Sunday, February 23, 2014

Literacy Stations: A Love/Hate Relationship

Hi All! 
 I don't know about you, but I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with literacy stations. 
(Disclosure...  Not all of my stations are "Literacy" stations.  Some of my stations are math and content stations.  I call them "Literacy Stations" because that is what I find easiest...  I guess just 'stations' would be even easier... oh well!) 

Arvin, Kern County, California. Co-op store and gas station established December 1939 in the Arvin F . . . - NARA - 521769
Cool old picture! Stations... stations...  there is a connection here somewhere.  
I love the small group interactions, the ability to have small groups of students practice skills learned in class,  the time to work with individuals or small groups while the rest of the class is working independently (fingers crossed), and the chance to let my students develop their independence and problem solving skills.

I hate the initial time consuming organization and planning.  I especially hate the first couple of days when I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to make sure everyone understands what they are suppose to be doing. It seems that, even though I have very clear directions on each station folder and have given, what I think, are very clear instructions, some students still struggle with figuring it all out.  I find myself parroting, "Did you read the directions?" a million times.
Multicolored parrot face (7767885876)
Its like looking in a mirror!

Luckily, the dependence and insecurity, for most students, only lasts the first several days of literacy stations.  Soon the kiddos get the hang of it.  Students who have been at that station step in and explain if needed, and when I walk around and check in on each group I usually get the thumbs-up and a "We've got this, Mrs. D." and that make me feel so proud of them!

I've been doing literacy stations for years now.  You'd think I would have it all under control, but I am just not that kind of person.  I started Literacy stations when I was teaching 5th grade and came across this book:
For those of you who are new to literacy station or are just curious, I'll share with you how I run literacy stations in my class.  I usually don't start literacy stations until mid-year.  I don't believe my 4th graders are ready for it until then, and I have a lot of group teaching I need to do to prepare them for what they will be practicing.

I start by figuring out how many groups I'll need.  I have 33 students this year, so I have 11 stations with 3 kiddos in each station.
Forgive the EAR...  It is for a speaking lesson...  Speak to the ear!  
I make each student a name magnet with colorful card stock and labels.  I don't laminate them... they don't get moved much.  Instead, when I am switching literacy stations, I rotate the magnet with the name of the station.  This save me a bunch of shuffling!

For each station I have a folder with a clear pocket on the front.  I insert the station objectives/goals and instructions into the clear pocket so that students can easily see and read what the expectations are and I put all of the materials inside.   I originally started with just ordinary file folders stapled at the side, but recently just purchased folder pockets that I will be using instead.  These will help keep each station's materials all in one place!

In the morning, when students come into the room, they take their attendance using Class Dojo, check in homework, sharpen pencils, etc.  and then they get their station folders and get to work.
Here are some of the stations that I have going this round:

Homophone Practice

Figurative Language Sort

Adjective Order Activity

Science Film - Volcanoes

Great use for old technology.  I have some wonderful Eyewitness VCR tapes and I had an old tv/vcr combo gathering dust in my attic.  The kiddos think it is "vintage".  

Raz-Kids Reading

The Private Eye - Science Investigation

Proof It!  Editing Game

Buddy Post Card Writing - Practicing Letter Form

Content Reading - Using Think Marks to code the text

Reading Comprehension

IXL Math

After about 25 minutes at stations, students are given time to fill out their Literacy Station Reflections.  I "randomly" collect 10 a day to look over and at the end of the rotation of all 11 stations I collect them.  
Click HERE to download this FREE Literacy Station Reflection Form  

When planning for the next rotation, I keep several of the same stations, but add in new ones.  My next round I plan on trading the Figurative Language sort for another activity I found on TpT, changing out the grammar stations for different ones, and adding in some practice activities for the upcoming state testing (ugh!).

Now that my class and I are almost finished with the first rotation of Literacy Stations my HATE toward them is waning and I am hoping that on this next round I will fall in LOVE again.  Students will be more familiar with the routine and several of the stations and I will be able to spend less time getting everyone going and more time meeting with individual kiddos.

How do you feel about stations in your classroom?  Do you use them?  If so, I'd love to get some ideas from you about what kind of things you are doing or some great resource ideas!  If you have a wonderful TpT product that would work well for 3rd - 5th graders, feel free to add it to your comment below!

Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Off Kilter... Trying to Regain My Balance

Hi All!  Well, it has been a crazy week!  Here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest we had snow days last Friday and then again on Monday.  On the Thursday before, we were gently prodded to get out of our rooms by 3:00 so that the building could be locked up and everyone could get home safely.

Needless to say, that set me up for a very unorganized week!  I'm one of those people that when others look at my work and how I handle my class they think I am a very organized person...  but inside my own mind and my own expectations, I'm a royal mess!  I need time to plan out and process,  so when my schedule is messed with I find myself off kilter.

Luckily, this year I have one of those classes that are mostly able to go with the flow.  Maybe, to them, I didn't seem as crazy as I felt inside my own head.  Luckily, I had some tricks up my sleeve to get me through the week.

1.  My biggest concern was my science unit.  We are learning about Earth Changes and I needed something to help me teach erosion and weathering.  Ta Da...  bring on TpT and The Science Penguin!  I came across a couple of products at her store that saved my bacon!

2.  I had just introduced literature circles to my class the week before and the students were excited to crack open the brand new novels we received through generous parent donations on  I had to offer support and problem solve with some literature circle groups, but overall, my students have been diligently reading and discussing their new books in preparation for their meetings next week.
Literature Circles - Click to go to my TpT store for more information!

3.  For writing students were finishing up their creative writing stories about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery from my Roll of the Dice Historical Figures product.  Students are working on a variety of final products such as comic strips, poems, newspaper articles, and picture books.  Each of the pieces has a "literary theme" associated with it, so I am excited to have the authors share their work this week.

Roll of the Dice Creative Writing - Click to go to my TpT store for more information!
4.  I've started stations in my class first thing in the mornings.  When my students come in to class they spend the first 10 minutes checking in home-work, sharpening their pencils, and other AM business.  Then they settle in to their literacy station.  I have 11 literacy stations with 3 students in each station.  I have a variety of activities for students to work on.   Two of the activities I have going are products in my TpT store.  The first is my Figurative Language Scoot and Sort and the other is from my Adjective Order Mini-unit.

5.  To add to the chaos, Friday was Valentine's Day!!!!  Luckily I had my Valentine's Day Card FREEBIE on hand to give to the kids along with a Hershey's Hug.  :)  The kids were more excited for the included homework pass than the candy!

All in all, it was a fast paced, whirlwind of a week!  I'm so glad that I have a three day weekend (Thank you Mr. Presidents!) to catch up, BREATH, and plan for the following week!  Luckily, I had TpT to help keep me afloat!

Do you have any great products or ideas that you pull out when you are feeling overwhelmed?  If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!  If you are the first to comment, click "no comments"  to open a comment box!

Thank you for visiting!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Supporting Comprehension Through Interactive Read Aloud

Hi All!  If you caught my post a couple of weeks ago, you know that I am trying out a new way to share read aloud with my students this year.  Interactive read aloud has been one of the best changes I have made to my reading block.

A quick summary of what interactive read aloud is:  The students and I all have the same book and the students have their reading journals and a pencil.  We meet on the carpet in a discussion circle.  I read aloud as the students follow along.  I create a lot of charts, stop for predictions and to clarify vocabulary or ideas running through the book.  There is a lot of discussion during the reading... thus the interactive part.

We've read several books together during our read aloud time so far this year, but I want to focus this post on the one we are reading right now, "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead.

Now, I had read this book before and loved the twists and turns and the mystery of what was going on.  You really have to follow along and think with this book.  I was a little nervous about how my class would react to it, but the Sagittarius in me said, "Go for it!".  So I did.

I was right...  My fourth graders were confused...  and intrigued.  We talked about how it is okay to be confused at first.  The author wants you a bit confused and wants you to ask yourself questions.  You have to keep reading, have perseverence.  The author will give you clues and reveal more as you go along.

After reading the first few chapters, we created a chart of the questions they had about the book up to that point.

Then I asked them what is the BIGGEST question?  The one that is really bothering you?  They decided that the big questions, the thing that confused them the most, is who is YOU?  Who is Miranda talking to?  We created a web with that question in the middle.  As we read the story, we added clues to the web.

As we continued to read each day, we added questions or when we found the answer to a question we wrote it on our chart.

Another question my students had was about the cover.  What did all the objects on the cover mean?  They had a lot of different theories and amazing insights.  The cover of this book has been an amazing aid to my students' comprehension.  They love to predict what the items mean and then when an item pops up in the story they are very excited.

There is one part of the book where Miranda is talking about her mother's theory about "veils". 

"Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way. But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there's a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to. Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don't have to depend on the wind anymore.” 

When I read that to my students I had to stop.  I knew that some of my students wouldn't grasp the weight of that statement or the implications it might have on the story.  I reread the passage slowly and asked each student to really think about what it said.  

I then summarized it into my own words and shared a personal story about my "veil".  I shared with my class how, when I was in fourth grade, my parents got divorced.  In my mind everything was great.  I never paid much attention, as a nine year old, to what was going on between my mom and dad until that happened.  Sadly, my veil was lifted.  

While I was telling this story, I noticed one of my students nodding her head.  I asked her if she wanted to share what she was thinking.  She told that class that she could connect to what I had said.  She hadn't really paid much attention to her parents marriage until they got divorced.  

That was a powerful moment for me and for many members of my class and it never would have happened if I had been just "reading aloud" in the traditional sense.   There was more discussion about "veils" and we started to wonder if Miranda had a veil about what was going on around her.  We are still waiting to find out.  

Phew... that was deep... let's move on.  Another chart I use with my class is my Plot chart.  I have used it several times this year and it has become very valuable during read aloud time.  My students have decided that we have not yet reached the "climax" of the book.  They are anxiously waiting for that to happen.  

We've had to take a few days off from our interactive read aloud time for assessments.  The students were getting impatient and kept asking, "Do we get to have read aloud today?".  I was just as excited as they were when we started our reading again on Thursday.  

I keep thinking that, if I had just handed my class this book and said go read this, or just had the book myself and read it to them, many of my students would have checked out by now.  The interaction between the students, myself, the charts, and the book have made an amazing difference in their comprehension of this book.  

Using interactive read aloud has made a huge impact on me as a teacher. It is a powerful tool in supporting my students comprehension of meaningful text.  The ultimate goal is for these fourth graders to take the strategies we have implemented and practiced while reading this book and use them in their independent work.  I have already seen evidence of this in their reading journals and am excited to see what happens as we continue throughout the year.  

If you have any questions regarding my use of interactive read aloud or have experience with it in your own classroom, please feel free to comment below!   I would love to hear from you!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ordering Adjectives and a Skull

Ordering adjectives can be a difficult concept to teach and learn!  Blog post with ordering a
It is hard for me to believe that the school year is halfway over... We are sending out 1st semester progress reports this week instills in me a sense of anxiety over all all the curriculum I still have to teach and so little time to teach it in.

Today we tackled one of our fourth grade Common Core standards...  ordering adjectives....  (Psssst... I have a little secret...  I didn't even realize that there was a correct "order" to adjectives! Please don't hold that against me.)

To start the mini-unit I needed something really interesting to grab the class's attention...  When I found what I was looking for I hid it under this box...   the kiddos were very curious... trying to peak under it.

To start the lesson, we did a quick review of nouns and adjectives and then I told my class I had a special "noun" hidden under the box... drumroll please....
Ordering adjectives can be a difficult concept to teach and learn!  Blog post with ordering a
I found this guy hiding up on a shelf in our science lab.  The class was very excited...  After a volunteer told me what this "noun" is...  a skull...  I let the class know that they now needed to work together in their groups to brainstorm adjectives to describe. it.

Ordering adjectives can be a difficult concept to teach and learn!  Blog post with ordering a

 After the students brainstormed, they shared the top three adjectives from their group.  We created a web of all the amazing adjectives they came up with.
Ordering adjectives can be a difficult concept to teach and learn!  Blog post with ordering a

 I was so pleased by the creative and specific adjectives the kids brainstormed, especially ancient and delicate.

After we had finished the web, we then worked on sorting our adjectives into categories.  I explained the categories to the class and we added the adjectives to this chart:
Ordering adjectives can be a difficult concept to teach and learn!  Blog post with ordering a

There were some debates about some of the adjectives.  I loved hearing my students "respectfully disagree" with each other.  "I respectfully disagree with Tim because ..."

After the modeling and group work, now groups got their own "Mystery Object" to work with.  I handed out random items I had grabbed before I left the house this morning...  a penny, a piece of raw penne pasta, a frog candle holder, a over-ripe banana, just to name a few.   Students jumped right in creating a web of adjectives for their object.

They then worked together to sort their adjectives into categories, just like we did as a class.

Ordering adjectives can be a difficult concept to teach and learn!  Blog post with ordering a
These charts fold in half to form booklet that the students glued into their language arts journals.  

As a closing for the lesson, I had the reporter for each table group stand and share what their noun was.  They had to use a complete sentence and use more than one adjective.  

There are several things I really loved about this lesson: the interaction between group members, the respectful dabate, and the creative descriptors students came up with for the skull and their own objects.  But I think the thing I loved the most was when I hard a group of girls talking in the lunch line...  using a list of adjectives to describe each other.  "Here is my tall, dark, curly haired friend, Cami."

Tomorrow we are learning more specifically about how adjectives are ordered.  I have another  fun group activity for them to work on to practice.   I'll be sure to post how it went.

You can grab a copy of the Types of Adjectives booklet here:

If you are interested in the whole Ordering Adjectives Mini-unit, you can find it at my TpT store.  Not only does it have the two interactive, engaging lessons, but it also includes a literacy center support activity and an assessment

Thanks for visiting!