Tag Archives: teaching novels

All In ~ Creating a Novel Experience

When I read a novel in my classroom, I tend to go a little overboard.

I try to create an environment that reflects the book.  Between the use of props, visuals, and specific language, I try to recreate the world we are reading about. This is very easy with The Giver. (If you haven’t read The Giver, you might not understand the lingo I am using here.)

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For a journal entry, students had to make two observations about the apples and make an inference as to what Jonas might be observing. Of course, we has to toss them around before we started writing.

My students have been placed in Reading Communities.  The Green, Orange, and Red Communities perform differentiated group Tasks in their designated Community Areas a few days each week.

When I need to conference with a student individually, they may hear this:  “Community Member 13, please report to the Grading Area immediately.”

And what about homework?? Well, my Thirteens and Fourteens no longer have homework. But, they do have Dwelling Work

I require students to speak with “precision of language” whether we are talking about the novel or just casual conversation. It’s a great way to promote the use of stronger, more specific, content-related vocabulary.

By taking on the language and adopting unique characteristics of the novel, I am improving their understanding of the book and making the characters come to life.

No matter what my own children say (“Mom!! That is soooo lame!”),  or what my students say (“Oh my gosh…seriously???). I know they love it.

I couldn’t wait until we read Chapter 7, and I could say to them daily, “Thank you for your childhood.”

Stay tuned for more posts about this novel experience!

Meanwhile, how do you make a novel come alive in your classroom?

Did you see The Giver movie? What did you think?

Ahh, That’s Good Stuff

Finishing a book I am going to read with my class next year and wiping a tear from my eye, I say out loud (and wake the dog), “Ah, they are going to love this!”

Getting to the most exciting part of our novel and watching their faces light up when they realize the truth about the protagonist, I say to myself (so they don’t realize they’ve been fooled into learning), “Ah, this is why I love teaching.”

Looking at the calendar and realizing there’s only seven more days of school and one more Monday, I say to myself (because I need all the encouragement I can get), “Ah, I can do this.”

Making a Summer “To Do” list and purposely including things like read, relax, lay out, ride my bike, walk the dog, I say to the dog (who is, of course, begging to go on a walk), “Ah, Summer….”

Letting my boy be semi-responsible for his diabetes-care and sending him a friend’s house for five hours on a Friday night, I say to his sister (as we shop, eat, and talk in peace) “Ah, this is nice.”

Checking my boy’s blood sugar at 5 a.m. and getting a decent number, I say to myself (so I do not wake him), “Ah, I can sleep a few more hours.”

Waking up late on a Saturday morning to bright sunlight and stretching a good stretch, I say out loud (coming up with no other way to describe my sleep), “Ah, I slept hard.”

Waiting for the Keurig to finish, pouring in my Friendly Farms Vanilla Caramel creamer from Aldi’s’, and taking that first sip of coffee, I say out loud (to no one), “Ah, that’s good stuff.”

Looking at  the sink full of dirty dishes and walking away to grab my laptop, I said “Ah, it can wait. I haven’t blogged in a while.”

 

 

 

Everyone Deserves to be Heard

I recently told you about the novel,Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  My class started reading it at the beginning of the nine weeks and we are already on Chapter 8.  I was originally going to do this book as just a read aloud when time permitted, but it has already evolved into something wonderful.  It is probably going to take most of the nine weeks, but I have designed a unit that I think will be worth every minute.

My thematic foundation: Everyone deserves to be heard.

We will focus on the these questions as we read, write, and practice good speaking and listening skills:

  • In what ways are individuals excluded?
  • How does it feel to be excluded?
  • How can we make everyone feel included?
  • How can you effectively express yourself?
  • How can we show respect for people who have different ideas?

To tie in non-fiction and media, I am going to introduce them to Carly Fleischmann, an amazing young woman with autism.

Both nonverbal, Melody (the protagonist) and Carly sharing some very similar characteristics, experiences, and abilities.  Their differences will make a great compare and contrast activity, as well.

I am so excited how this unit has come together so naturally.  I try so hard to find topics, novels, and activities that are meaningful to my students.

I bought the iBook on my classroom iPads, and while I only have the 6 iPads for 10 students, I am able to pair some of them up and their response has been great.

Reading a full length novel in an eBook format is new to all of them and they are very anxious to read each day.  I have gone from reading to them, to them primarily reading on their own – even reading ahead at times.  The ability to highlight, search, bookmark, and adjust the text size and font appeals to them.

For some of my very low readers, I highlight a small chunk of text, give them a brief overview, and ask them to read. After a few quick questions to check comprehension, I highlight another portion, focusing on the main events of the chapter, and repeat the process.

But honestly, I think the topic is key.  We’ve had some very serious discussions about Melody. They’ve asked me flat-out if Melody’s classroom, “H-5,” is the same as our class – which it isn’t, but they see the differences in each student and recognize the struggles and emotions the characters face. They are making connections on how it feels to be included and excluded.

Although Melody is a fictional character, she is as real to them as anything.  I can tell, after only 8 chapters, they feel a connection to her and care about her as a character.  I plan on waiting awhile to introduce Carly’s story, so that they can continue to form their own images and opinion in their minds.

To read more about Carly:

 

Making Reader’s Theater Scripts with Excel

Last year I took a few chapters of our novel, Stargirl, and turned them into a script so my students could do some Reader’s Theater.  You can read more about that here. 

I wanted to do something similar this year for When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, but was feeling a little overwhelmed and just didn’t have the time to make a script. And quite honestly, I think a script is a really big pain to type up.

Today it hit me that I could possibly use Excel and type it up in a spreadsheet.

The autofill feature let me enter the names “Sheriff”, “Zachary”, and “Toby” over and over again rather quickly. Typing the dialogue still takes awhile, but the layout is much easier to read.

I just ran the copies and think it looks pretty good (and it was definitely easier!)  Next time I will change the formatting a little bit, but for the first time I think it’s fine. It took my whole Prep period but it will be worth it tomorrow when they read it!

Here’s a peek at what I made.

All text is taken from the novel by Kimberly Willis Holt.

All text is taken from the novel by Kimberly Willis Holt.

Identifying Themes in Music (Prezi)

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.

Identifying Themes in Music

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. 

Multiple Means of Engagement: Creating Packets

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.)

Packet Pros:

  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Packet Contents:

  • individual and group work
  • a variety of written work to prevent boredom (no chapter is the same)
  • outlines
  • webs
  • summaries
  • cloze paragraphs
  • symbols
  • quotes
  • extended response
  • short answer
  • charts
  • vocabulary
  • other graphic organizers
  • homework

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

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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?

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