Theme Theater – A Classroom Transformation

What better way to practice determining theme in the classroom, than by transforming your room into a movie theater?!

This transformation is a simple, cheap, and highly engaging learning experience!

In this learning experience, students “visit the theater” to practice their skills at determining implied theme based on story elements while viewing Pixar Short Films.

While in the theater lobby, students brainstorm a movie story line, based on a chosen theme, and then create a movie poster to advertise and illustrate their story and theme. While in the lobby, students also had a chance to visit the concession stand.

You could also use this theater plan to have students plot and analyze story elements. Get the lesson plan and Google Slides I used to run this transformation lesson in my store.


Most of the theater was set up with red and black table cloths purchased from the Dollar Tree, hung from the ceiling and draped across the tables. I also purchased a few movie theater party decorations from Amazon. These could probably also be found at a party store, but are not mandatory for this transformation to work. Here’s an image of the decorations I used. They are linked above.

I also purchased clapboards on Amazon as theater movie labels for each station. Again, these are not mandatory.

The Game of Awesomeness

A Unit Review Classroom Mini-Transformation

We accomplished our first classroom transformation game day of the year! Okay, it was a mini-transformation, but only on week 5 … that’s a great start in my opinion! It’s called The Game of Awesomeness … and it was named by my students. I have to admit, I love the name!

It was a simple transformation. We used four game review stations: 1) plot elements in test question format, 2) summarizing with a plot diagram, 3) inferences, predictions, and drawing conclusions, and 4) characterization and setting . I began the day before by having the students read the book, “Fanny and Annabelle” by Holly Hobbie. It’s a relatable story about a girl who decides to write a picture book but gets stuck, then uses her own life experiences to continue the story. It’s a story that was simple for my 5th graders to read, but allows for higher-level thinking and close reading. The students must discern between two story lines throughout the book between the main character, Fanny, and the story she is writing about her doll, Annabelle. Their story lines are similar, and therefore, the text requires dependency from the students in order to analyze the plot elements and correctly summarize the text. I used a text copy of this story since it is written on a lower reading level than most of my fifth graders and I didn’t want the pictures in the book to give away the inferences they needed to make without. All of our stations on game day were based on this one text. You can get the first three game stations in my shop!

For our game day review , each station had about 5-6 questions or 10-15 minutes worth of review tasks. The stations were each 25 minutes long (I have a two hour block with both of my classes). Students were expected to have their own answer first and then communicate with their team to compare their thoughts, prove their thinking, and decide on a team answer. I called penalty if they weren’t using the text to prove that thinking as I walked around the room and checked in on each group. Those groups had to go back and find the proof before having their answers checked. Students off task were benched from the game and had to earn their way back into the game by completing work “on the bench” (they just kept working at another table while the rest of their team moved on). Only two students from all 40 of my students got “benched”. Once complete and checked, each table had a game the students got to play. I used the games Jenga, Connect Four, Basketball, and a Ping Pong Three-in-a-Row game I found in the sports section at Walmart. The link for that game can be found here. It was definitely a favorite of the day and will be brought back out for other review days!

This set up could definitely be used in any classroom and with any subject. Other ways to use these rotations would be to only do two stations per day and run the games over two days, or to speed up the work by leading it as the teacher (we tend to push faster than our students do independently) and then having the teams rotate to each of the four games (teacher-led work, game, teacher-led work, game, and so on).

For the room decorations, that was simple. I used black and white table cloths across the ceiling (my ref colors, pictures not shown), and green paper to cover the “fields.” I hung a few streamers in black, green, and white on my door, and posted a sign by the door.

The refferee top and hat that I wore are from Amazon. Here is the link to the shirt and hat. My students chose their team colors the day before. They were excited, all but two actually wore their team colors! One class chose blue and white. The other, black/white and yellow/green (you had to wear both black and white, or yellow and green).

It was a great day! Have you done something similar? I’d love to hear about it! Send me your comments and share your experiences!

Summarizing Fiction with Henry’s Freedom Box

This week in class it’s all about summarizing plot and conflict and resolution. As always, I present the essential questions, learning objectives, and success criteria (found on my reading comprehension anchor charts) to begin this lesson. My first step in teaching this skill is introducing the vocabulary (exposition/introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution). I like to do this with Flocabulary’s video and vocab game. For my fifth graders, this isn’t a totally new concept, so the song and vocab game is great for a reintroduction or review to jog their memories.

On day two, comes conflict and resolution. This is also not a new concept for them, so what I did this week was start by reading our mentor text book aloud the whole way through. While listening, my students were responsible for sketchnoting and preparing for a discussion of all of the challenges the character faces throughout the story. We discuss all of the challenges so that we can get back to the main confict – this is the thing that stops the character from getting what they want. Then they completed an SSWBST. That is, a Setting, Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then. That’s day two.

Next up, we will summarize the important events in the story using a plot diagram. Part of the success criteria for this skill is that students can distinguish between important versus interesting events/details in the story. For this lesson, I will give the students a blank plot diagram (labeled with the vocabulary) and a set of events/details cards. The students will cut apart the events/details cards and sort them by important versus interesting. This will be a collaborative effort to encourage discussion and student-led learning. Of course, we will share our thinking as a class to help other groups that may need the extra discussion from others in order to weed out some of the interesting details. With only the important events left, the collaborative groups will arrange these on their blank plot diagrams. To end this lesson, the students will then help me do the same with my own events and plot diagram, so that any misunderstandings can be discussed as a group. You can get a copy of that free activity by clicking on this link or on the image below.

To finish off my summarizing lessons for the week, we will use the plot diagrams to write a 3-5 sentence summary of the book. The objective is to paraphrase to summarize the important events of the story. This will be a modeled lesson for me this week so that my students can hear the thought process behind taking the author’s words and making them my own to convey the same meaning.

To continue this lesson, I will repeat these same lesson plans with a different story. This will either be done in differentiated small groups, or again as a whole group without collaborative groups, and taken as a formative assessment to drive future small group instruction and intervention.

I hope this lesson resource and idea is helpful for your own reading instruction! And as always, contact me with any questions about this lesson plan! Happy Teaching, friends!

Analyzing Setting, Characterization, and Making Inferences with The Other Side

This week, I want to tell you about my whole group reading lesson. Our focus was on story elements, specifically, the impact of setting on plot, characterization and development, and making inferences. The book, “The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson, was a perfect mentor text to model and discuss all of these learning targets, and engage my students in active reading. This is a story of segregation and two young girls, one African-American and one white, who both live on opposite sides of the fence that segregates their town.

Before I began this lesson, my students and I discussed the essential questions and skills that served as the focus for this lesson. I pulled those questions and objectives straight from my reading anchor charts.

Beginning on page 1, Jacqueline Woodson gives just enough information for young readers to infer the time and place (the setting) and dive into a deep discussion about the impact of setting on the plot, including the metaphorical meaning of the fence.

Readers can also track the changes in characters’ feelings, motives and traits throughout this story and dig into the text to discuss author’s language and style to help develop those characters. Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African-American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. But the two girls strike up a friendship, and get around the grown-ups’ rules by sitting on top of the fence together.

Last, using a modeling my thinking style lesson, this book lent excellent text clues to teach students how to stop and monitor comprehension through inferring while reading.

If you’re interested in the questions and discussion prompts I used to drive and prompt my students throughout this lesson, I pulled them directly from my setting, characterization, and inferences anchor charts. You can get those by clicking this link or in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, or by clicking the “shop” tab on my site.

My fifth graders loved this story and were excited to share their own thinking throughout the read aloud. If you haven’t read this or need a book for your fictional story unit, this should definitely be on your list!

A Year in Writing: A Digital Writing Journal

I’m really excited about this one and so are the students!

For this new year, I’m starting a new way to track my students’ writing throughout the year and keep all of our conference notes in one place.

One thing I struggle with in writing is keeping track of all of my writing conference notes and goals with my students, and knowing what I’ve read and haven’t conferenced about in my students’ journals. It’s too much to carry all of the journals back and forth, and I just can’t get all of my students’ writings read in the hours of each day at school. Do you have this problem?

So, this year, my students are doing the majority of their writing in a new, Digital Writing Journal. I call it “A Year in Writing”. I’m excited about this tool in Google Slides for a few key reasons:

  1. I can carry all of their writings, for the entire year, home in one place – my computer! This means, I can read their writing, make notes, and take data any time I need!
  2. All of their writing is in one place – We can track their progress for the entire year, nothing gets lost, and I can keep all of my notes right there in their digital journal.
  3. Conferencing and Goal-Setting are visible to myself and the student! With the use of the ‘Comments” feature and the speaker notes at the bottom, all of our conversations and goal-setting statements are there in the document.
  4. Everything can be done in one place – with evidence of all! There’s always a student that loses a piece of their writing or says they revised/edited and there’s no evidence of it. Now, with the use of “Comment”, my students can highlight their errors and make a revision or edit in the comment box to show their thinking. I can do the same. Or, if they share it with a buddy for peer editing, their revising/editing buddy can use the same tool. I can see it all!
  5. Creativity – with technology at hand, so many opportunities for creativity are available! The sky is the limit!
  6. Finally – All of the writing anchor charts I need to keep for them, all of their writing lesson notes, can all be added to the digital journal for reference. No more needing extra wall space or changing out anchor charts. No more losing notes pages in binders. It’s all in one place!

I’m sure this is going to be a lifesaver for myself and my students. If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, here’s the link.

This Week Teaching Reading Genres

In my reading room this past week, our first full unit of the year was Reading Genres. We had one week to teach it and get mastery! Here’s how I got 85% mastery in five days – and how I’ll get 100% mastery in ten.

Day One and Two – I begin with a few notes of the most common genres.

This is a Powerpoint Presentation in which we discuss the key characteristics of the most commonly read genres. Students take notes using the companion page, identifying the key characteristics of each genre through sketches and words (my version of sketchnotes). This lesson closes with the students reading the first page of their independent reading book and determining the genre. I have the students share their thoughts and, as a class, we correct any misconceptions.

Day Three – Determine the genres using book summaries. This is a modeled, and scaffolded lesson using the powerpoint presentation and notes page from above.

Day Four – A Book Sort. This is a low prep activity. You can pull a bunch of books in different genres from your library, or have your students use your classroom library books. (I keep my classroom library unorganized at the beginning of the year for this purpose.) In collaborative groups, the students will read the summaries of each book they are given and sort them by genre. I encourage my students to use their notes pages from earlier in the week for reference. For my more advanced students, they are given the task of coming up with an organizational system for our classroom library at the same time as sorting, and are then tasked with organizing our classroom library for the week.

Day Five – Writing in our favorite genres. Now, we apply the skills we’ve learned throughout this week. Using Google’s JamBoard, we plan a story that follows the characteristics of our favorite genre. Students add an image of a setting, characters, and a few key plot events that would follow the pattern of their favorite genre. This is a favorite activity in my classroom!

Also on Day Five – we assess.

In small groups and independent work assignments throughout the week, I use ereading worksheets (this is a free site of reading worksheets based on reading skills) to practice reading book summaries, finding key clues in the text, and determining the genre. Usually with these, I project the summary on the worksheet we are using and have the students share aloud the text clues at the table while I do the work. The students use their notes pages from Day One and Two (link above) and put a gem on the genre on their notes page to show their thinking. This is easily turned into any game of your choice using any game of your choice (correct answers gets a move in the game, incorrect can mean the teacher gets a move). Easy peasy! For independent work, EReading Worksheets also has a game called “Genre Pirahna” that my students beg to play!

Now, for the 15% percent who need a little extra time after this week in the classroom. I’ll use those same small group and independent reading games to do remediation. This time, it’s a much smaller group, and I can do some one-on-one tutoring (it’s only 3 students).

Oh, and for homework! I sent home a copy of my Genres Anchor Chart with the essential questions and key skills, with definitions, for my students to study at home. Many of my students said they used it throughout the week with their parents, to quiz themselves and were thankful to have the opportunity to do so.

Remember Your Why

This little jar holds 36 pompoms. Thirty-six pompoms for 36 weeks of school. For us teachers, that means 36 weeks to create meaningful moments that matter. What do you want your moments to be full of? Now’s the time to remind yourself about why you do what you do. Why did you want to do this job when you first began? What is your why?

For myself and my students, I strive to create moments full of joy, love, and growth. I want my students to find joy in learning, joy in making connections with others, joy in the small moments that make up all of our days. I want my students to find a love of reading, a love of challenging themselves, and a sense of love for the world and people around them. I want my students to strive for their own growth and celebrate even their smallest moments of success. And for myself, I want all of the same.

As my administrators presented this little jar idea on our first day back together as a staff this year, they reminded us that not all of our moments will be huge. Some of our moments will be medium-sized, some smaller, and some may be so small that they may not even be noticed if you’re not looking for it with intent. That’s okay! This jar is filled with all sizes of pompoms, and I plan on finding gratitude for ALL of the moments of joy, love, and growth in my classroom this year.

And now, a call to action. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to stop and think. What is your why? What do you want your moments to be full of for yourself and your students this year? What matters most to you in your classroom? I’d love to know your answers! For me, writing them down made them more meaningful. If you’re willing to share, please add a comment to this post to share your why and the moments you’ll be celebrating this year. Or, go to this post on my Instagram account @teachingandlearningwithjg and leave a comment there.