Saturday, January 30, 2016

5 Ideas for Grammar Instruction in the Primary Grades

Just revised this "oldie but goody." Click on the image below to read about effective, authentic, and meaningful ideas for teaching young writers about grammar.

Effective, authentic, and meaningful ideas for teaching young writers about grammar.



Saturday, January 23, 2016

So Cal Winter Blog Hop & Giveaway


I am thrilled to be partnering up with Kristen from Easy Teaching Tools and some other "Californiarific" - yeah, I just made that up - bloggers for the So Cal Winter Blog Hop & Giveaway! 

So what are my favorite things about Southern California? Well, I live in San Diego, so you probably expect me to say the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, or Sea World. These are definitely popular places to visit, if you are down in my area. But, I'm going to share the top 5 things I love most about my hometown!

1) Let's get the expected out of the way.... the BEACHES ... of course!  

There are many beautiful beaches in San Diego. But, my favorite beach is behind the famous Hotel Del Coronado. There is really nothing more relaxing than reading a book, and watching your kids have fun on the beach! This beach is extra special because you have "the Del" on one side, and it has a wonderful little tide pool area on the beach side, where little ones can look for crabs and other sea creatures. (If you plan a visit, come at low tide.)

2) Hiking! 

I, like many So Californians, am an outdoorsy kind of person. I love being out in nature, and use it as my gym, as often as I can (which is not often enough). If you ever come to San Diego, you have to walk Torrey Pines. It has beautiful ocean views, and is easy enough for anyone 5+.  

If you are looking for something a little more rigorous, try hiking Iron Mountain! It's about a 1,067 gain in elevation, and is just around 6.5 miles round trip. Afterwards, you can continue up the CA-67 to the town of Julian, where you can have some of their famous apple pie!

Just a sidenote: I have a personal goal to complete the 52 Hike Challenge this year!

3) Little Italy Farmers Market

I love this Saturday tradition. Great vendors, produce, and people! Here you can find the freshest uni and oysters, delicious samosas, juices, flowers, vegetables, and handmade crafts.

Potato and pea samosa with
spicy chutney.
This Saturday, I scored pastured eggs, bitter escarole,
and some beautiful romanesco broccoli.

4) More Food?  Ummmmm....Yes.  I know.  It's shameful.  And I, am absolutely shameless. Move along, friend... ooey, gooey, sweet and sticky things lie ahead.

I am a hopeless foodie! Trying new restaurants, and going to food festivals with my husband, is one of my favorite things to do!

After the farmers market, since you are already in the neighborhood, I would definitely walk the couple of blocks that it would take to get to Extraordinary Desserts. They are beautiful and tasty. I took home some chocolate chip cookies for my kids, and a passionfruit-mango cheesecake (for research purposes only). 

Maple Bacon Donuts from Great Maple Restaurant. Love!
Latin Food Festival 2015
5) Big Bear Mountain

Ok, this is not in San Diego, and I know that the last thing some of you want to see is more snow.  But, just 3 hours from here is some darned good skiing! Look at that view!

Ok, I think I have flaunted enough of just how fabulous a place So Cal is to live, work, and play in.

Moving on! I wanted to share a quick tip with you. My greatest passion as a teacher is literacy! Here is a practical tip that teachers, grades 1-2 and up, can use in their classrooms, to introduce summarizing!

One Word Summaries!

I first learned this simple strategy from Stephanie Harvey in her book, Strategies that Work. (affiliate link below)

All you do is have the students write down one word that represents the most important idea from each paragraph of a text. (Sometimes students' word choices are debatable, and lead to great discussions in the classroom. Ask students to justify their choices! Often, there is more than one correct answer!) Then, the student uses their word list to construct their own oral, or written, summary of the text. This is great for giving students practice with determining importance, and paraphrasing, as well! I've used this technique, very successfully, with articles inside of Scholastic and Time magazines. But, it also works with other multi-paragraph texts, as well.

Want to try it out? I've attached a sample of a "One Word Summary" from my Polar Bear Plunge pack!
Click here to preview this pack.
Grab your freebie, here!
I hope you, and your students, enjoy this activity! 

Thanks for stopping by! Please consider following me on my blog, Pinterest, and on Twitter! 

Now, hop on over to....

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Inquiry in the Primary Grades, Part 3

Ok, if you have been following this series, you can probably tell, I am nothing, if not thorough. We are already at post # 3, and I've barely even touched on our main subject for inquiry...Bats!  Oh, well! The foundation has been laid, and it will serve my students and me well over the next few weeks.  Let's get started by looking at the first two stages of an inquiry cycle... Immersion and Investigation! (Stephanie Harvey and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels)

During the Immersion phase you will...

1) Plan with your Essential Question and topic in mind: If you remember from Part 1, I worked with the kids on constructing our Essential Question: How Do Bats Survive in their Habitats?  From there, I planned what skills and strategies I wanted my students to practice. For example: researching, non-fiction text features, main idea & detail etc... (all of these fitting nicely, into my district's current unit of study, for 2nd grade)

2) Gather materials and resources: Ok, this was interesting. This year,  I could not find one resource on bats, even in our largest public library. (It probably did not help that it was a few weeks before Halloween.) At first, I will admit, I started to panic a little. I mean the kids were all set to study bats. We had all these questions. I was worried that maybe we would have to scrap it, and start brainstorming a new inquiry topic. Thankfully, I kept my head, and realized that many of my students already had experience from first grade, using books to do research. I felt like the "teaching gods" were telling me that this was my opportunity to expose them to research in a different way. But, what?....Digital! Oila! There it was. One area I knew my students were weak in, was using digital resources.  So, I decided that those lessons would have to be incorporated into our inquiry unit.

Don't get me wrong. We are still are using books, too.  I had a few of my own, plus some Time For Kids and Reading A-Z books, that I had already printed out. One of our first grade teachers even game me an awesome non-fiction, Bat reader's theatre! But, online resources have definitely been, and will be, the heart of our learning.

(This is where I became really happy because I had found that awesome webmix from Matt Sutton on Symbaloo, and it is all about bats. You can find it in Part 1 of this blog series.  I, of course, previewed all of the resources ahead of time, so that I was familiar with their content, and what learning opportunities they could offer my students.

3) Immerse the students in the topic of inquiry:   In this stage, you are trying to build excitement, and curiosity about your topic. Before we dove into the fascinating world of bats, I had my students write down some things they already thought they knew about bats.  They wrote them on a post-it, and I added them to our bat chart.

We also did some shared reading, and kept track of our questions! We began using the language of learning and inquiry, to talk about our thoughts with our partners. "I learned..., I wonder..., I noticed..." What I love about inquiry, is that students really begin to realize that learning is a never-ending cycle. Each day that we learned something new about bats, we also had new questions! We posted our questions on our bat chart, too.

During this time, I also started to model how to take notes, and keep my learning organized.  I introduced bullets and codes like "L" for "new learning", and "Q"  for question. In addition,  I modeled how to "read" a photograph and diagram, and use labels and captions.

They even practiced reading and writing their own.

The immersion phase sets the students up for success in the next phase...Investigation!

During the Investigation phase you will...

1) Model for students "how to read with a question in mind": I pulled a pink post-it off of the bat chart. These are student questions. It seemed random to my students. But, I had already previewed their questions earlier, and had found the perfect question to begin our investigation. "Where do bats live?"  I gave credit to the student who had written the question. They love that!

Next, we made a T-chart for our topic. Notice that I wrote, "What We Think We Know About Bats." This is important, because we want students to be flexible enough to be able to change their thinking, when they are presented with new information.

I then modeled how to use a table of contents to find the section of the book that would answer the question. The students caught right away that they don't have to read non-fiction from beginning to end. We added that to our Fiction/Non-Fiction board from Part 2.  Yes! I love these kids!

Before I began reading,  I stressed that, as researchers, we have a responsibility to ensure that we share information that is correct. I gave them their purpose: 1) to listen for new information about where bats live, and 2) to verify, or discount, our original beliefs about bat habitats.  Then, I read aloud from the page about bat habitats, modeling my thinking and learning, while the students jotted their own thoughts, onto their whiteboards. Afterwards, we added the new information onto our chart, and placed checks next to the ideas that were confirmed by the text.

Then, after a quick review of our "collaborative rules," students practiced this in small groups, with additional bat books. They also used online resources during our computer lab time!

Woohoo! Look at those bullets! We are getting there!

At the end of the day, we came back together to discuss our findings. Some ideas were still unconfirmed, others were verified. We required others to confirm our new learning, and to cite their sources. Students agreed, and disagreed, with one another. We practiced our discussion etiquette, and students used sentence stems that I had provided for them.  In the end, we added quite a bit of new learning to our T-chart. (Don't forget to discuss the process as well, and add to your "Collaboration Rules" if necessary.)

We then repeated this whole process, the next day, with other questions from the bat chart. I chose questions from the chart about diet, adaptations, and the life cycle. The students went off to investigate their question with great enthusiasm! I walked around and conferred with groups and individuals, and took notes about accomplishments, challenges, and next steps.

At the end of the week, we had researched all of the questions most closely related to our Essential Question.  They were also given time to research their individual questions.  

It was a very busy week! But, also a week of tremendous learning and growth! I hope you are starting to see how you can make inquiry work for you and your students.

Check back next week for Part 4, on stage 3 in our inquiry cycle...Coalescing!


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Inquiry in the Primary Grades, Part 2

If you haven't had a chance to read Part 1 of this post on Inquiry , please click here.

Well, tomorrow officially marks the beginning of our non-fiction unit. I wish I could tell you that last week just clipped along, and that I was able to accomplish everything that I had planned.

But, that would be a lie. 

We ran into this little, inconvenient obstacle called....reality. What is reality?  

Rain in Southern California (Think, Chicken Little, here.)

Performance Task Assessments for both reading and math (Think,"watching paint dry", here.)

PLC (This was a good one! Think, Oprah Winfrey's Book Club, here.)

A fundraiser assembly (Think, The Price is Right, here.)

A firefighters assembly (Think, Magic Mike, here. Oh my, maybe that was just me.)

... and an earthquake drill (It was the first time we had done one during recess time. Enough said. )


This week, I was still laying the foundation for our inquiry work. Here is what we were able to accomplish:

Compare and Contrast Fiction & Non-fiction:

1) I usually spend the first 8 weeks studying and reading mostly fiction text with my students. So, the first thing we did was make a list about what we learned about fiction.

2) Then, the fun part begins! We start a mini-inquiry for non-fiction.  Our essential questions are, "How is Non-fiction different from Fiction?" and "How do we read Non-fiction differently than Fiction?"

I set out boxes of non-fiction books around the room, and have the students discuss what they notice. They chart their observations. For time reasons, I asked them to choose one recorder.  However, in the past, I have given each member of the group a different colored marker, so that I could hold each student accountable for at least one comment on the group poster. You're the "boss of the applesauce" here.

I was very pleased to see that this year, my second graders knew more than ever before, and that their understanding of non-fiction was more accurate than in prior years. (Thank you to our fabulous first grade teachers!) So, this is where we start from...

Quite a few gaps to fill in. But, a good place to start from, nevertheless. We will continue to fill in this chart as we go through our inquiry cycle. You will find that, since you are not frontloading all of the information, students will be super excited to find, and share out, new features to put on the wall.

3) Next, we practice applying what we know. At this point, there were a lot of students who were still confusing "fiction" and "non-fiction".  They knew they were different, but the titles were not clear in their heads yet. (If your students are clear on this, you can choose to skip, or accelerate, the next few activities.)

So, I grabbed a mix of fiction, and non-fiction books, out of my library. (TIP: Make sure you grab at least one non-fiction book that has illustrations, instead of photographs.  Otherwise, students will think anything with a drawing is,  automatically, fiction. The key word here is "Flexible") One book at a time, I do a "think aloud" about what I notice. "This book has photographs about real butterflies." "The title of this book is Bats. That doesn't sound like a character's name. It is telling me what the book will be about." "This book is called "Arthur's Tooth".  Arthur is a make-believe character." I do a few on my own, and then start asking the kids to look at a book cover, and make a prediction. They share with a partner, and must support their prediction with at least one piece of evidence.  I give my students sentence frames to support their language.

I think this book is ____________ because __________.
                       fiction / non-fiction     

4) When I feel like the students are close to "getting" it. I send them back to their tables. Each table has a stack of fiction and non-fiction books (one title per student). Students choose a facilitator, who holds up each book for discussion.  

The group decides if the book is non-fiction or fiction, gives reasons why, and then sort the titles into 2-3 piles.  (I say 2-3 because each group had at least one title where the author had chosen to combine both fiction and non-fiction elements. "Flexible.")  

Each group then presented. Each group member presented their book, if it was non-fiction or fiction, and the reasons the group came to that conclusion.  The audience gives a quiet thumbs-up, or down. It normally takes about 3-5 minutes per group. (Make a note during the presentations, of any misunderstandings, especially if they were class-wide. Plan your next steps accordingly.)

5) Last step for us this week was "anchoring" our learning with something we could add into our Reader's Notebook.  I gave students an old Scholastic book order, and a sorting sheet.  They cut out covers, and glued them into the appropriate category.  Then, students brought them back down to the rug, and they shared their work with a partner. We will place them into our notebooks, and refer back to them, as needed.

Afterwards, we talked about any other features of non-fiction the students noticed, and we added it to our compare/contrast bulletin board.

By the end of this activity, all but two students have the terms "non-fiction" and "fiction" clear in their heads, and are no longer confusing them.  Mission accomplished :)

6) Had there not been so many interruptions last week, I would have liked to have done a KWL chart for bats, with the class. That will have to wait for Monday.  You can see a KWL chart for bats that will be similar to the one I will use, by visiting my Pinterest board on Bats. Click below. 

Read Part 3, in this series on Inquiry.

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Inquiry in the Primary Grades, Part 1

Just wanted to let my readers know that I have posted Part 1, of a series of posts on Inquiry, over at The Elementary Chalkboard.  Click below to read more.


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