Sunday, September 28, 2014

Teaching About Plot

I love to read in my class.  It is just something that brings so much joy to so many, that I feel like it needs a place of honor in my room.  And while we do read our fair share of nonfiction, where I find myself (and my students) drawn to is the fiction stories.  They are just so full of awesomeness that I can't help myself.
With those great reads comes great lessons.  Books (in general) have a beginning, middle, and end.  They start with introductions, take the reader through many different actions which lead to the climax, that point we have been waiting for, and then solve the problems with a nice, neat ending.  (OK, OK...I know not does that, but I am talking in general!)  So this past week, I wanted to focus on that story structure we call PLOT and bring it to the attention of my students.

One thing that I have been doing, and have written a bit about in the past few weeks, is take a large reading topic (character, setting, plot) and teach it to my students over the course of the week.  I break the idea into smaller, 20 minute chunks, and teach from there.  It is working so very well!  This week's chunk lessons all dealt with the idea of plot and how everything we read follows the same basic "formula".

We started with an anchor chart describing each part of the plot diagram.

What is exposition?
Why is rising action the longest part?
What does climax do for the story?
Falling action and resolution are different? 

Then, we discussed how There's A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar follows this plot structure.  I asked them to think-pair-share with a partner to see if they could come up with examples that fall into each of the categories.  Then, after a group debrief on their T-P-S, I sent them back to their seats, with a plot diagram I had made and asked them to write down their thoughts.  You can grab this diagram here.

Day Two and Three had us looking at a story (written by my husband!) and trying to dissect it for plot elements.  We read the story aloud, and then color coded the story using our crayons to represent different elements of plot.  Deciphering between the exposition and rising action, and then falling action and resolution proved to be quite challenging!  Our discussion kept us moving along though and the students were able to do this quite well.

On these days, I wanted them to create a little drawing/writing project that would keep them interested in the story and also serve to get their ideas from the oral discussion to a more written, concrete form.   So I asked the students to take the color-coded writing and draw a picture for each of the five elements.  What picture would represent the exposition?  What about the climax?  How would the resolution be drawn?

For Day Three I asked them to do the same thing, but instead of drawing it, I wanted written EVIDENCE FROM THE TEXT (ahhh....getting some of that testing jargon in there!!)  Everything seems to go back to that test, doesn't it? 

That then lead us into the writing portion of this for the week.  I wanted the students to be able to write a clear, coherent paragraph on the subject of plot so for Day Four and Five, I had them choose a picture book that they were familiar with.  I guided them towards books that I knew had a clear beginning, middle, and end (ie: Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans or Stellaluna by Janel Cannon ) and gave them an organizer to fill in outlining the plot details of the story.

Then, using a paragraph organizer, I asked them to construct a complete paragraph plot summary.  This was to tell what happened in the story, from exposition to resolution, without giving everything way.  It was to be barebones and focus on the main ideas in the text.   Using the organizer really helped the kids to do this.  They were forced to only pick a few of the details, and really helped them to be sure they had parts from each plot element.
I wish I had a completed one, but I forgot to take pictures of it!  So sorry about that!! that is what we did for our study of Plot in 5 Days.  If you would like to have the full lesson plans, standards addressed, organizers, and all, I have complied them for you in my TpT store.  I really, really love how these lessons turned out and kept my kids focused.  It was great hearing them talk about Plot even out of context of language arts (ie: in theatre or when discussing a movie they had seen.)  I also love that I was able to do this, and produce some bulletin board worthy products, in 5 days!  Win-win for all!

What are some things you do to teach your students about plot?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Walking ACTION!

As many of you know, I have been lucky enough to have a truly fabulous program called The Walking Classroom in use with my students.  If you have read my previous posts about it (you can read them here, here, and here) you KNOW how much my students and I love being able to put those headphones on and head outside to learn.

Well, because of this really cool program, something really cool happened to us at the end of April that I wanted to share with you.  We in Room 6 got our 15 minutes of fame!  We became TV stars for the day.  :)

In a nutshell, Laura Fenn, the creator of The Walking Classroom, met the director of a show about the benefits of walking and exercise that is produced by a local PBS affiliate in my area.  She referred him to me, we set up the filming schedule, and 7 people armed with cameras and equipment descended upon Room 6.

It was such a great experience for my students and I.  Having a camera follow you is such a trip!  I felt like a Kardashian!  ;)  Seriously, though, it was an incredible experience.

A little "behind the scenes" shot!

And now, 5 months later, it is on TV!  The piece is so well done, my kids are amazing (of course!) and the program really gets to shine through.  Here is the link to the awesome show.  We are the first story, so you don't even need to fast forward.

Just excuse my classroom.  It was mid-process while we transformed it into a it isn't the best looking thing ;)

In case you can't see the embedded link, here is the direct link to the site.

So what do you think?  Incredible isn't it?  The Walking Classroom really is such a fabulous tool to have at your disposal.  Here is a link to apply for a donated set for your 4th or 5th grade class.   Does anyone else have this in their room?  Thoughts?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lesson Success! {using multiple math strategies}

At the beginning of the week, we started to look at how to multiply decimals.  Easy enough.  I have always taught the algorithm, the kids follow the rules, they get it, we move on.

But with the new CCSS, the students are asked to understand conceptually what is going on using models.  So, I thought I would break out the old place value manipulatives, show them the breakdown, give the models, and the kids would rise to the occasion and grasp the idea conceptually.

I was wrong.

I mean, they know what they are doing when it comes to the algorithm, but actually understanding the use of the models was a bit challenging.  Especially when it came to regrouping to create wholes.

So it was back to the drawing board for me.  Upon reflection, I realized that it wasn't the idea of the model that was the problem, it was how I was showing them.  Using the place value pieces just wasn't working.

Instead, I broke out the old hundreds grid graph paper (here is a free one I found online for you) and we DREW the model instead of actually using the manipulatives.  This worked WONDERS for the kids.  They could see what 0.5 x 4 actually meant but didn't get confused when it came time to regroup. 

They were really able to see the wholes and how all of the decimal pieces fit together.

The next day, after the model lesson clicked, I thought it would be good to talk about WHY we are actually using multiple strategies.  I mean, the algorithm works, so why not just stick with it.  After a brief think-pair-share, we created this brainstorm anchor chart together (I am getting good at making them *with* the kids!)

Then, we discussed multiplying decimals specifically, since that is what we were studying.  They told me three different ways we learned to solve the same problem, and then listed reasons why we might use that strategy over another.
Finally, as a sort of wrap up, I gave each student one simple multiplying decimal problem and asked them to solve it in three different ways.  They then needed to explain why that way would work for them.

All in all, what started out as a flop of a lesson turned into a good learning experience for us all.  Does that ever happen to you?  What lesson did you teach that just didn't take off in the right direction for you?  How did you fix it?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bright Idea: 2-in-1 Journals

Notebooks and journals are expensive.  I mean, $0.50 isn't ridiculous, but if you multiply that by 34, then again by the three or four journals needed throughout the year for the various subjects that are taught...well, that is just a lot of money out of my pocket.  And usually, I spend it, grumble a little, then move on because I know it is good for my students and a necessary cost.

Then, the year goes on and, come the end, I realize that I haven't even filled half of many of the notebooks for whatever reason (I got lazy in my interactive notebook gusto from the beginning of the year, most things didn't require me to have the kids write it in the notebook, we didn't take that many notes....who knows)

So this year, I decided to try and cut down on both the out of pocket cost and the lack of filling the notebook space and try something a little different.  I combined two notebooks into one, by flipping it upside down.

The front of my notebook is for grammar.  All lessons that I am planning to do on all things related to grammar are going to go right here in the front half of the notebook.

Then the kids flipped over the book and affixed a label for my reading notebook on the back.  The back half of the journal will be for all reading genre notes (not response....just reading genre and skill stuff.)

I figure if I *need* more space, I can always give them a second journal later, but at least this way, I am saving a little money, and a few trees, for the time being.

What about you?  How do you manage all of the notebooks that you have?  Any money/space saving ideas for us?

Want to read some more Bright Ideas? Click on any of the links below!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Teaching About Character Traits

This week, we began discussing character traits and how an author uses those descriptions to get you emotionally invested and interested in a book or story.  We did a few things that I found very successful, and wanted to share the ideas with you.  We did these lessons over the course of a week, so I am going to break down what happened each day, in case you want to recreate that timeline in your own room.

Day 1 -- Introduction to Character Traits

We gathered as a group to discuss what exactly character traits are.  Why does an author use them?  What purpose do they serve?  Together we created this anchor chart.  I made the chart while the kids took notes in their Reading Journals.

I asked them to then look at the specific "Ask Yourself" questions and we opened up our class novel (Gregor the Overlander) to the first chapter.  We have read this chapter a few times, and dug into it quite a bit, so they are rather familiar with it.  I read the first question aloud and then modeled a discussion with them, pointing to parts of the story where Gregor does things that would be specific to him.  I thought out loud about actions he took that tell us more about his character.  I then sent them off to do the same with a partner for the remaining questions.  I wanted them to specifically discuss the character of Gregor, so that we were all keeping within the same ideas for our modeled practice.

After they discussed in partners, we shared out a bit whole group.  This was all done orally.  Aside from the notetaking, no writing was done.

 Day 2 -- Digging into the book

Now that we have discussed what character traits are in general, I wanted to get a bit more specific.  I found a great list from Read, Write, Think of adjectives that can be used to describe the character traits of a specific person in a story.  I gave each student a list and then we looked at it to think about which ones could be used to describe Gregor (again, going back to the main character in our story so that we have some consistency.)

Since we use Thinking Maps, I asked the kids to help me create a bubble map to describe Gregor.  The first word they thought of was "responsible".  We added that to our bubble map (making an anchor chart as we went.)  Then I asked them HOW they knew Gregor was responsible.  One student pointed to a line on page 3 of the book.  We all turned there and read the line.  I then added that to the bottom of the bubble (see the anchor chart??)  Another kid chimed in saying that he also watched his sister, but that there was no direct quote that would work as it was sort of an inference at the time.  So we just paraphrased and wrote that in on the bubble map too.

We went on like this for a bit, until I felt that the kids had a good idea.  Then I sent them back to their seats to finish the bubble map.  They had to find 3 more character traits WITH EVIDENCE FROM THE TEXT to complete their bubble maps.  

Day 3 -- Inside and Outside Traits

Most of the students tended to focus on the PHYSICAL traits associated with our main character.  I mean, they are easy to focus on because they are so concrete.  But when writer's write, it is the PERSONALITY traits that really make you connect with a character.  So Day 3 was focused on telling the difference between the two different categories.

Looking at our character of Gregor, we talked about the "Outside Traits", those things that were physical, and then "Inside Traits", those things that were personality based.  We made a new list of all of those adjectives (from the previous day's character trait list) that could be used to characterize Gregor and then categorized them into Physical or Personality.

I then set the kids off to create two new bubble maps.  This time, one had to represent the physical outside traits only, with evidence from the text of course.  The second map had to represent the inside personality traits.  Again, the bubble maps needed to include EVIDENCE from the TEXT.

Day 4 -- Writing about Character Traits

Now that we looked at character traits from the author's perspective, we wrote about them as a reader.  I used this anchor chart and taught the kids to write a response (like they are going to have to do on the TEST.)  I gave them a simple frame (ala Paragraph of the Week) which they instantly recognized and were confident they could use.

Click here to get this generalized organizer
We talked about how the traits from the bubble maps would become the "trait #1" et al sentences, and the evidence would become the "evidence" sentences.  Then the kids set off to write.

Day 5 -- Revising and Extending

After the paragraphs were constructed, I realized that they were bare bones basic.  So this day was dedicated to a mini lesson on extending sentences.  We focused solely on the trait sentences, as those, across the board, were the most simple.  I gave them a few sentence starters that could extend their sentences with and the students were sent off to revise their paragraphs.

Now, we have some great final drafts, the kids are able to dig into the text to find evidence of character traits, AND they are that much more prepared for "the TEST."

What is something you do to teach Character Traits?