Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

Color It Up

Once again, my students took on the challenge of an amazing activity created by none other than…Gretchen Bernabei! Color It Up. It’s pretty simple but has incredible power and learning potential for students–and they enjoyed doing it.

In her book, Fun Size Academic Writing, Gretchen uses this technique with the first story, which is a narrative. Well, we are currently working on expository pieces, so I decided to take another of my favorites from that book which is an expository piece, and color that one up instead.

We used the writing about Barbie. It has so much personality, and the kids absolutely LOVED it! I ran copies for each student so that they could keep it in their folder as a mentor text to refer back to when necessary. Before we began highlighting the icons, we made a key at the bottom to remind ourselves of the 4 different writer’s tools we would be finding–actions, dialog, thoughts, and what the author saw. We coded them with the appropriate colors (see picture), and then got started.

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At first, I had to explicitly point out each strategy this author used, but as we went on, the students began shouting out the writer’s tools before I could finish the sentence! This showed me that not only were they “getting it,” but they were really thinking. (I feel like so much of the time students want things to be spoon-fed to them, so when they step out if their comfort zone and take risks by thinking for themselves, we celebrate!)

The level of understanding drastically increased. They were making connections about what they saw. They noticed that there was lots of action, even in this expository paper. They noticed that there was a plethora of thinking within the text. They noticed a pattern–that each time there was a thought, there was an example to back it up. They noticed that there was NOT much dialog. They noticed that each paragraph ended with a thought.

This allowed us to go into some deep discussion of why authors use specific writer’s tools for specific purposes. Some of them wondered why this author kept saying that she loves her Barbie at the end of each paragraph, which led us to the realization that she was connecting back to the prompt each time and letting us know that this possession was extremely important to her.

We did a lot of noticing about writer’s craft. Did I mention that this was awesome?

Kids can and will notice things like this when given the opportunity. In fact, one of my students who usually “sits on the sidelines” during class was so engaged in this activity that I had to think of some sort of reward for such effort and participation. It totally blew me away.

Part of what made this so powerful was that the students began making their own connections and noticed things for themselves, without me having to tell them. It increased the rigor of our conversations and the learning skyrocketed! It made my day! 😉

We are now working on our own pieces for our most prized possession. I’ve included a few pics of their planning pages for you. Some of them have been revised a bit to make sure that the students are getting to the deep meaning and not repeating themselves, but these are the raw products. I will definitely post some samples when they are finished, so keep checking back for those!

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Oh yeah, when I get a few more seconds to spare, I’ll be uploading some expository samples from our first attempt. I just have to get them typed up so that you can print them off and use them if you’d like. 🙂

Happy Tuesday!

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A New Spin on Exit Tickets in the Classroom

Exit tickets can be “gold” to teachers who really use them correctly.  I always tell my students that I want need them to ask me questions so that I know what they are thinking and what is confusing them, but you know how that goes.  They are too embarrassed to ask in front of their friends.  No matter how much I praise them or invite them to ask about what they aren’t understanding, it never fails…MAYBE one person will ask a question, but usually I hear crickets instead.

I just HAVE to have a way to know what they don’t understand on a daily basis, so I cooked up a plan to get them talking.  Rather than students asking me a question, I now ask them at least one question that relates to the lesson and ask them to write down their answer for me.  I tell them to answer it to the best of their ability so that I really know what they are using and confusing.

I’ve cut apart countless pieces of notebook paper to hand out Exit Slips, and it always seems to take up more time and waste so many trees.  (I’m not a “tree hugger,” but I don’t like wasting those valuable resources)  I wanted something that the kids would like enjoy doing, so I thought about using a paper version of Twitter to make it more interesting.

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I covered the inside of my door with black paper and glued some blue border around it.  Then my student teacher (Thank God for her!!) made me some little squares with the altered Twitter bird and the students’ names.  Each student has his/her own laminated card on which to write answers to the questions I ask.  We velcroed them onto the door, and then spiced it up with a bigger (altered version) Twitter bird and the saying, “#ExitTweets.”  I think it turned out great!

I can’t wait for my students to see it on Monday.  I know they will love it!  My plan is to have them find and take down their Exit Slip as they come into the room.  They will use their dry-erase markers to write their responses at the end of the lesson, and then put them back on the door as they leave.  Hopefully they can remember where they put them each day!!

This whole system is fun and all, but there is more to it.  This allows me to see their responses as a group, and pick out the ones who are not comprehending the lesson.  Rather than taking home numerous tiny pieces of paper (and worrying about them getting lost), I can quickly take a look at the door to see who needs extra help.  That way I can pull them in small groups during our intervention time the following day.

What system do you use to collect data on a daily basis?  Any suggestions are welcomed!

Wish us luck!!

Monday Made ItFor more ideas, visit 4th Grade Frolics!

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Word Clouds: They Aren’t Just For Fun!

Word Cloud of my blog by Tagxedo

Word Cloud of my blog by Tagxedo

I hate to admit it, but I’ve only used word clouds with some of my students.  I wasn’t really sure how to use word clouds when I first heard about them, so I only selected a few individuals that I thought would benefit from using it.  Mostly to help them in their writing.  You see, when the idea of word clouds was presented, I was only showed a website and was allowed about 3-5 minutes to “explore” it.  The more I read, the more I found out how helpful they can be.

So what types of things can you do with word clouds?  I know I won’t even begin to touch on everything, but here are a few ideas on how they can be used with your students.

1. When students have finished a piece of writing and they need to check for redundant words, put them on Wordle.net.  The best part about Wordle is that it counts the number of times the words are used and makes the highest count the biggest in the cloud.  That way, students see how many times they have used words like then, I, me, and so on.  This is how I used them in my classroom, and it really makes the students aware of the overused words.

2. At the beginning of the year, allow students time to write an “About Me” paragraph and then type it into a word cloud creator such as Tagxedo.  This is another word cloud site that easily downloads the image you create and has an assortment of shapes for your words.

3. After students read a passage or discuss content in class, allow students to write down the words they feel are most important to the lesson and put it into a word cloud.six flags

4. Use a word cloud for vocabulary words.  This can be used in any subject!

5. Use math vocabulary words in a word cloud and ask students to come up with a mathematical story using the words.  Great way to combine some writing and math!

6. In Social Studies, create a word cloud using character traits of various leaders or important historical figures.

7. For a Mother’s or Father’s Day project (or anytime, really), allow students to make a word cloud as a gift.  This could be with characteristics of the

person, a thank you letter, a poem…you name it!

8. Students could actually draw their own word clouds as an activity to “fill time” when they get finished early.  They will probably end up doing this on their own, anyway.  It’s sort of addicting.

9. Use Wordle to create a word cloud with units of measurement.  I say use Wordle because you can decide how big or small you make the words.  This way students would get an accurate picture of which units of measurement are bigger than others.

Word Cloud by ABCya

Word Cloud by ABCya

10. Use word clouds at the end of the lesson or day to see what the students remember.  The teacher can either assign a certain amount of words, or the students can write as many important words as they can at the end of your time together.  This could be a neat twist to exit tickets!

Now that I’ve written about all of this, I will have to do some of these before school starts.  I’m excited to begin another new year!  I will post some of my results!

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It’s a Mystery!

“What’s in the box?”  “I wonder what’s in there this time!”  “Can I be first to figure it out?”

These are quotes from children who are anxious to find out what is inside the mystery box.  Many times I stand at the door and let the students put their hands inside for about 3 seconds before entering the room.  Other times I walk around the room and let students feel inside one by one and use a word to describe what is inside.  I’ve used the Mystery Box in many different ways, but one thing is the same every time: student engagement!

THE Mystery Box

THE Mystery Box

Principals always want to walk into our classrooms and see students “actively engaged” in their learning.  I’ve heard that phrase MANY times over my short career as a teacher.  The fact is: Not every lesson is engaging.  Sometimes we are forced to teach the “boring stuff” because it’s what the state mandates.

However, I have found a way to make some of those snoozers a lot more eye opening.  (Pardon the pun!)  The answer?  That Mystery Box you see in the picture.  Sometimes it takes just the simplest tweak of a lesson to make it more engaging for all involved.  And it’s one of those things that the kids continue to enjoy throughout the year.  It’s not something that they groan about–they get so excited when they see it come off the shelf.

How I made it:

I bought a hat box, a feather boa, black material, black foam sheet, and stickers at Hobby Lobby.  Before covering the box, I cut a 3.5″ x 3.5″  square in the center of the lid.  Then I covered the box and the lid with the material.  After that, I cut a circle to fit inside the bottom of the lid (for sturdiness) out of the foam and glued it in.  Once it dried, I took my exacto knife and cut an X in the lid where I had cut out the square.  You will be cutting the material and the foam at the same time.  This is where the students will be able to put their hands inside.  When I was finished with that, I cut the boa into smaller pieces and glued it around the edge of the lid and more around the X on the top.  The last step was to decorate it with stickers.

I’m sure many of you out there have used similar techniques in your classrooms.  How does it work for you?  Do you see that the students are more engaged?  I would love to hear your stories!  And if you haven’t tried it yet, let me suggest it!  You might just be surprised to see how much the level of interest increases in your room!!

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