End of the Year Digital Choice Board Projects

My end of the year project just leveled up! With ten days left to go, and the sentimental thoughts of missing the class (from myself and the students), these projects will give the students a chance to share special memories, things learned throughout the year, tips for next year’s students, or a summary of what they’ve learned through five different creative options.

Students can choose between a series of podcasts, writing a song and creating a music video, writing and illustrating an audio book, writing and making a movie, or creating a series of sketch notes or mind maps to share their year.

All of the project options are perfect for 21st century skills. Students will collaborate, get creative, think critically, practice citizenship, and practice good communication skills through their project presentations. The projects are great for MANY grade levels (probably excluding K and 1) and any subject area!

I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

For you teachers out there, these slides are completely editable. You can edit the text and directions to fit your grade level and add your own bitmoji images. Get it here ūüôā

Test Prep Room Transformation

Can You Defeat the Puzzle Master?

This room transformation was easy, cheap, rigorous, and highly engaging! I centered the theme around growth mindset and mindulness strategies that, when used together, are the puzzle pieces to success. We’ve focused on these concepts all year long in the classroom, so it made perfect sense to “put the pieces together” for test prep. The mindset concepts I used are grit, dedication, perseverance, effort, mindfulness, strategy, positivity, attitude, commitment, confidence, critical thinking, and growth mindset. I’ve added pictures of the puzzle pieces I made and hung on the walls in my classroom below.

These were pretty big, so they pretty much cover all of the free wall space in my classroom, which meant that I didn’t need to do any extra decorations. To me, the minimal decorations were also the right choice because I wanted my focus to remain on the work and being able to use these concepts and strategies for state testing.

I also hung some multi-colored dollar store table cloths on the ceiling to add some “pretty” to the room.

For the work, I needed mixed review of everything we’ve done throughout this year. I used the Reading Skills puzzle centers pictured below from TPT. These are just the right amount of challenging and confidence building for my 4th graders! My students also really enjoyed using them. (You could also use any other task cards or test questions for your subject.). These centers come with answer keys that could be used for self-checking, but I wanted my students to have to correct their thinking and try again, so I created Google Forms Quizzes (that showed a score and if the question was right/wrong, but not the correct answer). My students worked in pairs and had to get an 80% or higher to show mastery and move on to the next step. There were 9-10 pairs working on separate skills during the class time so the Google Forms were extremely helpful for keeping the students accountable (I get grades and know they did the work necessary for the group) and moving at their own pace because they didn’t have to wait on me to check their work.

Once the pair had shown mastery they got one of the following “treat puzzles” to put together (shown in the pics below). If the students were able to put it together completely they got the candy or treat that was referenced in the pun/riddle on the treat puzzle. I made these out of poster board that I got in the school section at Walmart for about $3.00 for a set of five posters. I made the same number of treat puzzles as the reading skills puzzles that I used, so the students got a different treat each time they mastered a skill. I did this for a little extra motivation, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

In my two hour class, with a mini-lesson focused on each of our puzzle piece mindset and strategy concepts, my students were able to complete two to three reading puzzles per class.

To complete the transformation and theme, I gave each of my students these blank puzzles that I ordered from Amazon to design and keep. I could have had my students focus on a design that used our mindset concepts and success as the theme of their picture, but for destressing after testing (we did this part during the afternoon after state testing in the morning), I allowed my students full creative rights for their puzzles.  You can get the puzzles from the link here.

I had actually worried that it wouldn’t be as exciting to them as I hoped, but they absolutely loved these puzzles.

How I Teach and Use Sketch Notes for Reading Comprehension

I know there’s a lot of information on the web about the power of sketch-noting in the classroom. I’ve read the blogs and watched many of the videos. Yet, I found nothing that worked for me as a teacher. If you’re like me – I need rules that make sense – sketch-noting can seem too unstructured. I loved the concept and knew right away it would be a game-changer in my classroom as a way for students to show their understanding, but I also knew that my students needed to be taught how; and if it doesn’t make sense and work for me, my instruction wouldn’t make sense and work for my students. So I came up with a few simple, easy to remember “rules of sketch-noting” for my classroom. Maybe these “rules” could also work for you. In my classroom, I’ve separated my rules by Fiction and Nonfiction.

Most importantly, what I’ve found is that it’s all about VISUALIZING!

Fiction

  1. Begin by writing the title of the text on the top or middle of the page. Take time to scan and predict before reading and sketch noting (it will make knowing when to stop and sketch note a little easier).
  2. We focus on setting, characters, and events. Each time one of these things changes, the students stop and sketch a new note to tell the story.
  3. Use simple pictures and words – stick people, very few details, basic images with labels or a quick phrase to retell each part of the story. When I say simple, I mean, I give the students 1-2 minutes at most to complete each note.
  4. Use arrows or numbers to sequence your notes. Use frames to separate each note.
  5. Summarize the story to complete your notes. In my classroom, we use an SSWBS (Setting, Somebody, Wanted, But, So) to summarize and the students write it out and frame it on their page.
  6. Start by using the “I, We, You” process. Do it in front of them for your first story and explain the process as you go. Involve them next time. Have them do a sketch note page while you complete your own. Talk about what to sketch note and how. Allow them to use what works for them as long as their note shows the important change in the story. (Everyone’s personal visual images are different.) Then, make a game of it. While I read aloud, each time they get a new visual image in their heads they can raise their hand or signal to me (signals based on the story for fun) and tell me what to sketch on the board. I was quickly able to make them responsible for stopping and doing their own, and this quickly became an independent task for them while I was reading during my whole group lesson.
  7. Allow time to share. Once the students are working independently on notes, it’s important to give time to share. My students learn so much by discussing and comparing their sketch notes with each other. They often want time to revise their own afterwards because of new ideas they got from their class mates.

Nonfiction

  1. Begin by writing the title of the text on the top or middle of the page. Take time to scan and predict before reading and sketch noting (it helps you become more familiar with the topic, making it easier to sketch note).
  2. Count the number of headings and/or subheadings in the text. That’s how many sketch notes you will complete. If there are no headings (this happens with test passages fairly often), count the paragraphs to determine the number of sketch notes. I have my students draw out the frames or fold their papers for the number of notes they’ll need before they begin reading.
  3. If there are headings, write the heading in each frame to organize the notes and make it easier to use the notes later on.
  4. Use simple pictures, words, symbols, arrows, bullets, and fonts – stick people, very few details, basic images with labels or a quick phrase. When I say simple, I mean, I give the students 1-2 minutes at most to complete each note.
  5. Sketch note the main idea of each section or paragraph. Include important vocabulary from the text. This can be more difficult for students if they lack background knowledge about the topic. I often tell my students that if figuring out how to sketch note is difficult, it could mean they don’t understand and should re-read. If it’s still difficult, I have my students tell me the main idea out loud, then I have them write it for their note instead of use images.
  6. Start by using the “I, We, You” process. My students have needed more “I, We” time for nonfiction. It can often be difficult to know how to sketch note the ideas in nonfiction, especially when you lack background knowledge about the topic.
  7. Allow time to share. Once the students are working independently on notes, it’s important to give time to share. My students learn so much by discussing and comparing their sketch notes with each other. They often want time to revise their own afterwards because of new ideas they got from their class mates. I’ve seen the students apply those same noting techniques later on with new reads after this.
Nonfiction sketch notes by a student reading a magazine article.

How I Use Sketch notes in my classroom

  1. Differentiation – What I love most about sketch noting is that all of my students can do it and feel good about their work. It’s not about the art, so there’s no talent involved. It’s not a lot of writing, so reluctant writers don’t feel anxious. In an inclusive classroom like my own, this is HUGE in ensuring success for everyone. For my talented and gifted students, they are able to use their creative and critical thinking skills. It’s like individualized differentiation because everyone chooses how to show their thinking. Everyone’s notes are different and personal to their own metacognition, which gives me a lot of information about their understanding and thinking while they are reading. Plus, my students LOVE doing it. They do it on their own while reading independently just because they enjoy the creativity involved. They love sharing their notes with each other and as teachers, we know how important that is for our students’ learning.
  2. Engagement – I’ve found sketch notes to be an easy to use engagement tool during my whole group read-aloud skill and strategy lessons. I’m reading to them anyway. No matter what skill or strategy my lesson is based on, I can teach the skill and strategy while my students sketch note to summarize the important details while I read. In my classroom, I’ve found that this helps my students stay focused on the text and they participate more because of it.
  3. Informal Assessment – I can get so much insight about my students’ comprehension when having them explain their sketch notes to me.
  4. Collaboration – My students love sketch noting with a partner. I have them read together, discuss their ideas, and complete one page of sketch notes based on their discussions.
  5. Test-taking – My students complete sketch notes for all of their test passages. It’s a way for them to monitor their comprehension while reading. If they don’t know what to make note of, they know to re-read. (For me it’s a way to ensure they are actually thinking while they are reading.)

remove.bg for book and writing responses

I recently learned about this site in an email from my tech coaches. I knew I wanted to use it but didn’t have a legitimate reason to use it in my reading classroom. Today, however, when I introduced digital reading responses, specifically #booksnaps, it was the perfect site.

#Booksnaps – Do your students do a daily response to their independent reading? I’ve always used a variety of strategies (worksheets, post-its, reading journals, interactive notebooks) but have never found one that really excited my students, until today, using the remove.bg site. I introduced Tara Martin’s #booksnaps to my readers using the Google apps options of Slides and Drawings. We began with a focus on our metacognition … what thoughts did you have while reading? I used our whole group informational texts that we’d analyzed throughout this week and had my students find a page, section, paragraph, etc. that affected their thinking the most. We followed the procedures for a typical #booksnap, which can be found here at Tara Martin’s site. However, instead of searching for emojis or using bitmojis (neither of which is completely appropriate for my students) I had my students take selfies of themselves using their webcams, trying to portray their emotions and feelings or thoughts while taking the picture. Then they used the remove.bg site to remove the background from their selfie and they had their own little picture of themselves, ready to be added to their slide and turned into a real-life “selfmoji’ or inserted onto a new background that related to their reading using a new Google Slide. We downloaded the slides as a jpeg or png file to add to our #booksnaps.

My fourth graders were in! In our excitement we played around a bit. (It was one of those moments their excitement just needed to be let it before they could focus on their actual task.) I’ll admit, I created a “selfie” with the president and first lady, I went to the Super Bowl, and my students put their faces on athletes, past presidents, video game characters, and one even floated in a pool of gold coins. The excitement was a bit out of control, but the ideas and creativity were endless. When it came time to respond to our reading, students were also excited to find creative ways to show their thinking, and for a minute, I’m pretty sure my classroom was magic. Everyone was working, thinking, collaborating, and sharing their thoughts about their reading in a way that I’ve never seen them before. They were genuinely excited to talk about their books. My teacher heart left school full and excited for next week.

Here are a couple of the photos I made while playing around, and an example of what one of my students made.

Now, the possibilities are great for how we could use this website in our writing. My students are currently working on a research PBL about the planets. Guess what their next background will be?

Creative Reading Review

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This review project is a favorite in my class!  I was looking for a way to assess my students’ fictional comprehension of ALL of the skills I teach in our fiction unit. The problem with assessments, though, is that they aren’t always fair to all students. You reading teachers know what I mean! We differentiate our instruction to make learning fair for all of our readers, so assessments should also be fair! With this project, I can assign leveled text, individually or by group, allowing me to actually assess their comprehension skills without questioning if the real problem was that they couldn’t read the passage. As the teacher, you can even choose whether you assign the pages with graphic organizers or blank pages for students who need more of a challenge.

While working on this project, my students are given free rein, meaning they are completely in control of how they show their understanding. Text dependence is easy too. With digital text, students can take a snapshot or copy/paste exactly what they need to prove their thinking. Altogether, I’m assessing their understanding, giving my students opportunities to use creativity, critical thinking skills, and their communication skills. If not being used for assessment purposes, it also makes for a great collaboration project for group assignments.

If you want to check this out for your own students click the link below.

Fiction Book Analysis Project

My Revising Writing Process Week of Fun

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You know how teaching writing can be in elementary school … the students just have a hard time really working through each of the stages of the writing process with full effort.¬† I believe they try their best with rough drafting, but they just don’t get the process of revising.¬† They are so quick to just read their writing over and then say, “I’m done” without adding any details or making any necessary changes to their writing to make it better (or sometimes to even make it make sense).¬† So, I decided to make the revising process memorable.¬† To prepare, I drafted several of my own personal narratives, which is what my class is working on when I first introduce revising in the school year.¬† I wrote a few drafts about experiences with my family (going to Jump, going to a high school football game, and a family vacation).¬† I purposefully wrote my drafts to match the kind of drafting I read from my students all the time.¬† You know what I mean, one sentence for each part of the story, not a lot of explanation, and with no transitions or interesting word choices.

I started our revising lessons this week by adding details that answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions we had in one of my writings.¬† I purposefully started with a funny story about my toddler’s socks and pants being pulled down in a foam pit at Jump (you’d have to hear the whole story).¬† The students had TONS of questions about this story.¬† They just NEEDED more information about how this happened.¬† I wrote all of their questions down and then went to work modeling how I’d add the answers to those questions into my writing.¬† Now, when we re-read this writing after adding all of the details, they drew their visual images while I read and they totally grasped the necessity of adding these details.¬† Next, the students went through the same process with a small group of students to start revising one of their own drafts.¬† They loved it, the sharing and drawing totally caught their attention during this lesson, and their revisions were successful.¬† So, SCORE for me AND the students on our first revision lesson.

The next day, they’d been told to wear their best, most stylish, outfits.¬† You know what’s coming.¬† When they walked into the room that day, it was turned into a red carpet fashion show.¬† This was a really easy, free transformation (just some red anchor chart paper and I moved my lamps and seating around to outline the “carpet”).¬† I also had a Kidz Bop playlist ready for the show.¬† Our lesson today was all about adding more interesting, descriptive words to our writing.¬† I read another draft out loud to them before beginning and then shared an adjectives and adverbs t-chart with them on their chromebooks.¬† ¬†Adjectives and adverbs are a review for fourth grade, so I didn’t need to teach the vocabulary, so I focused on choosing more interesting descriptive language for our writing.¬† Now, we had the fashion show.¬† We hooped and hollered, clapped and cheered, and we got our groove on while walking the red carpet.¬† Meanwhile, the audience wrote all of the adjectives and adverbs they could come up with while watching.¬† It was quick, ten minutes maybe, and then we focused on our writing.¬† We started by sharing the words they came up with while watching the show to create a whole class t-chart.¬† Next, we chose a few words to make more interesting by finding them in a thesaurus and choosing some synonyms that would really catch our reader’s attention.¬† Now, we worked on adding some more interesting words to the draft I shared with them (some could be used from our t-chart and some we came up with based on the story and used a thesaurus to find more wow version of the word the students came up with.¬† You see, in my county, background knowledge and vocabulary tends to be one of our common struggles, so the use of the thesaurus is especially necessary for this lesson.¬† Again, just like the day before, now the students worked with a partner to add some more “wow” descriptive language to their own writings.¬† Again, everyone was excited about the learning, and their writing benefited from this added engagement.

We focused on adding sensory details for our last lesson this week.¬† This was going to be the big room transformation, and the students had been told ahead of time to wear their favorite sports gear.¬† I transformed the room into a football stadium for this lesson.¬† Everything for the transformation was either made, already available at my school, or purchased at Walmart or the Dollar Tree in the party sections.¬† I probably spent about $25 – $30 on this transformation, and with help, it took about an hour and a half to decorate the room after school for this lesson.¬† I found videos on YouTube of our high school football games and prepared a draft for this experience that the students would work on revising.¬† We’d already discussed sensory details in our reading lessons when practicing the reading strategy of visualizing, so I didn’t need to teach these details.¬† We were just able to focus on coming up with the details and adding them to our writing.¬† I chose different parts of the game to focus on and divided the draft into those sections.¬† We recreated the beginning of the game (the team entering the field and chanting), and then the students were divided into several teams.¬† Each team had their own football on the field taped out on the floor and earned yards for the sensory details they were able to add to each part of the shared draft.¬† You can watch the video that was made about this lesson here.¬† I gave this lesson extra time since the students were responsible for revising each part of the draft (their were six different events in the draft I shared) and we included a half time for students to get popcorn (thanks to our school’s PTA).¬† I have a two hour language arts block and this activity took about an hour and then included “overtime” for students to begin working on one of their own drafts.

For the rest of the week, the students worked on revising their own writings that they’d been working on during this unit.¬† You see, I’ve divided the writing process into weeks in my classroom.¬† So, the students spent a week in prewriting as many personal narratives as they could (we use a storyboard for prewriting personal narratives).¬† Then they spent a week drafting as many of those personal narratives as they could.¬† I use this time to have individual writing conferences to get to know my students and their writing.¬† This week was all revising and so they spent two days just adding the types of details we focused on this week and I used those two days to have conferences again to check on their progress.¬† Next, we’ll spend another week revising to work on transitions and leads, an then we’ll spend a week editing, leading to a week of publishing.¬† As we work through this process in the classroom, students are often in different stages by the end of the week.¬† Some will go back to prewriting to add more narratives to their portfolio as they finish working on the narratives they’ve written so far.¬† This way, all students are busy and can work at their own pace.¬† It’s not quantity that counts in my classroom, but quality and I make sure the students understand that before we ever begin.

For you teachers out there, I hope this may help you in planning your own writing lessons, or spark more creative ideas to add engagement to your own classroom.¬† If you do something else that you’d like to share, I’d love to read your comments!

thanks for reading!

 

Making Inferences with Wordless Picture Books

 

One of the hardest strategies I teach my fourth grade readers is making inferences.¬† Of course, I begin by modeling with a picture book.¬† I read aloud, I stop and think out loud and show how I use my background knowledge and fill in the gaps to understand.¬† We discuss our understandings based on information that’s given “right there” and information that must be inferred.¬† This part my students get.¬† However, when it comes to my students’ own reading, they have a really hard explaining their thoughts and inferences.¬† It’s the metacognition that gets in the way.¬† Have you seen this?¬† Even the ones who are making inferences have a hard time explaining how they know.

So this time, I started by explaining to my students that inferences are something that happen all the time.¬† I asked my students what they would think if I showed up to school in my high heels and fanciest dress with my hair done up.¬† I asked what they would think if they heard thunder, if they saw smoke, if a diaper fell out of my purse.¬† I gave examples over and over and they all inferred, and they all explained how they knew.¬† I told them, you’ve been making inferences since you were born.¬† Next, we talked about visualizing, which we’ve been working on anyway, and connected those mental images they get to filling in the gaps while they are reading.¬† It was a quick introduction that took about 10 minutes and my students were feeling good about their ability to make inferences for the rest of our lesson that day.

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Next, I introduced our anchor chart.¬† I explained the most common inferences good readers make.¬† I explained the process of making an inference.¬† And we were ready to begin our “inference challenge”.¬† Now, I logged into Epic! (a free for teachers digital reading app) and projected the first couple of pages of two different wordless picture books.¬† I told my students I wanted them to look at the pages and think about their thinking (the metacognition part).¬† If you’re wondering, I gave my students two books I knew they’d never seen before, “Blue Rider” by Geraldo Valerio, and “Bird Cat Dog” a graphic novel by Lee Nordling and Mentikell Bosch.¬† ¬†Graphic novels really hook my boys.¬† If you haven’t tried using these with your class, I highly suggest it!

I asked my students to share their inferences and their evidence and recorded it on a t-chart.¬† I praised everything.¬† They were inferring so accurately!¬† Now for the challenge … they were to work with a partner and write the narrative story that the authors left out.¬† ¬† I can’t even tell you how hard they worked and how well they did.¬† ¬†What you should know is that I teach a collaborative class and my students who are labeled sped did just as well with this activity as my general ed students and my TAG students.¬† It was a success!¬† And you guessed it, most of my boys wanted to use the graphic novel and were just as engaged in their work as my girls.

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I gave them about 35 minutes to read and write the story.¬† They were engaged and actively working the entire time, and although they were finished with their narratives, I stopped them and asked if anyone wanted to share.¬† This is a time that is often hard to get everyone to participate in, but not this time.¬† EVERYONE wanted to share!¬† And when it was time to move on to reading groups and independent assignments for the week (which wasn’t this), the students begged for more time to write their stories.¬† So, I made a promise that they’d get to continue next week.

Y’all, I would do this lesson and activity over and over again.¬† They just got it in a way that no other introduction lesson I’ve done ever showed.¬† Even in our reading groups, in which we were working on visualizing and sensory details, my students began talking about the inferences they were making while we read.¬† I can’t tell you how proud I was.

thanks for reading!