Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: August 2017

My ELA Block: Teaching Grammar and Language


Thanks for popping in to read the fourth part of my ELA blog series! If you missed any of the posts, you can use the links below to get caught up.

Part Two: Reading Centers

Today I am sharing all about my grammar and language instruction!


I only have ten minutes to teach grammar. The good thing about that is that grammar can be sooooo boring to teach. The bad news is that there are lots of standards to cover and my students often act as if they have never even heard of a noun!

I tried a lot of different things, but nothing seemed perfect. Some resources were just worksheets that were boring and too much prep. Other resources were too complicated for my students, because they didn't have the basic skills mastered. So, I made my own resource! BOOM!

I created a resource that was basic, engaging, easy to prep and included assessment and review. The resource helps me to implement a consistent routine for grammar each week.

Monday

On Monday I use a PowerPoint to introduce the skill for the week. I am not much of a PowerPoint reading kind of teacher. So I made this PowerPoint short and sweet. Plus, the slides include tasks for the students to do so that they stay engaged.



Tuesday

On Tuesday my students complete a simple notebook activity. The activity is great practice of our weekly skill and the notebooks become a source of reference for the entire year. The activities include super simple cuts to make them quicker! 


Wednesday

On Wednesday I like to integrate some quick writing into our grammar time. (This does NOT take the place of our writing workshop!) This is just another way to practice our weekly skill and allow students to see the skill in text. 

I have PowerPoint presentations that give students a simple prompt each week. Then they are told to trade notebooks with a partner. If we are working on action verbs, students are told to underline the action verbs in their partner's writing. If we have time, I ask students to raise their hand and share one action verb that their partner used in their writing. So simple!



Thursday

On Thursday we get out of our seat and SCOOT! Students complete task cards. This can be done many different ways, but I love to have kids up and moving around the room. I set the cards on desks and students roam around the room answering each of the questions. You can have them work independently or with a partner. Whatever suits your fancy!



Friday

After a week of working on one skill, we are ready for our Friday assessment. I give them a short assessment that is crazy easy for me to grade, but an effective tool to determine student mastery.

My Grammar Pacing

Are you wondering what skills to teach each week? It's too bad you don't know someone who would write a pacing guide for you... OH WAIT! You do know someone like that! ME!

Here is a full year of weekly grammar and language topics:






Grammar Resources

If you don't have time to make your own mini lesson PowerPoints, notebook activities, task cards and assessments- I have you covered!


I am working VERY HARD at getting grammar sets made for every single one of the topics listed above! 

You can click HERE to check out the sets that I already have completed and available in my store.

And if you want to know when I add new grammar sets to my store (at greatly reduced prices), you can click HERE to sign up for notifications. I'll even send for a FREE student notebook cover and table of contents pages!




That's a wrap folks! I hope that you were able to get some new ideas for your language instruction. 

Are you ready to read all about my writing workshop? Click HERE to check out the last post in the series!



Have a Not So Wimpy day!


My ELA Block: Vocabulary Instruction


Thanks for popping in to read the third part of my ELA blog series! If you missed either of the first two posts, you can use the links below to get caught up.

Part Two: Reading Centers

Today I am sharing all about my vocabulary instruction!


Vocabulary instruction is so important that I set aside 10-15 minutes every day for explicit vocabulary lessons and practice. This time helped my students to increase their reading comprehension and become more interesting writers.

What Words I Teach

I am going to say this and I hope that no one is offended.... 

Just because a word appears in your reading curriculum does not mean that it is a word that belongs in your vocabulary lessons. #sorrynotsorry

Some of those words are obscure and very specific to that particular story. One story from my reading curriculum was about cowboys. One of the vocabulary words was "chaps." It is a great word to learn when learning about cowboys. But unless they read westerns, students aren't likely to run across that word in other grade level texts.

Instead of teaching these obscure words, I chose to teach tier two words. If you are not familiar with the different tiers of vocabulary words, here is a run down:

Tier One: These are words that students don't need to be taught because they already know them when they come to school. Examples: cup, baby, happy

Tier Two: These are high frequency words that students do not already know, but will likely see in grade level text. Examples: frigid, grasp, obsolete

Tier Three: These are content specific words that pertain to a specific subject. Examples: dividend, photosynthesis, compass


The reason that I teach the tier two words is because they are words that my students will see over and over in grade level text and on assessments. In fact, I found the words for my vocabulary units by studying grade level books. #ireadkidbooks

My Routine


I have a vocabulary routine that stayed consistent every week. I loved not having to recreate the wheel every single week!

Monday


On Mondays I introduced our five new words for the week.

I introduced words one of two different ways.
  1. I gave the students a sentence with the word in the sentence. I asked students to use context clues to determine possible meanings. After getting some student responses, I wrote the correct definition on the board and discussed the clues in the sentence that would help you to determine that meaning. This helped my students to practice context clues and inference! #doubledipping
  2. Sometimes I gave my students the definition and part of speech and then asked them to try and use the word in a sentence. This helped my students to practice using the proper tenses, meanings and sentence writing. We would decide on one great sentence to write in our vocabulary journals.

Students record the definitions and a sentence for each of the five words in their vocabulary journal on Monday.

Tuesday


On Tuesday we would come up with two synonyms and two antonyms (or examples and non-examples) for each of our words. This process really helped my students to make sense of the weekly words. The examples and non-examples helped to make the new vocabulary words more concrete for my students. I also like to throw in some unique or fancy antonyms and synonyms from time to time.

Tuesday is all about talking about words and why they are or are not good examples. We have conversations about parts of speech and verb tenses. Students start to see that the best synonyms are the same part of speech and tense as the original word. Sometimes the kids will start debating a bit about which synonym or antonym we should choose to record. Since I have taught them to be respectful, these debates really just deepen their word understanding. It is magical! #insertfairydust

Wednesday


On Wednesdays, we actually took a break from our weekly words. Each Wednesday, I gave my students a "wow word." It is just a word that has either a prefix or a suffix. (Using "wow" makes it sound like a pretty cool word!)



We break the word apart and identify the root and the affix. We will define the root and the affix and then we will brainstorm other words with the same root and/or affix.

Students have "aha" moments when they realize how affixes change the meaning of a word! We are still actively talking about vocabulary, but we are also hitting the reading and language standards associated with prefixes and suffixes.

Thursday


The human brain is so amazing. When I was in college I learned the art of color coding my class notes. If I made each category a different color- I could recall the information easier.

I use this same sort of idea on Thursday. By this time, my students understand the meaning of the five new words for the week, but I want to help make it memorable. I don't want them to just be words that they learn for the week and then forget.

On Thursday I give students time to draw a small and simple representation for each of their words. The drawings must somehow show the meaning of the word. For example, when the word was gallop- one of my students drew a horse running. When the word was clutch- one of my students drew a hand holding a purse.


I only give students 10-15 minutes for this activity. I tell them that they don't have time to be Picassos. They should just sketch quick pictures. If they finish early, they can go back and add color.

Friday


On Fridays we started by having fun and reviewing our words from the week (and even previous weeks!).

Vocabulary Social

Sometimes we had a vocabulary social. Each student is give a lanyard with a vocabulary word from the past couple of weeks. They review the word in their journal. I tell them that they must become experts on that word.


Then they will pretend that they are the word and walk around the classroom introducing themselves to their classmates. The conversation might sound like, "Hi, I'm literal. One antonym for me is figurative." "Hi, literal. I am redundant. I am redundant. I am redundant. (Ha!) A good synonym for me is repetitive. Can you use yourself in a sentence?"

The conversation will go on for a couple minutes as each student shares what they know. Then they will move on to talk to different students. This is a fantastic way to review before an assessment and it is a great way to practice all those speaking and listening skills! The kids like it because it is a little goofy! Goofy is good because we tend to remember things that make us laugh.

Games

Some Fridays we played games with our vocabulary words. We used current words and words from previous weeks. I want my students to be exposed to these words over and so that they are committed to their forever memory!

Sometimes we played games as a whole group. Bingo and Jeopardy are always a hit!


But if you really want to be the coolest teacher ever, play Trashketball every now and again!



Sometimes I had students play games with partners or in small groups. I love to incorporate vocabulary words with popular board games.


Pop is another super fun, but simple to prep game.


If you would like to learn how to play all of these games and grab some free printables, click HERE.

Assessment

Every other Friday students did an assessment on their vocabulary words. Since the assessment is biweekly, students have longer to practice the words and they must remember the words for longer.



I hope this gives you a good look at what vocabulary instruction looked like during my ELA block! I have a video about my vocabulary instruction if you prefer to hear about it straight from the horse's mouth. #iamaunicorn Click HERE to check out the free video.



Are you ready to check out the next post in my ELA blog series?! The next one is all about teaching grammar and language without boring the kids to death! Click HERE to check it out.



Have a Not So Wimpy day!



My ELA Block: Reading Centers

I love having reading centers that simple to prep, consistent and focused on growing my students' love for reading!

Welcome back for the second part of my ELA blog post series! If you missed the first post about my reading whole group lessons, you can click HERE to get caught up.

Today I am sharing all about my reading center routines and activities.

Let me start by reminding you of my entire ELA block schedule.

ELA schedule

Center Schedule

I used to meet with four leveled groups every single day. On paper that gave me 15 minutes with each group. But it really didn't. When you figure in all of the transitions, putting away materials and getting out new materials- I was really only meeting with students for about 12 minutes. That just wasn't nearly enough time to read, dig deep in the text and have meaningful discussions. I constantly felt rushed and stressed.

So, I went to meeting with only two of my groups per day. It was a serious AHA moment and it made my reading groups so much more meaningful. By meeting with only two groups, I was able to have 30 minutes with them. It is still the same amount of minutes as meeting with them every day for 15 minutes- except it isn't. With less transitions, I am actually getting a few extra minutes with each group. We can actually read, dig and discuss all in one meeting!

Here is a look at what my center schedule looked like:


I didn't do groups on Fridays because I used the time for long social studies and science lessons.

I had a larger class and so I needed to have four groups. If you have a smaller class, you might be able to have just three groups. Since you would only have one group scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday, you have an extra chunk of time where you are not meeting with anyone. This would actually give you time to do individual reading conferences, provide intervention, do testing and/or pull your lowest learners back for an additional group time.


Center Activities

I don't do the Daily Five. I know that many people do, but I found it to be way to much prep, wasted time doing the status of the class and a lack of students just focused on good books. If Daily Five works for you, go for it!

Here is a look at the activities my students did during reading centers.

Meet with the Teacher

During my meet the teacher time, I would continue practicing the skill that was introduced during my whole group lesson.

Instead of using the leveled readers that came with my curriculum (which my students found boring), I used book clubs during our guided group time. I was able too use high interest chapter books to help practice reading standards while encouraging my students' love for reading.

Each of my reading groups had a different chapter book based on their needs and reading level. We would spend the majority of our group time chorally reading from the book. During the last 5-10 minutes, we would have a discussion or fill out a graphic organizer that targeted our reading standard that week.



You can grab my book club graphic organizers HERE.

It was really so easy to practice the standards using "real" books. I would teach literature standards during first and fourth quarter and teach informational standards during second and third quarter. My book clubs would read fiction books when we were working on literature standards and nonfiction when we were focused on informational standards.

You can read more about my book clubs by clicking HERE.

Read to Self

My students loved the read to self center! They get excited to have a big chunk of time to relax and read anything that they want.

My only rules are that they cannot go to the classroom library during center time (or they will spend their whole time there and not reading) and I should never see their eyes because they are always on their book. They can read anything they want and they can read anywhere that they want.

This center is all about letting your students love books!

Respond to Reading

It is important that my students learn to write about what they are reading. They need to be able to use text evidence to support their claims.

I also need a grade to enter in the grade book for reading!

My students are given a reading menu each week. The menu has questions that are suitable for fiction and non fiction books. The variety of questions means that my students can always find one question that they feel they understand, have the skills to answer and can respond with the book they have been reading during read to self time.


My students are required to choose one question each week. They have plenty of time to write a quality response with evidence. They have a checklist and even a rubric to reference when they are editing.


You can read more about how I teach my students to respond to text HERE.

Technology

I was lucky enough to have a small group of Chromebooks in my classroom.

My school required students to do iReady during this time. I have to be honest... my kids didn't like the program much, especially the reading. The lessons were VERY long.

I sometimes let them use Moby Max and they loved that. Epic is another option.

I love that the technology center gave me the ability to check the reports to hold students accountable without having more papers to grade. #win

Posting the Schedule

You will need a simple way to post your reading center schedule so students have a reference. I think that it is important that the schedule is easy to change so that groups can be fluid and students can easily be switched to different groups when necessary. 

I simply have a poster for each group. Their schedule is typed at the bottom. I laminate the poster and then use dry erase marker or vis a vis marker to write student names. It is super simple, but works perfectly!


You can grab my free poster template by clicking HERE.

I love having reading centers that simple to prep, consistent and focused on growing my students' love for reading!

I love that my reading centers are super easy to prep. At the beginning of the quarter, I copy reading menus and book club graphic organizers for the entire quarter. That's it. I also love that the centers stay the same all year. I don't have to waste time teaching new activities every week. And most importantly, I love that students spend so much time reading books. That is what it is all about!

Be sure to check out my next post in this ELA series by clicking HERE. It is all about vocabulary instruction.



Have a Not So Wimpy day!



My ELA Block: Reading Whole Group Lessons


Can I be really honest with you? Don't judge me, but I really hated teaching reading, writing and grammar during my first few years of teaching. I dreaded my ELA block every day. I found it boring to teach! I LOVE to read and write, but I felt like my lessons were causing my kids to hate all things ELA related. It was depressing!

Fast forward a few years and I can honestly say that I am totally motivated to teach amazing ELA lessons. I am no expert! I don't have all of the answers. But I am super excited to share what I did to make ELA more fun to teach and more engaging and effective for my third graders.

Let's take a look at my ELA block! 
Today, I am sharing about my reading whole group lessons. I will be adding additional parts throughout the month!
Part Two: Reading Centers
Part Three: Vocabulary
Part Four: Language
Part Five: Writing

My ELA Schedule

Here is a look at my entire ELA schedule. 


I know that I might have more time than some of you. I worked hard to create that time in my schedule! One thing that really helped was not having full math and ELA blocks on Fridays. I use Friday to do assessments and tons of social studies and science. I don't teach these subjects Monday-Thursday and so the long blocks on Friday easily make up for that. Plus, there is tons of ELA mixed into science and social studies.

Whole Group Reading

My whole group reading is not very traditional. I am just NOT the kind of teacher who can stand in front of the class and read a PowerPoint presentation to them. I am also not the kind of teacher who loves the basal textbook. My school required us to use it. And I used it. I used it to collect dust bunnies on my book shelf. 😂 But that is our little secret!

I used my whole group time to read aloud to my third graders. They would eat their snack and take restroom breaks while I read. The fact that they loved the books so much meant that they were nice and quick with their restroom break!

My school had a pacing guide that broke apart the reading standards and I had a skill that I was required to focus on each week. I used my read aloud to start discussions related to the focus skill. Let me give you an example: If my focus was character traits, I would read for a while (because that is the best part) and then stop and ask, "What word would you use to describe the type of person ______ is? I don't want words to describe what he looks like. I want words that describe his personality." I let a few students share answers and I close by saying, "Words that describe someone's personality are called character traits." BOOM!

The next day, before I start reading, I might say, "Whisper to your partner to tell them what a character trait is." Then I will repeat my definition from the day before. I will read and then we can  take a minute to discuss the character traits of another one of the characters in the book.

This type of intro mini lesson can be done for just about every standard that I had to teach. All of the literature standards can be taught with any fiction book and the majority of the informational standards could be taught with a non fiction book (such as Magic Treehouse research guides).

Using a read aloud chapter book for my whole group time really allowed me to introduce new authors, genres and series to my students. It encouraged their love for reading and, for me, that is what it is all about!

If you want to see some of my favorite books, check out THIS blog post.

I know that my students will need more practice with the skills, but I also know that I will be meeting with them in guided groups. During that time we will have more discussions and time to write.



I hope that this gives you a little glimpse into my whole group reading time!

Are you ready to check out the next post in the ELA series? Click HERE to read about my reading centers. 



Have a Not So Wimpy day!



5 Mistakes that Teachers Make When Teaching Vocabulary


Raise your hand if teaching vocabulary is a tad scary for you. Now put it down before strangers think you are losing it! 

Vocabulary instruction is tricky. We know that our kids need better vocabularies, but actually making it happen is not easy.

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of years learning about vocabulary and teaching others how to improve vocabulary instruction in the classroom. I have noticed five common mistakes that teachers are making.

Let me preface by saying that I am guilty of every one of these mistakes at one time or another! We are in this together!

Mistake #1: Not Teaching Vocabulary

There are still tons of classrooms where vocabulary is not explicitly taught. Students might be given a list of words or have some sort of center where they work with words. That's all fine and dandy, but that is NOT teaching vocabulary. 

To truly develop a good vocabulary, students need guided lessons. They need instant feedback and corrections when they are using the words incorrectly. Vocabulary cannot just be something that they do on their own. They need you!

Mistake #2: Only Teaching Domain Specific Words

There are three different tiers of vocabulary words.

Tier One: These are words that students don't need to be taught because they already know them when they come to school. Examples: cup, baby, happy

Tier Two: These are high frequency words that students do not already know, but will likely see in grade level text. Examples: frigid, grasp, obsolete

Tier Three: These are content specific words that pertain to a specific subject. Examples: dividend, photosynthesis, compass

Many teachers spend time with tier 3 words during their math, science and social studies instruction. Perfect! That is exactly where those words should be taught. 

But if those are the only vocabulary words that you are teaching, then your kids are really missing out! The words that they need to improve their reading comprehension and test scores are actually the tier two words.

Mistake #3: Teaching Obscure Words

I am going to say this and I hope that no one is offended.... 

Just because a word appears in your reading curriculum does not mean that it is a word that belongs in your vocabulary lessons.

Some of those words are obscure and very specific to that particular story. One story from my reading curriculum was about cowboys. One of the vocabulary words was "chaps." It is a great word to learn when learning about cowboys. But unless they read westerns, students aren't likely to run across that word in other grade level texts.

Don't waste your time with obscure words. Focus on words that students will see and be able to use over and over again.

Mistake #4: Relying on Dictionaries

This is a pet peeve for me. I am so sad when a teacher's vocabulary instruction is simply telling students to look up their words in the dictionary.

Words in a dictionary often have many different definitions and even parts of speech. Many of the definitions are very complicated and use the vocabulary word in the definition. Students usually just choose the shortest definition to write down. 

This is a waste of time, confuses students and teaches them to dislike vocabulary! Please don't do it! I beg you!

Mistake #5: Not Making Vocabulary Fun

I remember  disliking vocabulary when I was young. It was boring. I didn't feel like I was getting much out of it.

If your kids are bored, they won't remember the words that you are teaching. 

I am not saying that you have to be a circus clown and entertain them with a show during vocabulary. I just think that instruction should mix in some drawing, sharing, games, etc. Make students excited to be word detectives. Make them look forward to this time. 

If you are in need of some game ideas, check out THIS post for some fun and free games to play with any kind of vocabulary words.


So what now?

Are you thinking, "Jamie, this is all. fine and dandy. I make these mistakes, but I have no idea HOW to fix my vocabulary instruction!" I am not going to leave you high and dry. 

I created this FREE video that explains exactly how I transformed my vocabulary instruction into something more meaning fun and engaging. It's so simple!


Enjoy!


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Have a Not So Wimpy day!