Gone are the days when you read a text cold, and this is good news for typical and nontypical students. Some students mistakenly think that doing prep work for reading a novel is borderline cheating, as teachers know that real “cheating” would be reading Cliff Notes without reading the assigned text. In college, I realized that reading a text with just my own perspective wasn’t helpful when studying A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Yes, I tried reading it cold. And my college professor’s lectures made me question if I read the same book. I honestly thought that this “literary great” was just a writer who couldn’t get outside his own thoughts. Only when I sat in the library, surrounded by social histories that accurately placed where James Joyce was writing from, to understanding the physical places where the narrator experienced (nearly subliminally in his thoughts), to varied literary analysis, could I digest any of this influential fiction — or understand the class lectures.
I would expect to come across reading strategies from a college-level English Department, but the Counseling Center at Guerrieri University Center in Salisbury, MD has put a list of seven critical reading strategies (outlined below). Some of the suggested list works for teachers preparing younger children for reading assignments to college-level students:
1. Previewing: Learning about a text before really reading it.
The Center suggests previewing as skimming the instructional formatted material: nicely organized with titles, headers, any pull quotes and pictures with captions. This provides “an overview of the content and organization,” and the structure not only helps absorbing the subject content – it can help to frame note taking, which can be used for study later on.
2. Contextualizing: Placing a text in its historical, biographical, and cultural contexts.
Readers response theory is the first step to a student understanding reading material – where a student makes personal connections to the text. But readers do need to go beyond the lens of their own experiences. To do this, readers need to understand that some “texts you read were all written in the past, sometimes in a radically different time and place. To read critically, you need to contextualize, to recognize the differences between your contemporary values and attitudes and those represented in the text.” For example, in an affluent classroom of mostly Caucasian high school students who are reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, many of the student won’t be able to bridge their experiences to the text (although it is a good starting place). They need to understand the text’s context, and teachers can provide its historical, biographical, and cultural contexts or assign research groups to provide the text’s context.
3. Questioning to understand and remember: Asking questions about the content.
The Center suggests that teacher questions that guide literature does often work, but students should consider writing their own questions as they read. You can have younger children journal their “as I read” questions, pinpointing not only comprehension issues but also higher-level thinking questions. And when they discover an answer to one of their own questions, it provides a student-centered learning and, for older students, a potential working thesis for essay writing.
The Center adds, “With this strategy, you can write questions any time, but in difficult academic readings, you will understand the material better and remember it longer if you write a question for every paragraph or brief section. Each question should focus on a main idea, not on illustrations or details, and each should be expressed in your own words, not just copied from parts of the paragraph.” Great advice.
4. Reflecting on challenges to your beliefs and values: Examining your personal responses.
This part may be more difficult for younger students to address, but even middle school students can use some help in identifying their own beliefs and values – compared to what a text is suggesting. Not an opportunity for indoctrination of any divergent viewpoints, it can help clarify one’s own beliefs and help frame argumentative essays.
The Center suggests marking the text with Xs “where you feel a personal challenge to your attitudes, beliefs, or status. Make a brief note in the margin about what you feel or about what in the text created the challenge. Now look again at the places you marked in the text where you felt personally challenged. What patterns do you see?” What a great way to visually note challenges and places where one can counter arguments.
5. Outlining and summarizing: Identifying the main ideas and restating them in your own words.
“Whereas outlining reveals the basic structure of the text, summarizing synopsizes a selection’s main argument in brief.” The Center adds, “When you make an outline, don’t use the text’s exact words” and summarize using your own words because it “requires creative synthesis.” This is tricky for younger students, and I would suggest outlining text using the text’s clues (headers, titles, sometimes italicized words) and allowing them to copy provided text. The bottom line is “being able to distinguish between the main ideas and the supporting ideas and examples…Putting ideas together again — in your own words and in a condensed form — shows how reading critically can lead to deeper understanding of any text.”
6. Evaluating an argument: Testing the logic of a text as well as its credibility and emotional impact.
I personally feel that this is the single most overlooked aspect of reading: critical thinking. I try to have my students understand that just because a text says this is so, doesn’t mean that it is an absolute truth. We want a nation of readers who are open-minded enough to evaluate arguments and decide where they stand for themselves. A text’s credibility is most important – what is the source, who wrote it, is this person affiliated with a group or ideology, and how strong is the writer’s other written work?
The Center writes:
All writers make assertions that they want you to accept as true. As a critical reader, you should not accept anything on face value but to recognize every assertion as an argument that must be carefully evaluated. An argument has two essential parts: a claim and support. The claim asserts a conclusion — an idea, an opinion, a judgment, or a point of view — that the writer wants you to accept. The support includes reasons (shared beliefs, assumptions, and values) and evidence (facts, examples, statistics, and authorities) that give readers the basis for accepting the conclusion. When you assess an argument, you are concerned with the process of reasoning as well as its truthfulness (these are not the same thing). At the most basic level, in order for an argument to be acceptable, the support must be appropriate to the claim and the statements must be consistent with one another.
I feel that they are driving home a good point: reasons are shared beliefs, assumptions, and values; evidence is facts, examples, statistics, and authorities. Understanding an authors reasons and evidence are critical, as is understanding one’s own.
7. Comparing and contrasting related readings: Exploring likenesses and differences between texts to understand them better.
The Center writes: “Many of the authors we read are concerned with the same issues or questions, but approach how to discuss them in different ways.” This part is about understanding the big picture. You can understand a subject more deeply by considering different points of view on the subject, and you become an expert. What comes to mind is asking older students to write a pro-argument essay, and then follow up with a con-argument essay. Yes, I can hear the students groan, but I think that defending both sides of an issue means that the student better understands a particular subject matter than most, and, more importantly, understands and can defend his or her own viewpoint.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
What do you think about Character Analysis?
Does listening of seeing how your students understand and analyze characters provide a method for you to access their concept of the story?
Once I saw this infographic, I could not stop thinking about it!
Although this was created to help one create and develop characters, I see many ways it can also be used to provide ideas for analyzing characters:
photo credit: Olaya B via photopin cc
Image by CLU_ISS
Since 1984, the National Parent Teacher Association has designated the beginning of May to celebrate those that make a difference in the lives of children and young adults every day–Teachers! Big Universe would like to recognize all the teachers and educators out there for making a difference in the lives of children and young adults, as well as show our appreciate for all that they do.
I think any adult can look back on their childhood years and remember their favorite teachers; the ones who went one of their way to help them understand and do their best work. Teachers make an incredible impact on young lives and it’s only right that we take this week to celebrate them.
To celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week in the classroom, you can read a book about a teacher such as Thank You, Mr. Falker, Miss Nelson is Missing, or a Magic School Bus story with Ms. Frizzle. These stories are all concentrate on keeping the teacher central to the story. Encourage classroom discussion on why these teachers are so important. You can also have your class use a few of these writing lessons.
- Compare a favorite teacher to a teacher from a book with the Venn Diagram.
- Write a letter to a favorite teacher using the WRITE section of Big Universe.
- Create your own book about a special teacher using the WRITE section of Big Universe
No matter which activities you do with your class this week, take a moment and remember how special you are, and how even small words of encouragement from a teacher can stay with that child for the rest of their life.
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
What do the subjects Math and English have in common? Not much? How about Venn Diagrams? John Venn, an English mathematician and logician, invented the Venn diagram in 1880, and although used often in illustrating mathematical concepts, the Venn diagram can be used in literacy lessons to help kids brainstorm and organize ideas.
First, let’s clear up the misconception that the terms compare and contrast are analogous (one and the same) words. Compare, in its strictest sense, means to focus on similarities. (Think of competitive parents who use their children to top the other’s child in a given category.) Compare is often mistakenly related to contrast. Contrast, clearly, means to focus on what makes it different. (So your child competed, my child won.)
Venn Diagrams can be used in the classroom as a visual organizational tool to illustrate the similarities and differences between two objects, characters, or groups in literature – or even topics raised during classroom discussions. Basically two intersecting circles, the left circle can be used to list traits of A, and the right circle can list traits of B. The circle sections that overlap, or are shared, become what they share in common. A handy way of reinforcing this for young children is coloring one complete circle in yellow pencil or crayon and coloring the other in red. Then the orange (more or less) center stands out.
After a Venn diagram is completed, a student has a ready-to-use outline for a compare and contrast discussion, using the diagram as a study tool or, for older students, begin writing a comparison (how they are alike) and contrast (how they are different) essay.
There are some great Venn Diagrams that ready-to-use, just print, copy and hand out to your students from educationaloasis.com, enchantedlearning.com and eduplace.com. Or you can create your own labeled diagram here or in Microsoft Word. And check out some sample lessons using Venn diagrams.
My son has had pretty good teachers so far, but I’ve heard of great teachers who make parents of special needs children swoon. One is an elementary classroom teacher who began the first parent-teacher meeting with, “I just read your child’s entire file.” That’s not called getting off on the right foot. It’s getting off on the best foot possible.
As a former licensed teacher and mom of two school-aged children, I find that good teachers don’t deny or sugar coat issues; instead, they are proactive by anticipating problems and dealing with them. Like the ripple-effect theory, an effective teacher addresses and manages an issue before it grows. But instead of waiting for the first ripple to appear and then using classroom management skills to redirect the student and classmates, there are effective ways to begin classroom management from the beginning. Similarly, some teachers are willing to go beneath the water’s surface to see if a special needs child has kept his head above above water (aka on grade level); is doing the doggie paddle to stay afloat; or drowning – academically and socially.
That same teacher will have high expectation and teach him how to swim. It doesn’t mean that he has to learn the breast stroke correctly (some may never put their head in the water, thus the need for special education accommodations and modifications), but we as parents want to see measurable progress. And sometimes that progress begins with having a teacher who takes the time to better understand the diagnosis – digest huge files of test scores, evaluations and school to parent communications; attend a special needs-related conference; or ask for a recommended book from a parent. If I had such an parent-teacher experience, I might fall in love on the spot.
Here’s some exciting suggestions from Thomas Armstrong, a former special education teacher in both the US and Canada, who offers ways to “activate the strengths” of special needs students in Education Week’s “7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special-Needs Students”:
1. Discover your students’ strengths
Armstrong suggests ways to do this that would make any special needs parent excited: from talking with previous teachers, discussing strengths and abilities and focusing on the highest testing scores and positive teachers comments. This is why, in my opinion, when teachers tell me that my child is love of her life or write on a report card that he is a pleasure to have in class, it doesn’t make me happy. I need more. My child is above his years in oral retrieval and can repeat things that he has heard, even when looking 100 percent disengaged, and if a teacher knew how to tape into this strength, I would cartwheel. And if a teacher does this, I want to know. The author also recommends doing a strength-based inventory – and has one in his book, Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life.
2. Provide positive role models with disabilities
Suggests creating a curriculum unit for both neurotypical (NT) and special needs students, entitled “People with Disabilities who Changed the World,” including Carol Grieder, Steven Speliberg and Temple Grandin. Heck, I’d even do the research for my son’s teacher, and she could teach this as she finds appropriate. This is way to show special needs students that despite their challenges, they can be successful in life.
3. Develop strength-based learning strategies
Teachers can do this by combining strengths with a deficit and uses examples such as:
Strength + Deficit = strength-based learning strategies
Drawing + Reading = illustrating vocabulary words
Knitting + Place value in math = knit rows of ten
4. Use assistive technologies
Apps such as speech-to-text programs can help students who speak well yet struggle with writing skills.
5. Maximize the power of your students’’ social networks
Goes as far as suggesting teachers “create a graphic representation of a student’s peer network, identifying both strong and weak relationships,” and use peer teaching, cross age tutoring or another social-learning approach. Over and beyond? I’d gladly settle for a budding relationship to be paired up for class partner activities.
6. Help students envision positive future careers
By recognizing a particular strength, let’s say art, help students see where they can use a talent or skill in a career, like graphic design. This is something that I do at home, but if a teacher can also do this, results can be far-reaching. Recommendations can be used as early as age 15, when IEP transitions (from school to “real life”) begin. Parents are always looking for this information and would love to have a teacher’s insight early on.
7. Create positive modifications in the learning environment
Suggests a child with Down’s Syndrome “who loves to humorously mimic others, build a simple puppet theater where he can act out math word problems in front of the class and get positive feedback.” The point is creating a positive contribution to the class while increasing learning opportunities.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Earth Day is a special day celebrated each year on April 22, designed to celebrate the Earth. Founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was first organized in 1970 to promote ecology and respect for life on the planet as well as to encourage awareness of the growing problems of air, water and soil pollution. Every year more than 100 different countries join together in celebration of this special day. We can celebrate Earth Day by remembering to appreciate nature and protect our environment.
Earth Day is usually celebrated with outdoor performances, where individuals or groups perform acts of service to earth. Typical ways of observing Earth Day include planting trees, picking up roadside trash, conducting various programs for recycling and conservation, using recyclable containers for snacks and lunches. Teaching children to recycle can have a profound impact on our environment.
Big Universe can help you celebrate Earth Day in the classroom. We’ve selected a few titles from our online library that teach lessons about pollution, going green, and the environment!
- In The Clean Team by Anna Prokos children learn valuable lessons about keeping the Earth clean through the characters of Neat Nick and Sloppy Joe. Sloppy Joe learns the importance up picking up his trash and caring about the world around him.
- Our Footprint on Earth by Jeanne Sturm teaches students about the impact that humans have on the Earth, the environment, and also discusses ways to reduce damage. It also includes information on the dangers of pesticides and making the shift to clean energy sources.
- Rain forests are some of the most beautiful and resource-rich environments on Earth. Readers will discover the layers of the rain forest, the animals and plants of the rain forest, and how people interact with the rain forest in Rain Forests by Colleen Sexton that targets readers from six to eight.
- Eco-friendly energy is explained in Going Green by David and Patricia Armentrout. This book covers everything thing from fossil fuels and pollution, to solar, wind and hydrogen power. It also explains to kids how they can make a difference in our environment by making small changes like shutting off lights and unplugging small appliances when they are not in use.
- Did you know that the average person produces four pounds of trash each day? A Mountain of Trash by Loren I. Charles delves into how trash can be sorted, as well as ways you can help to keep the Earth a clean place.
- Plants and animals that need one another in an environment form an ecosystem. All ecosystems have energy pyramids that show the exchange of energy from one food source to another. Biomes are areas of the Earth that have their own climate and characteristics. Ecosystems all over the world are in danger due to pollution, hunting, and other factors. You can learn about conserving water, recycling, and reducing pollution, as well as how we can help protect Earth in Inside Ecosystems and Biomes by Debra J. Housel.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by Suzanne Barchers the students in this book want to protect the environment. It also includes graphs to show the many ways we can reduce, reuse, and recycle.
- From sea urchins in the Atlantic Ocean to bandicoots on the Australian savanna, animals recycle all over the world. Explore how different animals in different habitats use recycled material to build homes, protect themselves, and get food in Nature Recycles–How About You? by Michelle Lord.
Posted on April 14, 2013 by Marni McNiff in Big Universe News, Classroom Ideas, Writing.
Tags: book design, brainstorming, editing, endings, illustration, Revision, short story, story structure, teacher, writing contest
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Short stories can leave a lasting impression on young readers long after the last word on the page is read. With much success after our first Nature Writing Contest, Big Universe is excited to announced its Short Story Competition. So what steps can you take to help your students create some terrific short story entries? We’ve listed a helpful few tips that we hope will encourage your students to create books that will make a lasting impression.
While the bulk of creativity goes into the story, students should also remember the importance of a strong title. A title can be that initial thing that catches the eye of a contest judge. It might be just unique enough to arouse curiosity. This is not to say that students should come up with unique titles that have little or nothing to do with their short story. It’s important that a title reflect the story as a whole.
One example of an eye-catching title is Attack of the Bully Bug. At first glance, one can gather the story is about bullying, but with a bug involved, it won’t be your average bully.
A Strong Beginning
As they say in publishing, you need to hook the reader right from the beginning. Careful consideration should be given to the beginning of a short story. The quality of the writing should stand out from the first line. It’s important to remember that a short story is really a snapshot of time. There shouldn’t be much need for back-story to get your story moving. Encourage your students to plunge the reader straight into the action.
The opening paragraph sets the tone and pace for your short story. From the very beginning of Sassafras, we see the main character skunk is hiding, but we don’t know why. Then through early dialogue the reader learns he doesn’t want to come out and play because he’s afraid of what others will think of his smell. Right away the reader gets to know this main character and understands his dilemma.
A Memorable Main Character
Students should take the time to create a strong main character. This character can be anything from a boy or girl to a dolphin or lizard. The field is wide open for students to use their imagination and come up with a character that readers will enjoy. The common thread between strong main characters is that they have something the reader can relate to. For example, in Wings of Change, the main character is a caterpillar named Anew who happens to be afraid of change. Along with learning the life cycle of the caterpillar to the butterfly, children can relate to Anew’s fear of not wanting to change because he likes himself just the way he is.
A good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Even with limited words, short stories need to have an ending. A reader does not want to be left wondering what happened. To end a short story, there needs to be some sort of conflict resolution. A character has a problem and then solves it–the end. Simple, right? If it was simple, everyone would be an author. Crafting a story takes time and involves a good deal of pre-planning. One way of doing this story planning is through the use of a story map to brainstorm ideas. This type of brainstorming allows students of all ages to plan out the events and details of their stories.
With the many unique features in the WRITE section of Big Universe, your students can bring their story to life. Students can animate their text and create different background that are eye-catching to young readers. The use of pictures can also help tell your story. Younger students may not yet have a strong vocabulary for storytelling, and pictures can be a integral part of telling their tale.
Attention to Detail
So the story is finished and the work is done. Not so fast! Any writer will tell you that editing and revising a story can be the most complex part of the writing process. It’s important that students go back and check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Have they used the correct punctuation throughout the story? As a reading and writing tutor, I use this part of the writing process to have students look up words when they aren’t sure use of the correct spelling. Teaching a child to their resources whether it be a dictionary or the computer to look up the correct spelling, teaches a lot more than just the spelling of one word. It teaches children that when they don’t know the correct answer, the best thing to do is look it up!
We are very excited to kick off our Short Story Competition and look forward to many exciting, intriguing, touching, adventurous, and/or funny entries from your students. We also invite your to review the winners of our past Nature Writing Contest.
What do you think of when you hear the word rocket?
What images come to mind?
What verbs are associated with rockets?
What do they do?
Where do they go?
If you could design your own rocket, what would it look like?
Can you imagine what you would do if you were a rocket?
Have you ever built a rocket or know someone who has?
I searched Big Universe Learning for rocket …
Danny’s Rocket by Mia Coulton is the one I found
And I got some ideas …
This story would not be the same without the pictures it uses for illustrations.
Do you think the story was written to go with the pictures or were the pictures created to go with the story?
Different images would totally change the meaning of the story. I wonder if you and your students could create images to go with the story that would add an interesting twist to it?
There is a difference is just taking pictures and creating pictures …
How about starting from scratch?
Could your students write a story and then create images (either by drawing/paining/computer-generated or photographs) to go with the story?
What about if you threw in a twist and asked them to create the images first and then compose a story?
Look at this and the other Danny books and get inspired!
Danny is quite a character and featured in many other books from MaryRuth Books on Big Universe Learning :
Danny even has a facebook page!
Tonya Wright from Literacy Connections writes about young preschoolers who aren’t yet able to write – but can journal. She suggests that journaling can be used as a starting point for literacy. By taking away the constraints of spelling rules, lined paper, writing with pencil while seated at a desk or table…and giving the children freedom to create, will make writing an enjoyable activity instead of a difficult task.
Journaling isn’t just for preschoolers though. It can be made appropriate for any child, at any age. First get the students excited about journaling by having them create their own journal book. The book can be make from simple construction paper to more elaborate types of handmade books. Although Wright suggests avoiding lined paper for the very young, an already bound composition-type book with space to draw pictures would also work. (Just because there are lines doesn’t mean that we have to use them.) An easy how-to from the Kansas Public Library is here.
Permission to use granted by the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library
Dollar store priced black and white composition books can also be used – and it is pretty easy to alter by making a cover or adding pictures, stickers and drawings, as my son’s teacher Jay Sarath encourages his third-grade students:
For parents, there are so many journals available in stores or online, journaling has lost it’s negative “girlie” diary connotations with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and other deconstructive type journals such as Wreck this Journal. Having a place to record ideas, thoughts, and feelings is another way to encourage spontaneous literacy.
Making Room to Write
Where students write is important too – in the reading corner or at the craft station, wherever they feel comfortable will inspire them. And that also means, use any available medium – from markers to crayons. Don’t forget to date journal entries – as it is a great way for teachers, parents and child to see progress!
Writing Without Rules
Allowing the children to spell inventively and phonetically is an important part of the writing process. As any “real-life” author will admit, during the idea-generating step, writers don’t pay attention to grammar, punctuation or even complete sentences. We should allow students this step also. So parents and teachers stay hands-off – no correcting allowed. If a child asks to dictate to you, oblige, following their instructions (even if you disagree). Allow the children to use pictures, if they choose to avoid using words, to communicate.
For older students, they can use their journal as a starting point to their own story-telling or creative writing. The can choose one entry and add details, dialogue, and action – and the often-cited hardest part of writing: thinking of an idea becomes the easiest part.
“Publishing” Journals Creates an Audience
The final step to the writing process is a form of “publishing,” and even young journal writers can benefit from an audience for their journals. This can be anything from a group sharing to inviting parents and guardians to a class reading.
Multisensory approaches to early literacy creates active learning opportunities. It involves using our senses of sight, sound, touch, and kinesthetic action – and learning by doing is the most effective way to reinforce and retain learning. It also taps into a special needs child’s particular strengths and is a way of adjusting material for a child’s learning style. This approach also helps typical students who are beginning readers or those struggle with reading comprehension difficulties.
Why take a multisensory approach to sight words? By paring the visual word to the image, sight words becomes more than just seemingly arbitrary letters that represents sounds, it provides a context. A free resource from ABCteach.com provides a ABC: Dolch Nouns PDF that is easy to print and use immediately.
Store-bought sight-word flash cards and Popcorn words (words that are written on popcorn shapes) and Bingo games are fun ways to practice.
Reading Rockets suggests using “manipulatives” such as sound boxes or magnetic letters help teach letter-sound relationships. Susan Jones of Resource Room/Team Prairie, LLC, has compiled a list of multisensory ways to learn sight words, using combinations of auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic modes that include Rhythmic Recitation; Air Writing; Closed-Eye Visualization; Blind Writing; Velvet Board; and Double Board.
Sound boxes are a visual way of isolating the phonemes in a word. It can be made with just pennies, paper and a pencil. Scholastic provides easy-to-follow instructions here. If creating your own sound box seems daunting, there are great kits, ready-to-use:
And there are many hands-on ways to learn and reinforce sight word recognition. Julie Van Alst of Make, Take & Teach, LLC packages a hands-on kit that teachers or parents can use appropriate tools to reinforce Dolch sight words.
Included is a free sight word assessment for the Dolch 220 sight words to sight words flashcards (with categories such as “Words I Know,” “Words I Am Learning” to “Words I Will Learn”). Then providing multisensory activities, such as using Bendaroos and Play-Doh, children can “write” the sight words.
Whether you buy your materials or make your own, teachers and parents have many tools to teach sight words…and make reading fun.
ABC Image courtesy of Maggie Smith at FreeDigitalPhotos.net