Friday, February 27, 2015

Kate DiCamillo

So far this year, my class has read three of Kate DiCamillo's books. I bought a box set of her books at the beginning of the year from Scholastic because I was interested in building my library. I knew I wanted several books by the same author so that kids could fall in love with a style of writing. Right now, I have DiCamillo, Dahl, Clements, Blume, Cleary, Polacco, and Bunting bins.

Anyway, we started off the year with Because of Winn Dixie as our first literature circle book. All of the groups did the same book so that we could learn our routine. My students loved it and couldn't wait to blog about it and discuss it every week. I'm about to send permission slips home so that we can watch the movie. My kids deserve it, being that we've pretty much had inside recess every day for the past two months. 

(cover pictures from
After that, we began The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as a read aloud. I can't say enough about this book. My kids were hanging on to every word and would beg to hear more. They were so sad when we finished it! I like this as a read aloud; I probably wouldn't use it as a literature circle book. Not saying it is bad for that purpose, but I feel like the kids enjoy it more as listeners, without assignments attached.

Today, we finished "The Tiger Rising." Meh. Most of kids were so into it, but I wasn't! Some of them even said it was their favorite of the three. Whhhaaaat?! But, that's why they pay me the big bucks, to act enthusiastic. Don't get me wrong, the writing was beautiful. I just wasn't 100% invested in the characters or plot.

So I'm trying to decide if we should read another of Ms. DiCamillo's books or try another author. Many of my students had Tale of Despereaux read aloud to them last year by their second grade teacher, so I don't want to do that one.

Has anyone read "The Magician's Elephant" or "Flora and Ulysses?" Are either similar to any of her other books?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Discussion Groups in the Classroom (& a freebie!)

I love it when my students are engaged in high quality discussions about the text we are working with. At this point in the school year, our discussions are on topic and flowing smoothly. What a beautiful thing! Music to a teacher's ears!

We all have different ways of structuring class discussions. I've come up with a structure that works really well in my classroom. It can be difficult to harness the thoughts and words of a eight/nine year old, but I've found that this does the job for me.

I've found that the best discussions happen when everyone has a job to do. When a discussion is a free-for-all, you all know what happens. The same 1-2 kids take monopoly of the entire conversation, while the wallflower types just listen. Listening is a great skill to have, but I feel that every student should voice their opinion, even if it is just to agree or disagree with what another student said. And all of that is assuming that the conversation is even on topic. I don't know about you, but I feel like the speaking/listening standards are way too important (and underutilized) for these scenarios to become the norm.

I've always arranged my room using tables. I do a lot of group work, investigations, and discussions, and it just wouldn't work if I used rows and columns. This year, I have 25 students, so I have desks arranged in six groups. One group with five students and the rest with four. This year, I used The Brown Bag Teacher's editable desk tags.

Do not pin this image. Visit TPT to view/pin the product.

This allows me to categorize my students in several different ways. When lining up, I can call tables by color. I could also call all "A" or "B" students or "1s" or "2s". When summarizing a lessons, I often have As discuss with the other A at their table, and Bs doing the same. If I change student seats, I just reassign the tags accordingly. They are not taped down. You can assign students strategically so that you control groups and partners. The product is very versatile. Couldn't recommend enough!

So, how do I use all of this to conduct discussion groups in my classroom? 

Students know that their number signifies their discussion group. I have all ones go to a spot in the room, twos go to other spot, and so on. One group gets the carpet, another at my small group table, another on the floor at the front of the room, and another at a table. The groups are spaced far enough apart so that they can focus on their discussion. Each student needs to bring their text (the book, article, or passage we are working with). If their group is on the floor or carpet, they may grab a clipboard.

Once in their group, I give each student a card which is their discussion role assignment. There are four roles, and they are all modeling and practiced so that expectations are clear. The roles are Discussion Leader, Speaker, Notetaker, and Team Member. Each group has one discussion leader, one speaker, one notetaker, and 3 team members. These posters are hung as a reminder of discussion expectations.



Our favorite texts to discuss are articles from Storyworks (by Scholastic). The subscription comes with critical thinking questions, and sometimes, questions are imbedded right into the text. Instead of writing responses, we discuss them. But, this can used with any text, as long as your discussion topics/questions involve higher order thinking. They obviously shouldn't be yes/no questions!

As students are discussing the text, I simply walk around and listen. If you wanted to be more formal, you could develop a checklist to track student responses and participation or use a form and take anecdotal notes. To keep time, I use a countdown timer on the smart board, and I give 2-3 minutes per question.


Are you interested in trying out this method of running discussion groups? Download the freebie by clicking the picture below. It includes discussion cards and expectation posters. Please leave feedback! =)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Teacher In Search Of Clip Art!

Popping in real quick for a request for some help!

I am working on a product that centers around Greek and Latin roots.

It is a vocabulary center that students visit once a week in my classroom during reading center rotations. Each week, students learn a new root and 5-6 corresponding words. Students complete a vocabulary model where they write the definition, a sentence, and an illustration for each word. Then, they complete a "skill check" where they use the words in context.

My students LOVE this center. It makes them feel so successful when they find a word in their reading and are able to figure out its meaning based on a root (or "chunk" as we sometimes call it!). They feel like big kids! Anddddd, it makes their dear teacher happy when I walk around while they are taking their STAR test and see them apply their learning!

I am really excited to share this product because it it working so well in my classroom. Right now, I'm making the product as I go, adding a new root each week. Over spring break, I'd like to finish it and make it available on TPT.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is that I am in search of a clip art set that would include the images I would need to jazz up the product a little bit. I'm looking for a set that has simple images for the most popular Greek/Latin roots. For example, a gavel for "leg," a camera for "photo," and a water droplet for "aqua." Get the gist?

Maybe you know of a set that would fit the bill? Or you know of a clip art artist who takes requests? Please comment! If your suggestion leads to me finding what I need, I will send you a free copy of the product when it is finished!

Thanks in advance!