow.
I have already explained that I like to teach in themes, that I usually see “the big picture”, and I process things whole-to-part.
For each grammar unit, novel, and major writing assignment, I make packets of all the handouts, worksheets, graphic organizers, etc. that I plan on using with the students.
The packet is full of a variety of activities, including group work and homework. The only things not in the packet are assessments or other great ideas I stumbled upon during the course of the unit. (But they will be added to the packet next year.)
- Helps disorganized students have necessary materials. Students know to have their packets ready at the start of class. There’s none of that “What do we need today??” business.
- Helps substitute teachers (no locating and passing out of worksheets)
- Helps me with lesson planning (I look at the packet and the SMARTBoard file and blend the two to develop my plans for the day/week/month.)
- Establishes a theme.
- Makes connections.
- Creates cohesiveness.
Let me describe how I create a packet for a novel, like Stargirl.
- To create my packet, I usually start with my SMARTNotebook file for the unit. I do a full-page print of the pages I want students to have individual copies of. I next add other materials that are not from the SMARTBoard.
- I put these pages in chronological order, number the pages, create the table of contents, and then make a calendar for the length of the unit with an overall plan of how much we will cover each day. I include this calendar in the student packet as it helps them see the pacing and our goals for each day. (There is obviously room for flexibility….thank to snow days, assemblies, absences, and days when we spend a little longer than planned.)
- I usually staple bright-colored copy paper on the front and back. Students create a cover for the packet a few days into the novel. We make a list of characters and settings on the inside front cover. The back cover can be used for random, spur of the moment ideas when a clean sheet of paper is needed.
- As we work through a novel, students can easily turn to a page when I ask them to. They can tell me where we left off. Someone usually takes it upon themselves to be the “recorder” of such info and writes both the book page number and the packet page number on the board at the end of class.
- individual and group work
- a variety of written work to prevent boredom (no chapter is the same)
- cloze paragraphs
- extended response
- short answer
- other graphic organizers
The packet is supplemented with the SMART Notebook file I have been building on each year. The file includes:
- lots of visuals and images for discussion and writing prompts
- audio and video clips (see my Novel Playlists post)
- review games and activities
Things to Note:
- My class is not all worksheet based. For a given novel, I may have 25 pages stapled together. I takes me about 7-8 weeks to complete a novel in the resource room.That’s a worksheet almost every other day.
- We use our dry erase boards almost daily in conjunction with the packet. They may have to summarize a chapter, draw a picture, make a prediction on their dry erase boards. This breaks up the paper-pencil activities.
- We don’t always do all the pages in the packet. Sometimes I have overestimated or underestimated where my students are. If it doesn’t feel right, we only do part of it or we skip it all together.
- Because my class is small, (less than a dozen students), I can easily collect the packets if I want to grade an activity. Most grades come from assessments.
- At the end of the unit, I try to hang onto the students’ packets for work samples and documentation. If they really want to keep their packet (few do), I can easily make copies.
Teaching with a packet requires you:
- To have a “vision” for the unit
- To work way ahead.
- To have previous experience with the topic. I don’t think I could pull off a packet on a novel the first time I read it with the class.
Students need and crave structure, but they also need variety. Packets create natural “chunks” for instruction. Students do well with short 10-12 minute activities. By switching between reading out loud, group discussion, completing packet activities independently, working on the SMARTBoard, and using dry erase boards, the pace of class is fast and engaging. My students know they won’t be doing any one thing longer than 15 minutes.
While I focused on the idea of a novel packet, this can be done with any topic. I have created packets on parts of speech, capitalization rules, vocabulary, test-taking strategies, persuasive writing, business letters, and poetry – to name a few.
Are you a whole-to-part or part-to-whole learner/teacher?
How do you handle worksheets and handouts with your class?
Have you created a packet for an entire unit? What worked for you? What didn’t?
In 16 years of teaching, I have found a theme: I prefer to teach in thematic units.
I love the creativity and planning aspect of thematic units.
I love finding ways to tie as many things together as possible to get a “big picture.”
I love helping kids find connections (to both other subjects and to real life.)
In my first unofficial teaching position as a K-5 leader in an all day summer day care, I planned weekly themes as required by the center. Each day we had to have fine motor, gross motor, music, reading, science, and arts and crafts activities based on the theme. As a 22-year-old, with an age range of 5-11 to work with it was a huge task and often a stretch. Talk about being creative! I can’t remember all of the themes but I do remember the following: Colors, Oceans, Transportation, Animals, Sports, Fairy Tales, and Insects. This minimum wage job ($4.25 an hour?!?!) sort of set the tone for a career of teaching in themes.
In my first official teaching position (which is worthy of its own separate post someday), I was a home instructor for five siblings with severe to moderate disabilities. This job was unique in that I had my own “classroom” on their enclosed back porch/sunroom. My lesson plans for this job were also done in themes: one letter of the alphabet every single week. This was probably not the most logical way to plan because of the complete randomness of apples, angels, and acrobats or raisins, rhyming, and railroads, but for this group of children, it worked. Again, I had to plan for activities covering a wide range of skills: math, pre-reading, writing, music, gross motor and fine motor (I worked with both a physical therapist and an occupational therapist), and speech and language (a speech therapist came once a week too.) The randomness of the alphabet pushed me to stretch my imagination and helped me think outside the box.
In my second year of teaching, I finally had my own classroom in a traditional setting. I was the teacher for the K-3 Self-Contained Special Education Class. The only inclusion in the regular classroom was for music and gym. (I got to teach my own art class!) With this position, I had a very specific curriculum and themes I was required to cover. Each month, I would receive a giant Rubbermaid tote from the curriculum office and inside I would find a huge list of suggested activities and supplies to teach the content. I was able to supplement as I wanted. My planning at the day care came in handy. Some themes I had to teach that year: Oceans, Birds, Plants, Transportation, Colors, and Community Helpers. We also did a school wide theme on America in the month of February.
From there, I moved back home to a middle school DH/MH classroom. This was a new position in the building and I had no supplies, materials, curriculum…just 9 students, 3 aides, 9 desks, and a teacher’s desk. Fortunately, my students had a lot of inclusion time so I did not have as much to plan. I spent three years in this position and I remember these themes two themes as highlights of those years: Holiday Traditions Around the World and Leaders of America.
The next three years…back to a K-5 Resource Room setting and more themes (many repeats from other positions). But three unique themes I will never forget:
- Houses and Construction – We built gingerbread houses as a culminating activity.
- Pumpkins – We carved 22 pumpkins at the end of that unit. What a mess! More importantly, what was I thinking?? I have to say, my 5th graders were awesome helpers with the younger kids.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Festival – I could’t live much further from Albuquerque and it probably sounds like a crazy theme but my dad used to live there and had so much interesting information, I went with it. The culminating activity was making 22 paper mache hot air balloons for our own festival, which the whole school was invited to.
My next three years at the middle school level were inclusion and I was at the mercy of the general educations teachers. (Little to no opportunity to do my own thing/theme.)
At the high school level, I was working with students who failed the Ohio Graduation Test and needed additional tutoring. I spent the most time tutoring in Science and Social Studies and it was based on individual needs, which boiled down to “themes” like Plant and Animal Cells, Laws of Motion, and The Industrial Revolution.
And now I am back at the middle school and my perspective on theme has somewhat changed.
A few posts ago, I told you about the novels I use in my Resource Room: The Outsiders, Stargirl, The Giver, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
Four novels, four nine week, and one common theme? Was it possible that a theme could last an entire year?
At the end of the year I ask students: “How are these four books related? Do they have a common theme?”
Here are some of the responses I have gotten in the past three years:
- “You can’t treat people bad just because they are different.”
- “People are discriminated against if they are different.”
- “Everyone should be allowed to be who they want to be.”
- “Everyone just wants to belong.”
- “Friendships are the most important thing.”
- “Sometimes people have to run away from their problems.”
- “You should accept everyone.”
The definition of theme that we teach in 8th grade is:
It the above themes aren’t amazing life lessons, I don’t know what would be.
For years, I taught in themes, but now I’d like to think I teach life lessons.
What are some of your favorite thematic units?
What thematic unit would you love to do if there was room in your curriculum?
Have you ever had a theme for an entire school year?
- ICT Curriculum Themes… (classroomtales.com)
- Jolliff Middle School teacher has Titanic lesson plans (hamptonroads.com)
- Thematic Unit Links (pickettsmill.typepad.com)
- Thematic Units 4 Teachers (units4teachers.com)
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.
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?