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Monday, January 13, 2020

Teaching Character Conflict

I've posted about teaching character conflict before, but I have a few updates to share and a NEW free resource for teaching the types of character conflict!  Here's a link the original blog post if you are looking for even more ideas.

No matter what grade I'm teaching, I always start off my character lesson the same way: By watching the clip of Anna and Elsa in "For the First Time in Forever."  After we watch it, I ask the students to write down as many words as they can think of to describe Anna and Elsa.  Then we talk about the difference between character traits and character feelings and create an anchor chart like the one below.  After we've talked about the difference, we sort our descriptive words we came up with into the categories.

Once they have a good handle on this, we are free to move on to the more tricky task of tackling character conflict.  For teaching character conflict, I start off by talking about internal vs. external conflict and what the main difference is.  We talk about times we felt conflicted about something.  Most of those conflicts end up being man vs. man conflicts, but we discuss what makes their conflicts different.

Character Conflict Anchor Chart
Now, here's the next step that students love so much.  Once they know what the four types of conflict are, we watch four different short clips from popular Disney movies. Each of these clips is a great representation of its respective character conflict.  I made a short recording sheet for students as well so that they could record their work and write a one sentence summary that describes the conflict.

You can download the free character conflict printable HERE.

Man vs. Self

Tangled: This is the movie I was watching that prompted me to start using Disney clips to teach character conflict! Poor Rapunzel has just left the tower and is feeling mighty conflicted about what she has done by defying her mother's wishes.  This scene is the perfect example of Man vs. Self conflict.

Click HERE for the clip, though you really only need to let students watch the first minute for them to identify the conflict.

Man vs. Nature

Moana: Moana is determined to see what's beyond the horizon, but nature (the ocean) has different plans.  She struggles to make it past the waves, and this scene is an ideal Man vs. Nature conflict.

Click HERE for the clip.  It's less than two minutes long.

Man vs. Man

Frozen: Anna and Elsa disagree about whether or not Elsa should return home.  We all know this ends with Elsa striking Anna.  This scene easily represents Man vs. Man (or person vs. person, in this case!) conflict.

Click HERE for the clip.

Man vs. Society

Mulan:  The emperor needs men, and only men to help him defeat the Huns.  Mulan's father is called to war, and when Mulan tries to step up as in his place, she is disgraced.

Click HERE for the clip.

After we are done with this lesson, it's time for them to practice on their own!  This is when I have them work through character conflict task cards together.  You can see the character conflict task cards HERE.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Teaching Precise Math Vocabulary

A few years ago, I was heavily pregnant, and my students were scheduled to go on a field trip three hours away from the school.  Since I was so close to my due date (and we all know how school buses are...), we decided it would be best if the interventionist and I swapped duties for the day.  As she was going through her schedule with me, she made a quick aside.

"Make sure they say 5 plus 5 EQUALS 10, and not 5 plus 5 is ten," she reminded me before quickly apologizing with an abrupt, "I know you know that. Sorry."  It gave me paused because, while I did, in fact know that many educators believe this to be best practice, it occurred to me that I rarely put this into action in my own classroom.  It was just the reminder I needed about the importance of math vocabulary and just how critical it is to use formal math vocabulary as much as possible during everyday conversation with my students...and encourage them to do the same.

I know I've seen it said that using math vocabulary isn't crucial to student success- some opponents even argue that it is confusing for kids and adds an extra degree of difficulty to math tasks.  However, I truly believe that encouraging students to use correct, precise math vocabulary increases their comprehension and ability to tackle math word problems, improves performance on standardized tests (which almost always use proper, precise math vocabulary), and gives every child a little boost as they progress through the grade levels.

While it takes a bit of extra time to incorporate this vocabulary as you are teaching concepts, my students love when they sound like official mathematicians!  I do a lot of pre-teaching to explain that while some of the more informal terms aren't always inaccurate and certainly not wrong, it's so much more impressive to use formal math terms.  I also explain to them that it will help them in the long run and helps them better understand the math concepts.  I make a big deal out of it (you don't usually learn this until 6th grade, but we're tackling it today, because I know you can handle it).  They eat it up!

Here are a few ways that I encourage my students to routinely infuse formal math vocabulary in the classroom, and a few terms that I'm a particular stickler about with my students:

Expression, Equation, Number Sentence 

I'll admit that I previously used these terms interchangeably, just hoping my students would recognize them when it came time for testing season.  I know there are still anchor charts on my blog that use the terms incorrectly, and I cringe every time I see one (note to self: fix that!).  Eventually, though, I decided I needed to explicitly teach these terms to my 4th and 5th graders, and they did an amazing job! Here's a sample anchor chart to teach students the difference between an expression and an equation.

You'll notice that "Express" is underlined under Expression and "Equa" is underlined under Equation.  Expressions are short, hence the "express" and "equa" is similar to equal.  This helps my students remember the difference.

Decimal Points

If you were to ask my former students what I'm MOST picky about when it comes to math talk, this would probably be it.

1.24 is not one point two four or one point twenty-four.

Well, technically, it is, but my students know they need "permission to use point," which is granted only in specific (and usually hurried) situations.

1.24 is one and twenty-four hundredths.

Reading Whole Numbers

Along the same lines as the decimals points, I am hyper picky about students not adding "and" when they are reading whole numbers.  105 is not one hundred and five, just one hundred five.  "And" is reserved only for decimals, even with my young students who don't know how to read decimals yet. 

Reading Fractions

If I student reads 1/4 as one over four, I usually ask them to rephrase it to either one fourth or a quarter.

If a student tells me the "top number" of a fraction is one, I ask them to rephrase it to, "the numerator" is one.  Same goes if they tell me the "bottom number" of a fraction is four.  They rephrase it to "the denominator" is four.

Greater Than > and Less Than <

So often I hear kids say, "The arrow is pointing at the smaller number!" or "The alligator is eating the smaller number."  I know these are all techniques we use to teach young students how to use the symbols, but as they get older, it's so important that they can read an expression like 456 > 87 as "456 is greater than 87."

Regroup and Decompose

I know this one is controversial, but they aren't borrowing any numbers, they are regrouping the numbers.  This definitely causes a bit of a generational divide, as I grew up with the term borrowing and carrying, as did most of our students' parents.  However, if we are really focusing on using math vocabulary to help our students understand the math concepts, they will learn to understand what "regrouping" and "decomposing" mean just as we understood the function of "borrow" and "carry."  The only difference is that as they get older, they will understand that these terms are literal (and they are great for mini lessons on prefixes, too!)

Improper Fraction and Fraction Greater than One

I'm going to admit that I'm still not completely fluent with this change, but did you know that the more up-to-date and accurate term for an improper fraction is a "fraction greater than one?"  It's literal, and it's a great teaching moment.  Since "improper fraction" is still used regularly in textbooks and other resources, I teach both terms and use them interchangeably.

Reduced and Simplified Fractions

This one is very similar to the one above.  I still use both terms interchangeably and make sure that my students understand that we really aren't reducing the fraction or making it smaller, but putting it into its simplest form.

Geometry Terms

Those aren't corners.  Those are vertices.  :)

Dimensions (Area & Perimeter)

I can't tell you how many times I've had students get to me in 4th grade and have a good grasp on perimeter and area concepts but have no idea what a dimension is or how to read dimensions (ie. 4 x 3 is four by three or length times width). This is an easy, easy fix, and there's something that kids love about the word dimension.

Along the same lines, I tend to always refer to the "outside" of a shape as the perimeter of it and the inside of it as the area.


I constantly ask my students, "What operation did you use to solve this problem?"

I have also stopped saying, "What's the answer?" whenever possible and replaced that with, "What's the sum/difference/product/quotient?" anywhere that I can.


This is another important one.  There are three DIGITS in the number 453.  It's so important that students understand the difference between the digits and the number, just like they understand that letters are different than words.

Attending to Precision with Informal vs. Formal Math Talk

I want to emphasize that I don't call my students out as wrong or tell them that the more informal terms are inaccurate (unless they are).  To me, having my students practice their math vocabulary during conversations and math discussions is just like having them practice their reading fluency, and it becomes just that-- fluent.

Do you teach the Standards of Mathematical Practice in your classroom?  If so, you'll recognize that this all really comes down to the Mathematical Practice of attending to precision.  When students say, "To solve this problem, I did take away," I think it's completely reasonably to ask them to be more precise with their language and say, "To solve this problem, I subtracted..."  

What are you a stickler for when it comes to math vocabulary?

A special note:  Please note that I have used these strategies and expectations with all students, but students needing extra support or English Language Learners may need additional scaffolds, support, and accommodations.

Formal vs. Informal Math Talk Anchor Chart Inspiration:
Building a  Bridge to Academic Math Vocabulary

Other Math Posts You May Enjoy 


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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Teaching Students To Use Observations to Infer

If you've ever tried to teach students the concept of making inferences, you know this is never a simple task! That's why I have always taught my students how to tell the difference between literal and inferential questions and observations.  I've written extensively about this in the past, but I have a new inference anchor chart and free lesson for you if you are just getting started, or if your students need more practice with this!

Inference Anchor Chart
You may remember THIS  post about how I teach my students the difference between literal and inferential observations or THIS post that dives into using pictures to teach.  This is not a one and done skill!  I find a way to reinforce inference ALL YEAR LONG.

This lesson and anchor chart are similar concepts to those I've shared before, but it scaffolds it even more for students who need more explicit instruction.  It's also a great way to introduce those two lessons because it even more explicitly teaches inference than those do!

The inference anchor chart above really speaks for itself.  I start by explaining to my students that our literal observations (what's right there) help us make inferences. Then, we use the green sticky notes to brainstorm as many literal observations as we can about the picture.  After that, we discuss as a group some inferences we can make based on those literal observations.  Soon, students realize that they are actually inferring ALL the time!  It's a great lightbulb moment.  It's also great for them to see that you can infer multiple conclusions from the same observation (and that not all inferences are right all the time).

I also made a free inference printable for you to use with your students to reinforce this skill.  You can download it (which also includes the picture I used in our anchor chart) for free HERE.

Inference Activity
Then, we use one of my literal and inferential text task cards as a whole group to apply this skill to text.  We color code our answers again so that they can see how we must use our observations in order to make an inference. 

I hope that gives you one more idea about how you can use pictures to teach inference, especially to students who don't understand the concept the first time around.  Be sure to reference those two posts I mentioned above so that you know where to go AFTER this! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Main Idea Vs. Theme with Song Lyrics

Hands down, one of my most popular posts is teaching about Main Idea vs. Theme.  Ever since I started teaching the concepts together (in the upper grades), it has completely changed how my students think about and generate their main idea and theme statements.  Now, I have one more FREE theme and main idea activity to add to your repertoire that is a perfect whole group or small group addition to my main idea vs. theme task cards!

I have posted before about how I adore using song lyrics to teach specific reading skills.  Cause and Effect is definitely one of my favorites to teach with song lyrics, because who can resist that song!?  However, there are so many songs that lend themselves so, so well to teaching main idea and theme.  If you aren't teaching both at the same time, you can absolutely still use the songs and the ideas here.  Just leave out the other skill!

I also wanted to create something that would take things a step further than just simply identifying the main idea and theme of a song or story.  As I was thinking of the perfect songs to use for this, I decided to make it a sort of "Paired Passages" activity by comparing the themes and main ideas in two songs.  Instead of just identifying the theme and main idea, they are actively drawing comparisons and contrasting the main idea and themes as well.

This is a very easy prep activity.  You can get the FREE printables below, so all you need to do is print them out and find the accompanying videos on YouTube.  All of the songs I have chosen are from significant moments from popular children's films, so they are all readily accessible and appropriate to watch. Many kids will have seen or at least know the premise of the movies, which is also helpful in doing some more inferring of the themes and main ideas!

I have included multiple activities here and multiple opportunities for students to compare the main idea and theme of different songs that go well together. Choose which you'd set of paired passages you'd like to start with.  I like using "Something There" and "I See the Light" to start because the themes are quite evident and the parallels are easy to find.  Using "Baby Mine" and "Out There" is a great next step.

I start out by showing the videos for the two songs.  I make sure they have a copy of the lyrics in front of them to take any notes (such as speaker/character changes) as they watch.  Then we walk through the lyrics step by step, almost like we are completing a close read.  This is a bit different, though, because we are really taking note of character actions and how all of the lines fit together to form the main idea and/or theme.  Remember that all of these notes are always taken as discussions occur with students, so some may be written in shorthand.

It's so interesting to see the lightbulb moments students have when they are analyzing song lyrics.  So often they listen to this music and even memorize the words without realizing what a beautifully woven story the lyrics are telling!

After we have thoroughly analyzed the songs themselves (be sure to incorporate any other reading skills you have already reviewed!) we move into the task of analyzing the main idea and theme.  Here's an example of one completed page.  Be sure to reference the notes you took as you did a close read... often your students will have already determined the main idea and theme throughout their notes.

That's it!  The whole lesson takes around 30 minutes, and it's so meaningful for students.  I often have students bring in their own songs to analyze, too!  

If you'd like to do this lesson with your students, you can sign up for the free download below.  Remember to use a personal email address, as some school addresses can block the email.

Teach Main Idea and Theme with Song Lyrics!
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    Friday, August 23, 2019

    Teaching Oral Reading Fluency

    One of the top questions I get is always about how I run my math and reading rotations.  As I prepare to share those formats with you, I'll be sharing some of the components of them individually as well. Today's topic is oral reading fluency, which is one of the very first "reading skills" I teach at the beginning of the year!

    First, a little bit of background about why I insist on including oral reading fluency instruction in ALL of my elementary classrooms. Oral reading fluency is always one of my reading rotations because I so strongly believe in the importance of building fluent readers who have developed the ability to read accurately, at a natural pace, and with excellent prosody/expression.

    Research shows that reading fluency is a direct indicator of comprehension success.  In other words, when students can read fluently, they are significantly more likely to understand what they are reading.  Multi-tasking is tough for even the most skilled readers.  Building reading fluency and freeing students from the task of decoding allows them to build automaticity.  This automaticity (fluency) allows readers to focus on the actual act of reading and enables them to put their energy and focus into understanding and synthesizing the text.  We have to place a focus on building fluent readers if we want to build efficient readers who comprehend what they are reading.

    Fluency, then, simply has to be front and center in our reading instruction.  Not just in 2nd grade, not just in 3rd grade, but in 4th and 5th grade, too.  The words and complexity of texts they are expected to read fluently in 2nd grade are wildly different than those in 4th and 5th grade.  We can't stop practicing!  It's our obligation to solidify these essential reading skills to set our students up for success.

    But before you have students working on developing fluency, they need to know what it is, how they can improve it, and of course, what it sounds like.  I truly believe that some direct instruction on reading fluency is key to student growth.

    Each year, I start out with a few mini lesson on reading fluency.   You could do these fluency lessons all in one day, but I find it more effective to really focus on one element of fluency each day for a week and then combine it all.  These mini lessons only need to take 10 minutes with five minutes or so of practice.  I use my Fluency Task Cards in all of the lessons.  Since we use them so frequently in centers, it's a good way to get them started.  At the end of this post, you can get a free set of fluency task cards specifically designed to use with each of these lessons.  Everything you need to implement these five days of fluency lessons is completely FREE.

    Fluency Anchor Chart
    Here is the anchor chart that we build as we learn about each element of a fluent reader. Remember to create this fluency anchor chart WITH you students.  It does little good if you make it and then just hang it up one day.  However, if you create it WITH them, they will know exactly what it says and know when to reference it.

    If you'd like to make your anchor chart look like mine, you can download the printable elements for free HERE, but again, please make sure you make it an interactive experience with your students... especially the handwritten part!

    Here is an overview of the lessons I teach each day as I introduce reading fluency.

    Day 1: Accuracy

    On this day, we focus on reading accurately as a component of fluency.  I define that for them as:

    If I'm reading accurately
    • I don't eliminate words, word endings, or word beginnings.
    • I don't add words that don't belong
    In other words, fluent readers don't make very many mistakes when they are reading. I used to add that you shouldn't "guess" at words, but now I am sure to clarify that they shouldn't guess at words without making sure they make sense within the context of the sentence. 

    Accuracy Activity: I put up a short fluency task card on the document camera and then give them each a black and white copy of it and tell them to mark any, but at least ONE, errors that I make while reading.  Then, I do a fairly abysmal job of reading it out loud to them.  I read it nice and speedily, but I throw in extra words, I add or eliminate some prefixes or suffixes, and sometimes I totally misread a word because I'm going too fast.  Then we have a little discussion about all the ways I was not an accurate reader and why, even though I read fast, it isn't going to help me become a better reader with all those mistakes!  I like to jot these down in our reading notebooks, too!

    Day 2: Expression/Prosody

    On this day, we focus on reading with expression, or having excellent prosody.  This is always a favorite day because we get to be a little bit silly! I define that for them as:

    If I'm reading with appropriate expression
    • I don't sound like a robot
    • I rein in the dramatic actor living inside of me
    This one is pretty straight forward, but it's something they need to be reminded of.  

    Expression Activity: I have blogged about this activity before, so you can hop over to THIS blog post about the activity I do to encourage expressive readers.  I use the book Good Boy, Fergus for this activity.  You can use this one for punctuation as well! 

    Additionally, I pull out the same task card that we used yesterday.  This time, I explain that my accuracy is going to be on point, but that I want them to pay careful attention to my expression.  I read it robotically and I read it like a stage actor presenting Shakespeare.  Then I read it normally.  We talk about the differences in my reading and which one makes more sense.  

    I end by giving them each a different fluency task card and having them read it all three ways: like a robot, like an actor, and normally.  (This is when you'll use the Expression task card included for free in the set!)

    Day 3: Punctuation

    Today, we focus on using punctuation to become more fluent readers.  This day flows really well after expression day because it reinforces how to use your expression appropriately.  If you didn't use Good Boy, Fergus yesterday, you can use it today, and if you DID use it yesterday, I highly encourage you to pull it out again and talk about how the punctuation in the book contributes to your appropriate expression. 

    If I'm paying attention to punctuation while I read, 
    • I look for commas, periods, exclamation marks, and dialogue markers
    • I look for words in bold or italics to be emphasized
    Punctuation Activity: For our main activity on this day, I make a copy of one of my punctuation-specific fluency task cards and use White Out to eliminate all of the punctuation in it.  I have them read it out loud.  It's obviously a hot mess, and they know it!  Then, I give them a copy WITH punctuation, and we talk about the difference.

     Day 4: Pace

    PACING is what most kids think about when they are talking about fluency.  It's the rate or speed at which they are reading.  I define it as...

    If I'm reading with natural pacing,
    • I'm not pretending to be in a speed reading competition.
    • I read as though I'm having a natural conversation.
    Pacing Activity: Yep, you guessed it.  We have a speed reading competition.  Things get crazy.  Nobody can understand a word.  Nobody can retell what they just read. Another big old mess of a reading!  We also go nice and slow... too slow.  On this day, we usually do a choral reading as well.  I'll read it with exceptional pacing, then guide them in reading it all together at a nice, natural pace. 

    Day 5: Comprehension

    Day 5 leads us into our essential reading skills.  Since I do this series of fluency lessons at the very beginning of the year, after this week, I dive right in to teaching reading skills.  (You can read more about how and when I teach reading skills HERE.)  Therefore, I don't spend a ton of time talking about comprehending other than telling them that it means they understand what they are reading. 

    If I'm comprehending what I'm reading,
    • I am always checking for understanding
    • I read to learn 
    Comprehension Activity: I use one of my longer fluency task cards (usually from the Back to School set) and combine everything that we have learned over the last four days (accuracy, expression, punctuation, pacing) to read it.  I've included one in your free set to use.  Then I have them turn their card over and ask a few basic comprehension questions about it (Think: who, what, where, when, why questions).

    After we have discussed all of these concepts, our anchor chart is done, and I post it up on the board, I also have small versions that they glue into their reading notebooks.  This, along with a checklist for fluent reading that mirrors the anchor chart are available for free HERE.
    Fluency Anchor Chart
    Day 6 and beyond...

    Now that your students know all of the components to fluency, it's time to actively work on improving those fluency skills!  I have a set of fluency task cards in my reading rotations nearly every single week.  Back in 2012, I was in a reading interventionist role, and the only fluency resources my school used consisted of long passages where students read as much as they could in one minute, then read it again, and again, and again.  This wasn't motivating for my students, it required a teacher to be done well, they weren't really reflecting on the progress they were (or weren't) making, and engagement was almost zero.  At that time, I was super into using and creating task cards, for their myriad benefits, and I thought, "WHY NOT FOR FLUENCY!?" That's when I created the concept of fluency task cards and posted the first set of Fluency Task Cards ever available on TpT.

    Here's what I love about using fluency task cards:
    • They are short passages specifically designed around critical fluency concepts.
    • They aren't designed to be timed.  So instead of worrying about getting further into the passage with each read, students are instead focusing on actively improving all components of their fluency, not just their speed.
    • They are designed to be visually appealing and the content is relevant and interesting so they are engaging to the kids.
    • Students see immediate growth with research-based repeated reading.
    • Students interact with one another and give each other feedback about ways they can improve.
    • They are low prep and can be used year after year!  Teacher win!
    Most of the time, I have students read their fluency task cards with partners.  I make sure they have the fluency checklist that I linked to above so that they can "rate" themselves at the end. We use a simple rating system of green, yellow, and red, and we talk a lot about what a red reading looks like (several accuracy errors, robotic pace, etc.) and what a green reading looks like (have they followed the checklist as best they can?).  We aren't looking for perfection to get a green, but improvement and overall excellent fluency.

    During one rotation, they read each card at least 3 times, taking turns and discussing their strengths in fluency and areas they can keep working on.  They are encouraged to use the language that we have already reviewed and therefore need to refer back to the rubrics and posters often.  I try to give them a wide variety of opportunities to work with different partners so that they get new feedback, too.  They can usually get through about three cards during a 15 minute rotation.

    Are you ready to try out even more fluency task cards and put them into your reading rotations?  Grab your free cards to complete the introduction lessons below.  Then, consider your options! I recommend starting with concept-based fluency task cards focusing on specific fluency skills. 
    After your students have worked through those (or at the same time), you can start incorporating seasonal fluency task cards as well!

    Teach your first five fluency lessons!

      You will immediately receive your free download when you submit. You'll be joining tens of thousands of teachers receiving tips, freebies, and ideas from me. You can unsubscribe at any time.

      I do mix in other fluency activities into my rotations, so they are only doing the fluency task cards about three days a week, but I have seen major growth in my students since I implemented them.  Here's how I use them:

      I also have a huge blog post about ways you can increase fluency, and it features ten different ways you can practice it in the classroom (primarily during centers rotations).  Be sure to stop by that post to get even more ideas, too!  There are some tried and true gems there, too!

      Wednesday, August 7, 2019

      Using Pictures to Teach Reading Skills Part 2

      Using Pictures to Teach Reading Skills isn't a new idea over at Teaching With a Mountain View, but it sure has evolved over the years!  Before you read this post, I highly recommend reading my original post about using pictures to teach reading skills. You can find that post HERE.  If you want to dig really deep into the archives, I have posts as far back as 2012 that introduce the idea of using Pictures to Teach literal vs. inferential ideas and more! This post is a follow-up to those posts with a few updates and additions.

      This all started many years ago when I taught third grade.  My students had a huge difference in ability levels.  Some were fluently reading but not comprehending at all.  Some weren't fluently reading.  Some were still learning basic phonics and phonemic awareness skills.  Others were fluent as could be and understood every word they read.  It truly ran the gamut.  

      Because of that, I knew I needed a way to make reading skills accessible and engaging to all of my students, no matter what level.  During my first year teaching, my husband was out hiking with a buddy and his other friend snapped a picture of the two of them debating which way to go.  One was holding a map, the other a GPS, and they both looked LOST.  I took one look at that picture and said, "I need that! I'm bringing it to school to show my kids tomorrow."  I printed it out, and the next day, we created this anchor chart:
      This inference anchor chart originally appeared on my blog HERE.
      I introduced it by saying, "What can you tell me based on this picture?"  The answers started very simply but quickly evolved. This is how that first conversation went...

      Student: "Oh! He is wearing a red hat!"
      Me: Yes... Go on...
      Student: "Yeah! The other guy is holding a map."
      Me: ....
      Student: "THEY MUST BE LOST." 
      Me: BOOM! Yes!
      Student: "OH! And since they're both wearing hats, it must be cold outside..."

      And on and on and on, I heard my students using their literal observations to bust out some solid inferences.  It was one of those teaching moments that you never want to end because you can literally see the lightbulbs going off one by one. Ding. Ding. Ding. 

      After that lesson, I made inference task cards that used pictures, then moved on to text.  They quickly became a student favorite in my literacy centers.  When I say they became a favorite, I mean they became a favorite of every single student.  The ones who could read, the ones who couldn't, and those in between.

      From that point forward, I incorporated pictures wherever I could.  I pulled this picture from my honeymoon ATV trip when we were learning about figurative language, and boy did they come up with some creative sentences about it!  

      This figurative language anchor chart originally appeared on my blog HERE.

      As the years went on, I continued to find different ways to incorporate pictures into my reading instruction.  My students would cheer when they saw a blank piece of chart paper with nothing but a picture in the middle of it.  "Oh, what are we going to do with THAT picture!?" they'd eagerly ask. 

      When I was moved to teaching fourth grade, I wanted a way to take what we were doing as a whole class and move it into my small groups and literacy rotations.  I also wanted to make the transition from pictures to text more seamless, and that's when I started creating Using Pictures to Teach printable resources.

      As my teaching continued to evolve, I moved toward reviewing multiple reading skills with one picture.  The beauty of this technique is that they are making inferences for every single task we complete, but reviewing other key reading skills at the same time.

      My students loved these just as much! They took a little bit more time to complete since we were reviewing multiple skills, but that made it perfect to work through over the course of a few days.  Sometimes, I would put one of these in a reading center and have each group complete one section and then discuss it as a whole class when we were done. 

      Every time I post one of the anchor charts like the one above, I get questions about where I find my pictures, how I come up with which skills to work on, etc.  That's why I created a new set of open-ended Using Pictures to Teach Printables that look just like the anchor chart above.  They are ready to go!  You can project them and complete them whole class, you can assign the digital version in Google Classroom, you can print them and have students complete them individually or with each other.  The options are endless, but there are ten and they are all ready-to-use!

      Learn more about this resource HERE!

      I am not exaggerating when I say that using pictures to teach reading skills is one of the best things I have implemented in my classroom.  It not only changed the way I teach, but it changed the way my students thought about life, reading, and reading skills.

      I'd love to see your anchor charts that you create with your students!  Don't forget to tag me in them @teachingwithamountainview on Instagram.

      Happy Teaching! 

      Monday, August 5, 2019

      Weekly Letter Writing to Build Community

      Years ago, I shared this idea as a free resource on TpT, but I've never gotten around to explaining my weekly letter writing procedures over here on my blog! It's definitely time.

      When I was student teaching, I had truly the best cooperating teacher I could have asked for.  She was a phenomenal teacher (she's now a principal), a master at building community in her classroom, and one of the kindest people I've ever met.  I got so many wonderful ideas from her that year, and many of those ideas have become teaching traditions that still live on my classroom.

      One of my favorite activities that I have implemented because of her is Weekly Letter Writing.  The premise is simple: I write a letter to my students every week, and they write back.  It's the only homework I give (click here to read more about my homework policy), but it's also one of the most important things I do in my classroom to build community.  I've implemented this every year I've been in the classroom, and many of my colleagues have started doing it, too.

      Why write letters each week?

      First and foremost, the purpose behind writing letters is to build relationships and connect with my students.  Every single week, I get to read a personalized note from my students, and they get to read one from me.  I get to know them better, and they get to know me better, too.

      Second, it's an amazing way to have students practicing writing skills in a super fun and interesting way.  I have watched kids blossom from two sentence letters at the beginning of the year to full-page letters by the end of the year.  While they may not always be SUPER excited about the prospect of this (or any homework) at the beginning of the year, they always grow to love it.

      Third, it's an important opportunity to allow students to reflect on what is going on in our world and in our classroom.  Since I write the letters each week (more about that below), I'm able to incorporate current events in the world as well as address certain things going on in our classroom.

      What do I write letters about?

      So many different things!

      I start every letter with one or two sentences about something fun going on in my life (I usually write them on Sunday evenings or Monday morning, so I do a quick recap of my weekend.)  Then I decide on my "topic" for the week.  When I worked in an International Baccalaureate (IB) School, I would focus on one IB attitude each week or on our central idea.  If you're working on a certain social studies topic, incorporate that into your letter.  If you're reading a book, think about how they can reflect on that book in their letter.  Consider local, national, or worldwide events and discuss them.  Look at seasonal topics.  The possibilities for what to write about are truly endless.

      I usually model a response to my prompt within the letter I write.  If I'm asking them to think about empathy, I'll write about a time I showed empathy (or didn't show empathy...).  I always include a prompt in my letter (and bold it so that it's clear what they need to write back about) that they should respond to, but students often add more details and tidbits about their lives.

      I have to write to them every week? Doesn't that take a lot of work?

      First, the letters are pretty short.  If I'm writing a new one, it usually only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to draft.

      Second, I save my letters and do use similar prompts year after year.  One grade level team I worked with that decided to implement this grade-wide came up with "templates" that we all used every year (based on our current topics) and then we just added in our own little notes, current events, etc. each week.  This made sending them home every week a BREEZE!

      Do I grade and respond to every letter?

      Grade? No. Respond? Briefly.

      I am not exaggerating when I say this is the one piece of work that I look forward to reading more than any other.  Kids tend to really get into this-- typing them out, adding borders, clip art, folding them into fun shapes, putting them into envelopes.  They take great pride in their letters, so I really enjoy reading them.

      I choose maybe one a month to use the rubric (included in the free resource below) on, but I don't necessarily count it as a grade since it's homework, and I don't know what level of help they received on it.

      I write short responses to letters.  Sometimes it's as simple as responding with a "WOW!!" in the margins where they've written something interesting, or a quick "Me too!" comment.  Sometimes, I write one or two sentences back (on the letter they wrote me).  My kids are always eager to read my responses when they get them back the following week.

      How do I get started?

      I usually start this during the very first week of school.  Some years, I have introduced it on the first day of school.  It depends what grade level you teach and how much pre-teaching of letter format you're going to have to do.  But you definitely want to start this as soon as possible.

      I have created a letter writing starter kit so that you can easily get going with letters in your classroom! It includes an information sheet for students, letter topic ideas and examples, and a short rubric for grading them, if you so choose.

      You can download the starter kit for free by clicking the image below.

      Years ago, I wrote about this idea as a guest blogger on Laura Candler's blog.  Clear HERE to read the original blog post that includes a few different ideas!