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.
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I signed a contract to teach grade 6 English Language Arts and Social Studies next school year. I am excited about going back into the classroom!
I have always hated the interview process. I hate talking about myself. But, recently I had been thrust back into the whole interview process since I needed to find my next journey. One thing I will say about interviews, you can usually get a feel for what the culture of the organization will be from the interview process.
Interview A - teaching position: I had three administrators in the room interviewing me. They all started the interview off by introducing themselves and explaining what grade levels they were looking to place teachers for the coming school year. They had solid questions. When it came to my turn to ask questions, I hit them with a question that is highly relevant to me: What is your curriculum philosophy? They had solid answers that clearly showed they understand the role of curriculum in the success of students.
Interview B - Curriculum Director position: I had the district superintendent and two other administrators in the room. The superintendent introduced herself when she came out to greet me, the others did not introduce themselves. The questions were being read off of a scripted list of robotic questions. Again, when it came to my turn to ask questions, I hit them with a question that is highly relevant to me: What is your curriculum philosophy? They did not have solid answers and what understanding they shared showed me that clearly, they understood what resources were, but not curriculum. So, I followed that question up with one about professional development: What role does this position play in professional development so there is a connection between the curriculum and the professional opportunities of teachers? Unfortunately, they again really did not have a clear answer. In fact, it sounded as if their PD was not really interconnected with the curriculum.
Looking at those two experiences, in order from when they occurred, can you take a guess at which position I chose? I chose to take the classroom teacher position that was offered from my experience in interview A. Culture is an important part of where you choose to continue your journey, if there is ever any uncertainty, then it is probably best to not accept that journey.
That being said, my journey for the 2019-2020 school year will be with sixth grade, communication arts. Where better to be then positively impacting literacy!
Once upon a time I had a blog! But as with all good things, and with the best of intentions, the blog was not maintained on a regular basis. And, unfortunately, it was not meeting the purpose. You see, I am a firm believer in sharing with other educators. I wanted the blog to be a place to share great ideas. Believe me, when I put ideas there, people read them, but it just was not meeting the purpose at the rate I wanted. So best intentions aside, sometimes it is just best to start from scratch.
That being said, the really good posts from the other blog, will find their way here. On this blog you can expect to find awesome curriculum and instructional practices I have incorporated or will be incorporating. Since moving back to Missouri, I am now looking to get hired by a local district. The work I do there will serve as a catalyst for new information.
Post will include all subjects, with strategies you can use, and possible freebies for most grade levels. I have been serving the elementary community, but high impact strategies are not limited to elementary grades. Sometimes I will post simply about a great new teaching resource and best ways to implement the ideas into your classrooms. If you like what you read, please share, and follow. If you don't like what you read, please politely read a different person's blog. This blog is meant as a sharing tool, freely given ideas and freely give time, not a site for negative comments about TpT, academic programs that are used in school (even if you do not like them -- they are being used in some schools), etc.
I am open to suggestions for books or topics at any time. Just use the contact form and send me those ideas. I love new adventures!
I look forward to sharing information and resources with a global network.
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