COVID-19 crept up our doorstep and altered the way we do things in life and in education. I never expected the bell dismissing my sixth graders for spring break was going to be the last official bell of the school year. It is crazy how a virus can make such a significant impact on everything we do.
As with most educators, I felt sadness. I knew I was going to be missing the fun in person learning I had planned for the rest of the year. I wondered about what would happen for all of my students, worried what I would do each day to reach each of them, and yes, I worried about my students who come from rough homes or have little to eat on a regular basis. We all worried about these things.
Schools scrambled to find alternatives to fill the learning gaps that were to come. Some schools required online learning while some made it optional. Some schools sent out packets for students to complete, again as either mandatory or optional. The major problem that exists is that technology is not equitable. The main concern became how do schools supply equitable learning opportunities at a time of crisis.
.......and then the worst news came when state governors started announcing that school would remain closed for the remainder of this academic school year
So, with that said, as educators we have all pushed through this obstacle and created new opportunities to do all we could to make learning happen. I will walk away from his with a new appreciation for some tools we use every day and some that are new to my toolkit.
My Virtual toolkit
I started out like most of you, unsure of what direction to take. I did some read aloud videos using PowerPoint with embedded video. I tried some Flipgrid videos of touring my property and animals, fun scavenger hunts, I created digital geography scavenger hunts, and others. But, in the end, I finally settled on a format. I create a weekly agenda based on a theme. Our virtual meetings were about enrichment, not introduction of new material.
The weekly agenda included weird holidays for each day of the week, sometimes with a connected activity on Padlet, Flipgrid, or Poll Everywhere. I added learning in the area of reading, writing, and/or social studies. I shared with my partner teacher so she could add math and science activities. We had a weekly challenge. I even included fun facts related to the theme. Another part we added was Wellness Wednesdays.
A reading activity could be a reader's theater, which they love to do. However, this past week, I did an article related to the weekly theme which was video games. I tied it to current events as much as possible. Here is the activity.
We did a writing activity as well tied to the theme. This was a five-minute timed writing. The stories the students produced were fun. Each student shared their story and we applauded just as if we were in the classroom. Here is that activity. As a quick note, students did not see the writing opportunities unless they selected that tunnel.
There were math and science activities as well. for the week shown in the presentation, my partner teacher even found a couple of video game related Quizizz' to do. We had a lot of fun. She and I discuss many activities, but overall she is in charge of her specific contents If you have any questions about math and science I know she would happily provide me the answer.
Of course, we offer other fun tasks throughout the presentation.
We always ended our meetings with reminders, upcoming tasks, and also the answer to that riddle from the beginning.
COVID-19 created a shift in education, in the sense of virtual education. Many of scrambled trying too many things because of the wealth of resources. I think my biggest take away was to stick with what I knew, integrate meaningful resources for my students, make it very interactive, and most of all have fun with the students in a stressful time for many. The agenda and presentations I put together helped to tie it all together and they can give you some ideas, too
I have taught several years, and I can say without a doubt, I have had a little more fun this year. Today, my focus will be on my introduction to Europe unit.
Years ago, as part of the unit I taught on Shakespeare Stealer, I bought a Black Death Simulation from Teachers Pay Teachers. I decided to pull that out and use it to introduce students to Europe. It was a hit!
Not only did the students love working through stations to try to figure out what they thought was the underlying cause of the Black Death, they loved the "little extra" i added to the day. Let me walk you through the entire day, including my extension into reading.
Engage the Mind
To begin the lesson for the day, I start with showing some fly over videos of London. I start with early London and end with modern London. As they watch the videos, I give them some questions to guide their thinking.
Recapture Previous Learning
This is when I want student to reflect on what I have taught in geography so far this year. First, let me start by saying that this is not a step I remembered when I taught this lesson this school year. However, it is a key element I will not miss in the future. I honestly, was just winging it with this lesson as an introduction lesson.
For this coming school year, barring any Covid-19 shut downs, when I do this introduction and get to this part of the lesson, I would start this discussion by probing what the students remember is necessary to think about when learning and defining a place geographically.
As a side note, we focus our geography lessons on the Five Themes of Geography. I need students to not key elements to all five themes. I also know that students struggle more with separating location and place. Since I had given them the location of London, I might want them to say the country, continent, or even hemisphere to describe location. As far as place, they can describe what they noticed in both introduction videos.
Dive Right in
After I have had those conversations, I stepped into the hallway for my transformation. The student’s reactions were priceless. I had students requesting to take photos with me and telling me how "extra" I am.
So here are a few pics, taken by a wonderful para I had in my room.
As a note, my child already had the mask from a few years back. I just bought what was supposed to be the costume and it ended up being a cape. I made it work. I do plan to buy a new costume for this coming school year. That will help with my last-minute kitchen gloves. My other son had the hiking stick I borrowed.
The costume might seem like a little much, but the experience my sixth graders had was worth it. Additionally, to have them evaluate parts of the costume in relationship to the time period and the illness were amazing. The holes in the mask are one example of that.
I introduced them to the simulation tasks and had them find a partner to work with. I then sent them off to work.
Get your hands dirty
And they are off....
A couple of options, the first can be found here. I had an older version before it was Google compatible. Since then, there have also been some added artifacts. It is good, but you need double class periods to make this one work. I used it, just had them do ten of the artifacts to cut down on some time.
Another option can be found here. This one is a combination of role play with discovering causes. I did not use this one this year, but a colleague of mine did. She did say her students enjoyed it.
Honestly, I think I want to take the best of both and combine the concepts. The second option has scenarios that could be integrated into reading time.
Capture what You Learned Today (Exit Ticket)
Students finished by authoring a report. First, they explained what the Black Death was. Then, they shared what they believed caused the Black Death to spread as well as several falsehoods people had at the time surrounding the Black Death. Then I had them explain how geography was affected by the Black Death. Remember, I did this as an introduction to Europe geography.
At the time we did this activity, COVID-19 was just starting to spread across places globally. The students had some connections. However, doing that lesson now, would have a different outcome with COVID-19 here locally. This will change the outcome some next year.
Extending and Connecting to Literacy
My daily schedule starts with a 40 minute block of social studies, and then I teach an 80-minute block of English Language Arts.
To continue my theme for the day, I was able to use some English Language Arts time. We were introducing theme as part of our objective today.
So I introduced a nursery rhyme appropriately with an eerie version of the rhyme. I had the students discuss what they thought the theme of the poem was.
Then I had the students work with a partner and analyze each line of the poem based on what they had learned about the Black Death. Afterwards, I showed them a YouTube video about the dark origins of nursery rhymes, which you can find here.
Let's just say, this lesson was memorable. The students still talk about it. And at the end of the day, don't we want our lessons to be ones the students will remember.
Here I am sitting and watching movie marathons because what else can I do on spring break when it is rainy and muddy outside, and the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is lurking around corners forcing everyone to limit movement and traveling? Honestly, it is a good time to just get back to what I started with this blog – to create a collaborative network of educators to share and exchange resources for improving classroom practices. No matter how long I have taught, or how many resources I have created, I can always grow as a professional.
To be honest, I am not the greatest about being prompt with a blog, but in my time away from blogging I have been doing some reflecting and evaluating. I know my long-term goal is to create a not for profit organization to support rural schools in America with curriculum and professional development needs. As I did some thinking about that, I decided I wanted to help other teachers as well.
I plan to do this by first, working to create a blog about learning activities at least twice a month. I will share examples from my own class and from others I have witnessed in my time in education. Almost everything I post will have a related resource of link to resources as part of the blog. I am also looking into podcasts or video uploads to accompany some of the blog entries. I am going to focus on one subject in each blog, rather than focusing on what is currently happening. Truth be told, currently only the COVID-19 is a current event. That being said, I am working on an optional activity for my students to complete at home that I will share here when finalized for others to use.
Second, I have created a drive folder to share out with those who want to contribute. To be added, you need to follow my blog - which I will get better about adding to it at least every other week- or my Facebook page and be willing to share educational resources. I really want to build this up and provide a resource for educators to collaborate. The obvious here is that this is a link to collaborate for free and no products should be recreated and listed on Teachers Pay Teachers or other pay for subscription sites. I will continue to list my current items on TeachersPayTeachers, but all my relevant resources are being moved to this folder for access by anyone who is willing to follow the blog and contribute resources.
For those interested in the collaborative folder, I have set the folder up by grade level folders. Each grade level has content specific folders in each of them. I have added some resources in multiple grade levels because they are content that could be taught within a grade span. If you wish to contribute, you can email me those in a direct email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the grade level, content, and main subject of the file so I know how to file it in the folder. Once you share the file and follow my blog, I will add you to the folder for viewing and using the materials.
There is another resource similar to this if you want access to that you can go join the Facebook group called Social Studies Network. If you go here and join, they have a similar set up that I am a member of. I will share resources in both locations for social studies related content. There are many teachers from around the globe on this site.
In a time when there is so much uncertainty, it is important to collaborate and continue to develop professionally. Follow and share my blog to help grow a network of resources.
It is Sunday. I have been spending my weekend looking at chicken eggs to separate out fertilized eggs from unfertilized eggs. I am still new to this whole farming and chicken thing, but I always love the opportunity to learn something new. Good thing for great literature about chickens. I had no idea there were so many little tricks. 😊
Of course, learning about how to farm is often like learning for my students. I love the expression they get when they figure out a new study trick or learn new information. Learning itself is such an adventure. I think about that each day as I approach the instruction I will deliver.
This year my adventure in sixth grade began. I am very fortunate to have such a great group of sixth graders. I am also so very lucky to have a great team to work with. The teachers in my hall, whether they are the same content or not, and school for that matter, area amazing!
We have read the first four chapters of The Phantom Tollbooth. I have the students read the chapters and then they listen to the audio. Since the story has a lot of play on words, this helps to provide support for comprehension. We worked on static versus dynamic characters as well as vocabulary. For our lesson, I introduced the students to types of character. We discussed protagonist, antagonist, flat, round, dynamic, and static characters. The types of characters chart on the notebook page is one I found online and used. It was a simple chart that helped me provide a chart for students.
I created a chart for the students to use when looking at characters. I will attach it here for a freebie. We did Ally from Fish in a Tree as a class. You can also see the page these were added on in our Reader's Notebook.
The students did some really great writing. I am showcasing a few of those stories here. Up next, will be our spooky stories for our pen pals.
Since finishing you our unit on the 5 Themes of Geography, we started learning about landforms. Our district has a current requirement of thirty landforms. The list is extensive. I am a firm believer in creating opportunities for students to learn at their pace with some choice for activities. I created a post already, that introduced you to the Level Up: Landforms unit.
Here is some of the work students created.
I am working on getting caught up on my blogs, so follow for great activities and freebies for grade 6.
This morning, the weather outside is beautiful. The hummingbirds are in full action. The wind is blowing the wind-chimes to make a simple melody that hums with nature. I love fall! One of my most favorite activities to do on a fall day, like today, is to sit outside and read. Unfortunately, I forgot my book I wanted to read at the school, so today I will write.
Of course, that just means I can tell you the exciting things happening in my classroom right now. In case I did not previously mention it, I have a total of 42 students I work with each day. I love the opportunity to teach reading, writing, and social studies to these 42 sixth graders.
I will break my posts into the three specific areas that way you get a glimpse of each. Occasionally, I will also break out homeroom activities. This past week, I tied the homeroom activities to the read aloud. You can find detail in my reading section.
Before I go into this week’s post, I will explain the title. One reason I chose it is I finished reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. This is one of her overall messages and it is a powerful message. The second is because growing up, my father always taught me that if you believed something was possible it could be. I wanted to take the time to write this post in honor of my father, today is his birthday. I am fortunate, that despite his not graduating from high school, I have a man in my life that believed in me and pushed me to believe in myself. Growing up with so many of my family not graduating, I believe this message served as a catalyst to my powerful drive to turn what could have been impossible into the possible.
We have been doing some specific routine and procedures. However, I have taken the time to read Fish in a Tree to the class. In fact, we finished the book this past Friday. This book is such a powerful way to really spark discussions about several topics. If you have not checked it out, I HIGHLY recommend it for any sixth-grade group.
I chose this book for several reasons. The first reason is I like to start the year with a powerful message. This book has the message that if you work hard you can move what you believed was impossible to the possible. A second reason I chose this book is I felt like you can connect a story better to a group when they can relate to a character. We all have that one student who may be depressed or lac self-confidence and to see a character grow in a realistic fiction story can offer a light for those students. Finally, I chose the book because it has a connection to my class wide theme. It has references to Alice in Wonderland discussed throughout the story.
During my homeroom on Wednesday, I asked students to write a response to the story focusing on the quote often associated with Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I gave them ten minutes total. We broke that into two parts. The first part, I had them respond what the quote meant to them. For the second part, I asked them to connect their understanding to the main character of the story. They had to relate to what Ally had learned throughout the text. The students had amazing responses. I forgot to take a few pictures of them, but I will add some later this week. Most importantly I wanted students to understand as a group, we have the ability to treat others with respect instead of to be too quick to judge people.
I always tell them two things related to this. First, perspective is everything. Second, everyone has their own story. In the story, there is one boy named Oliver. He is always talkative, cares deeply about little things, and is often given small cues when he is talking too much. Oliver has a story revealed in the book that helps students understand that while he may have some annoying behaviors from some of the students’ perspectives, there is a story that explains why.
Since we finished the book on Friday, I plan to have them do an escape room I bought on TpT as a review on Monday and Tuesday during Academic Lab. This escape room should be a fun way to review the novel. It has five tasks. Each task has important components of a story: plot, characters, vocabulary, figurative language, and theme. For homework I plan to assign the students to complete a crossword I found at https://wordmint.com/public_puzzles/76203. They can then have a fun way to study before taking the assessment for the novel.
We are starting the novel The Phantom Tollbooth by Morton Juster next week. During this book we will discuss vocabulary and other story elements. I will also be introducing the Notice and Note Signposts for Fiction during this novel. I have some Google documents for students to complete. Watch for freebies starting next week on that book.
For writing, we have been learning about the writing process. The tool I used to create a prompt was taken from Text Structures from Fairy Tales: Truisms That Help Students Write About Abstract Concepts and Live Happily Ever After, Grades 4-12 by Gretchen Bernabei and Judi Reimer. I read the Little Red Riding Hood tale and had them think about distractions for Red Riding Hood.
After we discussed this structure with Red Riding Hood, I asked the students to think about a time they were distracted at school or at home. They completed the text structure with their answers. Then I told them they were going to go beyond that organizer and write a story. I even added another twist. They had to use candy names for the characters and setting.
Students have busy on these stories for two weeks now. Last week we did a peer feedback session. During the feedback session students were challenged to find the text structure of the distraction based on the structure we learned. Then they had to look for problem and solution, word choice, complete sentences, and of course spelling and punctuation. Once feedback was given students went to work making improvements. The next step is to conference with me before publishing. ‘
Here is the assignment as shown to them in Google classroom for publishing.
Yes, I know I have set high expectations for this assignment. However, I would not want it any other way.
I am attaching the rubric for your use. I found a similar rubric out on the web and just modified it slightly for my use. When the stories are published, I plan to have an author party. I will invite the admin team to come here the stories.
In sixth grade we focus on world geography. We recently wrapped up a unit of five themes of geography. After I introduced the five themes, I had students complete an assignment with a partner. The assignment was to research two places and decide which would be the best based on the five themes of geography for survival in a zombie apocalypse. I will attach a freebie lesson here. However, I did use a document as well I bought a few years back from TpT. You can find that specific one on https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Surviving-the-Zombie-Apocalypse-using-the-Five-Themes-of-Geography-1570375. I made the final decision a Google document so students could type their answers. I will attach a few of these student responses.
This past week we started landforms. I am attaching my Level Up unit. It is based on the concept of Layered Curriculum. You can look up information at http://www.help4teachers.com/how.htm.
I have a visual board in my classroom to track which level students are in. I am debating creating a step before oral defense can happen.
I am so glad I made the decision to head back into the classroom. I am enjoying the learning that I see happening. Of course, I am doing things somewhat more differently now that I am integrating more technology with Google Classroom. No matter what each day brings, I bring in my best. I also make sure each day the students know that they can move the impossible to the possible.
Thanks to people like @support_a_teach on Twitter and many others on Facebook the movement to help teachers clear a wish list started. The movement is in full swing. I have had one item cleared from my list - a picture book. I love getting books and giving books. I purchased several books for educators, most as an anonymous gifted because I do what I can without needing recognition.
My list can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3P19PPLSYF0B5?ref_=wl_share
If you cannot fund mine, please consider another teacher in the #clearthelist movement. Every book, pencil, or other wish list item supports America's kids.
August is always a busy time of year for educators. We scurry on our path to make sure our room and our resources are ready to go for the class full of students we will be fortunate enough to teach. As this August approached, I was starting a new role. This role put me back in the classroom to instruct students. I will miss my role in curriculum and professional development, but I am deeply appreciative to be teaching our young minds once again.
I am a proud teacher of grade six English language arts and geography here in Missouri.
Please note, I started this new blog back in the early summer with the intention to keep it rolling each week. However, I wanted to give 100% to my new role and spent my time with valuable planning and prep. Now, I am on track and plan to post at least one blog, no l entry, no less than every other week.
Everyone loves to share classroom pictures. Since I had not been doing much work since Thanksgiving, I was on a limited budget and could not go as creative as I would have liked. I do feel that my room is simple, and I kept it organized.
As far as theme goes, I choose to use an Alice in Wonderland theme. As I teach sixth graders, I choose to align the décor and concepts to the Tim Burton version and not the Disney version.
Now there are teachers who have opinions that décor should not be the focus. However, I like to immerse my students into my theme. I used to do this with pencil and paper tasks or literature. But I decided to try something new. I am trying to gamify my classroom. I am excited about the fresh style and hope to expand the comfort level of others as I implement it this year. I tell you this so you can understand the images in my photo gallery of my classroom. The large display in the back is where students will add their avatars as they level up.
I have two groups of students I hare with my partner teacher. The two groups are considered the Tweedles. One group is Tweedle Dee and the other Tweedle Dum.
Another special note about décor I that you might notice Snoopy and the gang from time to time. Snoopy became a class mascot many years back and stuck. Since then, no matter what theme I select, Snoopy is a part of it. My nephew, Zack, contributed the Mad Hatter Snoopy that is displayed in my classroom.
In my class, I also have a display of pictures related to my life. I asked the students to create a one-pager about themselves as part of a back to school task. They did great with this. I also had them write me a letter about what they liked about reading, what their favorite types of books are, and how they learn best. One thing they were required to include were their DNA: Dreams, Needs, and Abilities. This helps me get to know what drives them each day. In addition to that, it helps me provide more personalized learning opportunities.
My hallway display is designed to include the five students from each group that are the top players. This is the leader board. The students created avatar names using an adjective that started with the same letter as their first name and their first name. For example; Delightful Daisy. By the way, I have no students named Daisy. 😊
So, this year I am trying to do things as paper free as possible. I have set up Google Classroom for each of my content areas. Google Classroom is new to me as well so I am sure you will get to grow through my trial and errors with the application. This past week I spent implementing a worksheet I purchased off TeachersPayTeachers on the 5 Themes of Geography. The students are learning how to make a copy and submit assignments. We are doing well with this.
I also created a rubric, based on something I had used in the past, for interactive notebooks. While they still do these the old-fashioned way in a notebook, the rubric is submitted, and I grade and record feedback directly in Google Classroom. It is going well.
Another item I put on the Google Classroom each day is a daily agenda. This agenda allows students to reference what was done throughout the day. Additionally, if students are absent, they can access these agendas if they have internet at home to see what they might have missed. I am working to improve the content of these agendas as it continues to roll out. For example, I make sure the learning target for the day is on each content related slide.
Each Wednesday I get to spend it with my homeroom. During this time, I plan to implement team building activities, use it as a time to practice school wide procedures for the PBIS, or as needed for “catch up” work.
Our first Wednesday homeroom together, groups were assigned to save Fred. You all know the fantastic STEM activity with the gummy worm and lifesaver. Well I enhanced it with a little story to set the tone.
Save Fred Story:
I have this friend named Fred. Now he is like most worms and enjoys the cool, moist dirt
on his skin as he crawls forward and backwards though the dirt. He is an invertebrate that
enjoys the moonlight. Fred even enjoys his job as a farmer and recycling nutrients into
the soil. But Fred is a little on the adventurous side.
So, he built a boat and decided to go sailing. He sailed off into the ocean blue without
telling anyone or checking the weather. Worst yet, it is hurricane season. So, when a gust
of wind swept past and capsized the boat, poor Fred was in trouble. You see, earthworms
can survive several days in fresh water, but saltwater is another story. If his boat sinks,
there will be no hope for Fred. So, he needs your help desperately before his boat
completely sinks. Can you help Fred retrieve his life preserver; put it on, and save him?
Your job is to place the life preserver firmly around Fred’s body, but you must obey
1. Fred may not fall into the “sea” (onto the table) more than one time; if he
does, Fred “drowns.”
2. You may not injure him in any way.
3. You may use only the four paper clips to move Fred, move the boat, and move
the life preserver. You may not touch anything except the paper clips.
Reading Journals and Freebie
I am happy to announce that the students in my class had books in their hands the first full week of school. I have a great start to an awesome class library and the students got to check them out to practice reading.
And because we had books in our hands, we also started our reading journals. I have a few more left to score for this week, but the students are doing good at getting to the evidence to support their reading. Additionally, the students have great stamina to continue to read using our “real reading” behaviors.
To start the school year off right, I am including a freebie this week. It is a reading journal. There are 26 diverse ways students can respond to their own reading, all require evidence to support their thinking. There is a choice available for each letter of the alphabet” Apple of my Eye to Zombie Apocalypse. This is typically a product I would have available on TeachersPayTeachers, but for my readers and followers it is absolutely free.
As you venture out to start your year, please follow me and be a part of my journey as well. Great educators become excellent by sharing and learning together. I also will include many freebies for reading and geography both. Share this blog with friends so they can also benefit from collaboration and freebies.
Final note, I am a curriculum geek. If you have an idea but not sure what way to run with it or what books to use, shoot me a message and let’s see what we can produce.
Growing up in a family of five children, I was always the nerd of the group. I loved books. I could not wait to dive into the next new book I could get my hands on in the school library. Reading to me was an escape. I loved the adventures I went on and the new friends I made as I read about new characters, new world, and innovative technologies.
One of the books that really took me to a new level of thinking about the world was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle. This was my first book in the Science Fiction genre. I was hooked by the innovative ideas and the puzzles presented in the story.
This is a terrific book to use as a whole class shared reading. It could also be taught as a read aloud. I will say that the topic and language can be more complex, so I think shared reading would be proper at grades 5 and higher, while a read aloud would be perfect for fourth graders. I would not recommend this book for lower grade levels.
What do I mean about visual setting? Well, quite simply, it is a visualization strategy that will allow the readers to track how the setting changes throughout the story. As a class shared reading, I would have student create these visuals in their journals, but also as a class visual tracking tool to display as we read.
Across the content
Freebie: Focus Questions for A Wrinkle in Time
A quick note about this freebie. First, the questions are taken from various resources I found throughout the years that I taught the book. They are just a start to the wonderful thinking that can happen throughout the book. Since I used these questions from multiple sources, I cannot give proper credit where it is due for all the questions. For this, I apologize. I always like to give credit where it is due.
Second, the focus questions are for student discussion, rather than independent work. Students should discuss what they are reading with peers. This discussion challenges the student's thinking and allows them to grow as a deeper reader.
Links with more resources:
A Reading Guide, Available from Scholastic can be found here
Readworks - A Wrinkly in Time 6th Grade unit, found here
Wrinkle in Time Board game can be found here
Notice and Note Signposts
As you think about incorporating the signposts in your classroom with a Wrinkle in Time, remember, that the best way to get students engaged is to let them find the signposts as they read. Here is a quick chart that will provide one question for each of the fiction signposts. Encourage deep reading for the students; however, we also need to model for them as they read to help develop deeper conversation and comprehension. The signpost for this book were found by me or my former students.
There is so much potential for any good story, but this one is among my favorite. I hope that if you choose to use A Wrinkle in Time, that you enjoy each page of the book with your students.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog this week. Please follow for more great education ideas. I will include book connections, social studies integration, other content connections, and in August many things happening in my own classroom. Please follow and share with others who might be interested.
This is one of the posts from my older blog. I could not let it just set and collect dust in a dark internet corner. So, I am adding it here on the current blog. There is however, one update. I have created an escape room activity that can be used after reading this book. Since you are reading this blog, I am embedding a link for that activity, which is currently free in my TpT store. It is free because it is my very first attempt at an escape room and I would like feedback. I would love to know how it looks, how easy it was for students, and if the time needs to be adjusted. Heck, I am not perfect and while I ran spell check, I may have overlooked something, please let me know.
Who doesn't love a good mystery? Well when it comes to this book, The Westing Game, I know one person who did not like it. She was a reading specialist in the district. However, I never let that sway me. In the end, my fourth and fifth grade students loved it. As it turns out, it is one of my top favorite novels for students.
I am going to walk you through exactly how I used the book in my own classroom with some slight upgrades. Specifically, to the Notice and Note signposts that I have, sense learned. In the fall when I start back in the classroom, with sixth grade students, I will use this book and the Escape Room I mentioned.
P.S. I will never give away the details of a story. That journey is for you to take on your own. I tell you this because some might take caution in reading to avoid spoilers -- there will be no spoilers here. Please note if you download the Escape Room and go through it, there are spoilers there.
When I first introduce a book or genre, I want to set the stage. What is fun about this specific book is that there have been over six different covers created. I would use this to my advantage. The strategy that is great for this type of activity is a gallery walk. Just a quick side-note here, if you have been to any of my workshops I have done in the past year, you had the opportunity to engage in this strategy firsthand. Throughout my workshops, I did these two separate ways, mainly because wall space was limited. The first way is to have students work groups and visit each book cover poster. Here they would discuss what they think the book will be about based on the pictures on each cover. The second way I have done this is to put two quite different covers side by side and have the groups use both covers to decide what they think the book will be about.
Here are those book covers.
Now that we have walked through the gallery walk, I want to reel my students in to the genre. Therefore, before they walk into class the next day, I will set up a crime scene. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest on doing this, but you must make it fit your students. I know this book very well so I can have a lot of fun with this. On another note, please read this book carefully before you try to use it in your classroom. It is a lot of fun, but it can be overly complex.
Next, I wanted full participation; therefore, I decided to have the students read this book as if it were a script. There are 16 characters being accused of a crime, plus one lawyer, a handful of police and firefighters, and one Barney Northrup. If you have read The Westing Game, you can notice why I added that one little clue. Sorry, no spoilers, you will just have to read the book for yourself to notice the clue. Therefore, each student was assigned a part to read. What a wonderful way to keep the student focused on the text, but better yet, what a wonderful way for them to interact directly with the characters. I had students visualize hat his or her character look like and sketch it on a poster. I believe in education, that collaboration and support are key, so I am posting a product created by Jaclyn McCullough that I have used previously for character sketches. Just click here.
Time to dive right in the book:
If you are not familiar with the Notice and Note Signposts by Dr. Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, I highly recommend you check out their work. You can also visit this website to learn a little more. The best way to sum up the signposts is that they are deeper, more intentional questions to get students to stop, interact, and reflect with the character and setting, the plot or information of the story, and the theme or main idea. When we go deep in a text and connect to the story, we walk away with a much more meaningful experience.
I found this great chart here. I hope this will give you a quick overview. I also added an anchor chart for the nonfiction version of the Contrast and Contradiction signpost intentionally.
Personally, I would teach across the disciplines the same language. Largely because sometimes the nonfiction version relates to a fiction text. Let me show you how.
I want my students to find the Contrasts and contradiction within the first few paragraphs of The Westing Game. However, I need them to be able to understand that I am not specifically referencing a character here, but I am wondering specifically why the author used the language. So, I would frame the questions in both fiction and nonfiction language.
Now, based on my experience with teachers during my workshop, I can predict which ones you would point out as Contrast and Contradictions. I will include them at the very end, so no one peeks now that you are trying to find them. :)
I will tell you I would love to spend more time on signposts here, especially since there are several Aha Moments present in this text, but I am afraid I would spoil the reading experience for you. I will tell you that if you read the book and want me to help you out with the signposts there, I can correspond with you privately.
While we did a quick glance at a signpost, we did not take away the element of surprise. Trust me when you have a murderer, a thief, a bookie, a bomber, and a mistake all in one book it makes for an interesting puzzle to solve and keeps you hooked into reading. So, I will move back into strategies you can add to your teaching toolkit for this novel. Since you are still reading, I guess the information is helpful in some way to you as an educator. I will post that link soon, but, I hope you consider really using this book in your own classroom.
As my class moved through this maze of characters and crimes, my students get hooked into solving the mysteries. The Westing Game is such a great novel for making inferences. I challenge students to work in teams to solve all the crimes. It is a lot of fun. Of course, I must teach my students skills of good detectives:
For those of you still reading, here is the link for that escape room: Who Killed Sam Westing?
Please leave feedback and let me know how your students liked it. Would love to see pictures of it in action. P.S. It will not be free forever. Keep reading for another freebie.
Extending Learning in other contents
There are other learning opportunities. You can discuss the court system. You can have students learn some geography by finding the location of Sunset Towers using clues in the text. Not to mention, this is a fantastic opportunity to bring in Chess to lessons or start a Chess club. Chess is a strategic game and an integral part of this story.
I hope that you walk away from this blog with innovative ideas and/or a great urge to read a new book. These strategies of course, are not limited to this text, they are simply good strategies. I have mentioned in other blog posts that we have to pull students back into stories and books. We know that a story can lead us on a grand adventure. Stories give us a new sense of words, language, culture, and much more. Each week I will try to post about a new book or strategy with innovative ideas. Once school starts in August I will share the innovative ideas I implement in my own classroom. Please share this blog with fellow educators. To explore more updates and freebies follow me here and on Twitter @CrazyCurrChic
For those of you curious, as promised, here are those Contrast and Contradictions that great teachers in my workshops found: delivery boy = 62 years old, Sunset Towers faced East = sun sets in the west, everybody knows that = do they?, Sunset towers = no towers, empty=tenants, chosen tenants=people usually choose where to live, Barney Northrup signed the letters=no such person as Barney Northrup
Freebie of the Week
One of my favorite subjects to teach is United States history. There is so much to be taught regarding how we became a nation and how we keep our independence. I love teaching social studies because it is flexible and allows for some hands-on application. Since I am preparing to present on this topic, I thought it would be nice to again post related to the presentation itself – using literacy skills to teach social studies. As with last week's post, this is not the book I will be addressing during the presentation.
I chose for this week the mentor text, The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it. I will be discussing a quite unique way to implement this book than maybe you have heard or seen before, but I believe that when we take the opportunity to share stories our students can make solid connections to the learning.
I recently was in a classroom and used this book on the spur of the moment. I read the story and did a think aloud. At the end of the story, I had students discuss what surprised them most about the story. This was the first time the students were posed that specific question about a text. The discussions were real and meaningful. The students were very engaged. Students did not have the opportunity that day to complete an AR assessment over that book, but within two days of it being shared with them, they did take an AR quiz and they were happy to tell me they were all scoring 100%. First thing I will say here is that I am not a big proponent of AR -- no further comments about the program here either. Second thing I will say is that when we allow students to interact in meaningful ways with a text, we should not be surprised that they understand the story well.
I did decide this week that I should include the learning target I am specifically addressing. This may not be the explicit language of your standards, but it can guide you to writing a learning target based on your specific state standards for social studies.
This lesson will focus on understanding character traits.
I am excited to share with you a freebie this week. The graphic organizer that I will be using for this week’s post is available for sale in my TPT store. However, I want to share it with my readers for free.
Engage the Mind: https://vimeo.com/150641082 Flocabulary video. If you do not subscribe, there are some free videos on YouTube.
Recapture Previous Learning: Earlier in the year, you most likely taught plot. If not, then plot should come before this lesson.
Now some might say that you cannot teach plot, until students understand characters. Well, that is just not the case. You see, plot does not necessarily go into character changes, it just outlines the story. To learn plot, students must understand that a story has characters, settings, problems, and solutions. Character development comes later and is important to understand the plot and how the role of rising action plays into character develop throughout the story.
Dive Right In: Tell the students that you plan to share a story with them today called “the Sweetest Fig.” Tell them that as you read, they need to complete the graphic organizer about Monsieur Bibot.
Before starting, introduce the graphic organizer and discuss the directions. Students should understand the difference between a major character and a minor character. As you read, make sure that you show the illustrations slowly and allow time for students to observe what they think Monsieur Bibot looks like so they can describe his character.
The students need to understand the categories listed: see, do, think, and feel. They need to understand that what the character sees, does, thinks, or feels may not be written but can be seen in illustrations. As educators, we know that inferences can also be made, but we have to consider the overall task when we bring inferences into the mix. If you want to include inferences, make sure you tell students this and supply an example of how they could write that in their graphic organizer.
Get Your Hands Dirty: Read the story and have students complete the graphic organizer. Be sure to show illustrations and allow time for students to add to their chart between some of the pages.
Allow time for the students to include an answer to “How does the character make you feel?”
When you are done with the story, the students should be put in groups or 3-5 students each. With their graphic organizer in hand they are going to discuss the following focus questions:
Capture what You Learned Today (Exit Ticket): In two to three sentences describe how you feel about how the author ended the story. Do you think about Monsieur Bibot’s actions throughout the story? Explain your thinking.
Learning Target: I can understand how a person’s characteristics impact events in history.
Essential Question: What might have changed in the outcomes of the early colonies and the American Revolution if King George III had different traits? What might have changed in the outcomes for Marcel if Monsieur Bibot had different traits?
During this time, you should be teaching specifically about the tension between the colonies and Britain. This includes the events that led to the American Revolution.
This is also a lesson I would teach after they have had the reading lesson specific to the book, or at least specific to show character traits.
Engage the Mind: (to be done the day prior to using the mentor text) The Kings M&Ms – This is an awesome activity. If your school does not allow food items, you can supplement with other items.
Alternate Reflection sheet:
Recapture Previous Learning: Emoji Activity. On an index card or a half sheet of paper, ask students to draw an emoji that captures their reaction from the previous day’s activity. Next to the emoji they need to write 1 to 3 sentences explaining why they felt that way in relation to the activity. Ask a few students to share. For time sake, I have a general rule which I call the Rule of 3. I always allow three students to share and then I move on. Alternatively, you can ask the students to share their emoji and thinking with another classmate, so everyone shares.
Dive Right In: Place students into groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a large sheet of paper. On the paper, the students will create a T-Chart. On one side of the T-Chart they need to write King George III as shown. They will discuss in their groups characteristics of King George III and add those in the column under King George III.
Tell the students to return to their own seats. In my classroom, I would pull the students to an area I had set up for read aloud time. Even in a social studies class this gives students the opportunity for that personal connection of a read aloud as versus sitting in their own seats.
Get Your Hands Dirty: Tell the students that you plan to share a story with them called “the Sweetest Fig.” As you read, they are going to write character traits about Monsieur Bibot on a sticky note independently.
After you have finished reading, they will get back into their groups and add the character traits of Monsieur Bibot to their T-Charts.
In their groups, have them discuss the traits that King George III and Monsieur Bibot have in common or that may be quite different. To do this pose the following focus questions:
Teachers: Character traits of Monsieur Bibot include:
Capture what You Learned Today (Exit Ticket): Snowstorm. Students write down what their response to the following prompt: How can one person’s attitudes/traits affect history? When done writing their response students crumple their paper into a ball. Given a signal, they throw their paper snowballs in the air. Then each learner picks up a nearby response and reads it aloud.
The process: I can tell you during this unit, I would be having the students work on a cause and effect essay of the American Revolution. I narrow the topic for them of the cause and effect essay because I want to refine the process for them. You could even narrow it down further to be the cause and effect of a specific event, say the Boston Tea Party.
Now, we can talk about structure here. I believe that students must be afforded the right to do some free choice writing, however, the significance of understanding text structure, needs some formulaic writing in this instance. Now, I will not tell them how many paragraphs per say, but that each cause they name has to have one paragraph explaining that cause and the effect that occurred.
For the sake of this activity, with the mentor text The Sweetest Fig, there is a mini-lesson related to the cause and effect essay. This is not the entire essay process.
Here is an outline of what mini-lessons I would teach for a cause and effect essay:
The mini-lesson I will dive into today is to determine the cause and effect relationships to include in the essay. This is a brainstorming activity.
Engage the Mind: Show this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbFQP8_6yo0 and discuss what role each person played in everyone falling down.
Recapture Previous Learning: What is cause and effect? What clue words help you determine the cause? What clue words help you determine the effect? In the video, how many effects can you name? (example the dog broke off its leash and started running, knocking someone over, then that person dropped their groceries, _____________)
Dive Right In: Share the story, The Sweetest Fig. Have them complete a cause and effect chain for the story as you read. It is ideal to have read this story previously, so you avoid any spoilers for the ending.
Pass out a cause and effect chain. You can find one you prefer on the internet. You can see a complete cause and effect chain here for the
Get Your Hands Dirty: Now that we have created a cause and effect chain about Monsieur Bibot, you will do the same about the American Revolution. Start with King George.
The cause is that King George wanted to tax and control the colonies to pay for debt.
Allow students time to work independently and with a classmate to complete their cause and effect chain.
Capture what You Learned Today (Exit Ticket): Tweet a Response summarizing how using a cause and effect chain helps you in organizing cause and effect relationships.
Want to read more posts like this, subscribe. I will be adding many other great lessons with books soon.
My life journey is that of a mother, wife, grandmother, weenie dog owner, blogger, conference speaker, mini-farmer, writer and an occasional mistake maker with over 24 years in education. Follow me on Twitter @CrazyCurrChic