Triangle Talk

Monday, December 13, 2010

I attended a C.L.A.S.S. training session last week, and picked up a few fun tricks! First, for those of you who are unfamiliar with C.L.A.S.S., the acronym stands for Connected Learning Assures Successful Students. Their website describes their philosophy saying: “The C.L.A.S.S. philosophy is grounded in the belief that best teaching practices are based from the understanding of the human brain; a systemic understanding of human beings; and the interactions among human beings and the environment.”

Every C.L.A.S.S. training that I’ve attended has provided several fun ideas, but the best part is that they are easily implemented into the classroom the very next day! You don’t have to spend hours of planning to implement these strategies, you just plug them right in to the things you do every day.

Triangle Talk is a strategy that can be used in reading groups or in whole group reading sessions, and can be easily modified to meet any topic or content that you are teaching. All you need is half a piece of paper (the long way) and a plan. You begin by folding the paper into three even sections and labeling each section with one of the focuses of the lessons. My example shows new information/questions/favorite fact. Other options could include beginning/middle/end, three important facts, or KWL. After you read and write, you tape the triangle together to create the finished product.

Study Guides and Strategies

I recently came across a site called “Study Guides and Strategies” that is dedicated to providing helpful tips and tricks for students. An overview of the site explains: Since 1996 the Study Guides and Strategies Website has been researched, authored, maintained and supported by Joe Landsberger as an international, learner-centric, educational public service.

As I looked through the (many) links on this page, two of them immediately jumped out because of their connection to reading content material and helping with the comprehension of nonfiction (which is a focus of this blog).

Taking Notes from a Textbook (link)
Even though note-taking is a skill that many of us do automatically, it is a skill that many students need to be explicitly taught. This site presents tips that students can use when reading a text book and needing to take notes. Because most students do better with a model first, I would suggest using this as a lesson plan – actually walking the students through the process – before letting them try it on their own.

Reading Difficult Material (link)
This article provides tips for students who are tackling some difficult reading material. The article is written as though a student will be reading it, but I think that the tips mentioned are strategies that teachers should introduce, model, and practice with students.

Blending Fiction and Nonfiction to Improve Comprehension and Writing Skills

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This lesson plan (from the ReadWriteThink website) uses a text set that pairs fiction and nonfiction texts covering a similar topic. The combination leads to increased interest and understanding because the student is able to find some familiarity with the format of fiction, and but also explore more detail with the nonfiction texts. The lesson also provides a look at using a stapleless book, a comic creator, and a letter generator, all of which are interactive computer tools that increase students interest level by adding a technology component.

To try the technology components with a different lesson, I’ve linked them below:
Stapleless Books (link)– this tool provides an opportunity for students to select a format for each page of the book, type in the text they want to include, and print the final copy. Pictures can be added by drawing after they are printed. There are even directions to show how to fold and cut the paper after it is printed to create the final book.
Comic Creator (link): This tool allows students to create 1, 2, 3, or 6 paneled comic strips. The characters, settings, and props that are available to add are limited, but this could still be a fun tool to try.
Letter Generator (link): This tool may be my personal favorite. It starts with a personalized letter to the student explaining reasons that you might want to write a letter and introducing how the tool will work. There is also an audio button available if the students need the letter read to them. The tool then highlights the parts of a letter and the purpose of each before advancing to the next screen where students have to pick either a friendly letter or business letter format. As students move through the tool, very specific directions lead them through the steps of setting up the letter while highlighting that part in a drawing of the letter at the side. After the entire letter has been written, the student can choose a border decoration (or none) to be added, preview the letter, and then print it. An option to print envelope instructions is also available. This tool could have MANY practical uses within the classroom!

Three Comprehension Strategies for Reading Nonfiction

Scholastic has published an article called "Three Comprehension Strategies for Reading Nonfiction" on their website, highlighting strategies for constructing meaning in nonfiction that Laura Robb included in her book Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math. There are three lesson plans linked from the article: (1) asking open-ended questions, (2) skimming text, and (3) making connections. Each lesson plan is easy to read and could be easily adapted for use at any grade level.

Book Leads

How can this help the reluctant readers? Book Leads is a wiki set up with a glog bulletin board with several options related to reading. Links to young adult authors’ blogs, book review blogs, book trailers, online book clubs, and book related podcasts should provide even the most reluctant reader with an option that looks appealing. There is even a link to a website that helps arrange Skype chats with authors. This site could be used by students or teachers to help reluctant readers find interesting topics or resources.

Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA)

This summer I designed and ran a workshop focusing on nonfiction comprehension. The Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA) is one of the strategies I taught within the workshop. Below, you’ll find the explanation I shared. In researching this method, I used the following resources:
Reading Rockets (an article about DRTA)
Instructional Reading Strategy: DR-TA (Directed Reading-Thinking Activity)
Directed Reading Thinking Activity

What is it?
DRTA is a comprehension strategy that guides students in asking questions about a text, making predictions, and then reading to confirm or refute their predictions. The DRTA process encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers, which enhances their comprehension. The DRTA model actually consists of three parts: D – Direct, R – Read, and T – Think. The process of those three combine to make the A – Activity. This strategy could actually work with either fiction or nonfiction texts, but for today’s purposes, we’ll be focusing on the nonfiction. The process is the same for either type of text, but the questions you ask will be different.

How do I use it?
There are six simple steps to follow when you’re planning the DRTA process.
1. Choose a text. First, read the text you’ve chosen and mark specific places for your students to pause during the reading process.
2. Activate prior knowledge. Begin this step by introducing the text or the topic to the students. Then, have them brainstorm a list of ideas that come to mind in relation to the title or topic. While they throw out ideas, you should record them on chart paper, the chalk board, or the overhead. This step is important because students will be making predictions about what they will read about in the text. Activating their prior knowledge on the topic will allow them to make predictions about what might be included in the text.
3. Have students make predictions about what they will read. Guide them to use all of the clues they have available to them including: the index, the table of contents, pictures, charts, tables, the cover, etc. When students make their predictions, ask them to explain how they came up with their predictions. Don’t accept “I don’t know” as a response.
4. Have students read a section of the text. Before the students start reading, point out the predetermined stopping points, which should lend themselves to making predictions. In expository texts, good stopping points are often right after a new heading or subheading in the text.
Reading the text can be done in a variety of ways. You can have volunteers read aloud, you can have students read silently to themselves, partner read, or even read aloud for you in a small guided reading situation. If the students are reading silently, it is especially important that you indicate where they should stop reading.
5. At each stopping point, have students confirm or revise their prior predictions, and make new predictions. During this process, encourage them to explain what in the text is causing them to confirm and/or revise prior predictions, and what is causing them to make the new predictions they are making. You can also discuss different possible predictions, since it is very likely that your students will have different ideas.
6. Continue steps 4 and 5 until the selection is finished.

Why should I use it?
DRTA encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers. It activates students' prior knowledge and encourages them to connect new learning to that prior knowledge. DRTA teaches students to make predictions and to monitor their understanding of the text as they're reading - all of which helps strengthen the students’ reading and critical thinking skills.

How Can Instruction Help Adolescent Students with Motivation?

An article by the National Institute for Literacy entitled "How Can Instruction Help Adolescent Students with Motivation" was posted on, a website devoted to adolescent literacy. It suggests that there are four main strategies teachers can use that may help increase student motivation in the classroom. The four strategies are:
1. Set clear goals and expectations for performance
2. Guide students to focus on their own improvement
3. Provide variety and choice in reading materials
4. Provide opportunities for students to interact through reading
While this isn't the "perfect" answer and complete solution, the article does provide some helpful tips!

What’s Your Genre?

How can we increase motivation in the students who “don’t like to read”? That is the million dollar question for teachers everywhere! My suggestion is to introduce them to as many genres as possible, so that one will eventually peak their interest. Reading in Action has recently posted a few articles about some genres that may interest the reluctant readers.

Steampunk (link): Steampunk is the hot new thing in many areanas! As this article explains, steampunk is a style of books, clothes, movies, etc. that are inspired by the original science fiction genre and the era in which steam power was the primary form of technology. This article provides an explanation of the new genre and has several suggestions about how to integrate it into a classroom (or at least introduce it to kids!). One of the best resources is a link to a book list for this genre. The book list is divided by grade level, but has books for students ranging in age from kindergarten through high school.

Horror (link): This article suggests that the horror genre appeals to students because of the fright factor. The article links to J.L. Benet’s page, which provides several options for teaching the horror genre, including genre related lesson and unit plans, lesson plans for specific texts, web quest links, articles about the genre, and reading lists of horror books. There is also a link to The Moonlit Road, a website filled with audio files of ghost stories. Even the most reluctant reader can listen to scary stories! And of course, you can’t mention the horror genre without mentioning Edgar Allen Poe (one of my personal favorites)! This article links to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum which could provide more information to students who are interested.


What is a bookcast? Exploring the Reading in Action website may help you find out!

Reading in Action is an interesting site with a lot of possibilities. One of the most appealing aspects of the site is that there are separate sections to provide activities for children, “tweens,” and teens. While many of the types of activities are similar, the specification for age and ability really help when trying to find appropriate activities for your specific students.

I was initially drawn to the site by the Bookcasts, which are essentially podcasts of book reviews. These Bookcasts are again divided into separate sections for children, tweens, and teens, but there is also a section here for award winning books. Many of the Children’s Bookcasts have videos to accompany the description of the story, and these videos range from music with pictures, to a narration from the main character, to an explanation from the author about how he or she wrote the book. If there isn’t a video, there is still an audio clip with similar information.
The Tween Bookcasts are primarily audio clips, but there are some video clips in this section as well. The video clips range, again, from book trailer videos to author commentaries.
The Teen Bookcasts contain a combination of audio and video clips, but one thing that stood out to me here was the presence of book talks in the video clips. This could be used to demonstrate good book talks before having students actually do their own!

Looking for Text Features

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Last week, I received the “Big Ideas” newsletter for December from the Smekens Education website. Kristina Smekens is a 6 + 1 Traits trainer who provides professional development for teachers. Her website biography describes her as “a speaker and author who works with K-12 teachers sharing practical strategies for teaching writing, reading comprehension, and vocabulary development.” I’ve been to a few of Smekens’s workshops, and take useful, practical ideas away from each one.

The suggestion from this month's newsletter that I want to share is about looking for text features in untraditional places. The piece said:
More on Text Features
Students often perceive text features as decoration or filler. They don't read text outside of the gray body paragraphs. However, text features serve a purpose. They are there to provide the reader additional information. It's imperative that students see text features as more than eye candy!
Consider modeling the power of text features with high-interest texts like a page or two from the Guinness Book of World Records or even the front and back sides of sports trading cards. Click here for a sample card with questions that target QAR.
If you want students to actually read the text features, consider only asking questions about the content within them. Have them pull details from text features, or draw conclusions based on facts within the text features. These could make for a great literacy station or a fabulous activity for morning or bell work. We've got to get our students to read text features and glean the information offered within them. These are NOT decorations.
You can subscribe to the Big Ideas newsletter or read old editions of it here.
Or, if you like this idea, Smekens provides an idea library on her website with TONS of ideas that you can easily use.

Comics in the Classroom

This site suggests using comics in the classroom for a variety of purposes. A great graphic (on slide 4) shows that comics can be used to develop several literacy skills including: character development, problem solving, organization, creativity, storytelling, setting, sequencing, decision making, and creativity. If the comic building is done with one of the many online programs or websites available, computer skills are also being developed. After this graphic, links to several comic creators are provided before the best part of the presentation: “21 Ways to Use Comics in the Classroom.”
Several of these suggestions sound like things that kids would love to do. A few of my favorites include:
#1. Instruction Manual: the kids could create their own instruction manuals (which is nonfiction writing with a focus on sequencing!) or the teacher could use the comic as an instruction manual for the student’s task.
#3. Research Assignment: This could definitely tie into nonfiction with both reading and writing. If students need to do research (nonfiction reading) to create a comic, the end product may be worth the less exciting task at hand. (Note: this is not to say that reading nonfiction is not exciting, but many students think that it is, so this could help!)
#5. Convert a Story: There is a large movement in the world of graphic novels right now, and this could be a great opportunity to help students make the connection between novels and comics.
#6. Write a Story: Whether used as the final product or in the planning stages, using comics to write a story could be a fun option for more creative students. It would also be an opportunity to talk about ways that the image can actually tell more of a story than the words.
#14. Using Terminology: The slide show suggests providing students with five words that have to be used in their comics as a way to encourage the students to understand new terminology.
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