October 19

Literacy Activities That Boost Content Learning

Literacy Activities That Boost Content Learning

A MiddleWeb Blog

In classes like social studies and science, students are expected to do complex nonfiction reading, but how can we ensure that they retain the content so that they can transfer it for future use?

One method is to ask students to represent the information in different forms, helping them grow their ability to think flexibly and critically.

These activities fall under “generalization” on the learning hierarchy and push students to use the information in a new way, making it more useful, and therefore, harder to forget.

Understanding the Math We Teach

These are some of the strategies that I have used in my classes. I am eager to add to the list.

Blackout Summaries

Writing blackout poetry is a literacy activity that I’ve used successfully for many years. After reading an article, students use markers to cross out words, leaving only a poem that summarizes what they’ve read.

As with most art, constraints improve the output: limit the number of words that students can use in a row, or set a minimum or maximum number of words.

Once the activity is complete, I like to have each table group choose the best from their team and then hang those around the classroom for a gallery walk. When they see the commonalities between the poems, it reinforces the main ideas of the text.

Scrambled Sections

During our study of world religions, I wanted to ensure students thoughtfully read an article about the Dalai Lama. To get them talking and processing, I spaced the Newsela article into segments and cut it into strips.

In small groups, students read the sections and arranged them into what they thought was the correct order. Once they had read it through and were sure that they had it right, I gave them the original article, printed in a different color.

I liked the reasoning in student conversations that arose from this activity. As an observer, I was also able to see which students were using text features to achieve their goal.

Collaborative Responses

Each student in a table group gets their own color Post-it note, where they write their response to an open-ended question. They then share their responses with each other and decide upon the best, most thoughtful answer.

I would be careful with the pairings for this activity, as sometimes students assume they know who will have the best answer even when it isn’t the case. Each group then shares their chosen response with the class.

Tic Tac Tell

A student completes a Tic Tac Tell summary on the Nazca Lines.

I first learned about this activity from Glenn Weibe’s website many years ago. Vocabulary words related to the article are listed in a nine-block grid. Students then choose three words in a row to use in a paragraph summarizing their understanding. They highlight the selected words in the paragraph.

This would also be a fun way to start a class period by projecting a grid of nine important words from the previous lesson and asking students to share their understanding.

Rank the Evidence

Ask students to read an article or watch a video that has two perspectives; we watched the TED-Ed video on Genghis Khan as “Unifier or Tyrant.”

I gave students eight Post-its, four of each color, and asked them to write one piece of evidence per Post-it that supports each side of the argument. Next they ranked the evidence from strongest to weakest and decided which perspective was more convincing. The final step was to discuss their findings with a partner.

A Few More Quick Ideas

► After students read an article with the title removed, ask them to write what they think would be the best title for it and share with their table groups.

► Give students a photograph from history with conversation bubbles added. Ask them to practice perspective-taking and demonstrate understanding by adding dialogue to the image.

Source: History Tech

► Pair students up with a photo or image centered on a piece of blank paper. Ask them to have a silent, written conversation about what they notice or wonder. This is a great introductory activity that will give you insight into what the students already know about a topic.


► The Benefits of Deeper Learning: Retention, Transfer and Motivation by Natalie Saaris, 2017 at Actively Learn

► The Instructional Hierarchy: Linking Stages of Learning to Effective Instructional Techniques at Intervention Central

Civically Engaged
October 6

So many muches! Grammar errors and what they tell us about language development


When kids first begin talking, typically at around 12 months of age, they of course stick to the basics— very short phrases that convey basic wants, needs, and social routines.  Mama.  More.  Up.  Hi!  All-done.  Milk.  Doggy.  Bye-bye.  Oops!  These are mostly one-word phrases and are not pronounced perfectly.  Then, typically when children are between 1 ½ and 2 years old, they take an important step in language learning: making word combinations.  More milk.  Mama car.  Up Daddy.  No doggy.  The intended meaning of early phrases might not be very clear out of context (Mama car could mean “look, there’s mommy’s car” or “here mommy, take my toy car”), but a child at this stage of language development shows us that he is beginning to understand that words are units of meaning that can be combined in novel ways to creating novel meanings, as in Mama car.  Big car.  Car up.  Once we know a good number of words and understand our language’s grammar, we can combine words to generate phrases that explain anything we want.  That is, language is generative.  The possibilities are literally endless.

Sometime around 2 years old, children usually begin using grammatical morphemes, or the little parts of words that make our phrases grammatically complete, and can express nuances like tense and number.  One of the earliest in English is the present progressive -ing, as in crying, eating, going.  Regular plurals (cups) and regular past tense (climbed) are also acquired pretty early on.  As children learn new grammatical forms, they are not just memorizing whole words.  Rather, they are learning the grammatical rules of whatever language (or languages) they are acquiring.  They learn how we can take these little word parts and apply them to other words we know, to create new shades of meaning.  For example, boat means something different than boatswalking means something different than walked.

The morphemes for plural and past tense are a little more complicated than they may appear at first glance.  There are actually three different pronunciations for each of these grammatical markers, depending on the sound at the end of the root word.

Root word ends in: Plural “-s” morpheme sounds like:
/p, t, k, f, th (voiceless)/ /s/ as in cups, hats, snacks, cliffs, baths
/b, d, g, m, n, ng, v, th (voiced), l, r/
and any vowel sound
/z/ as in tubs, beds, bags, drums, hens, songs, doves, lathes, balls, carscows, bees, pies
/s, z, sh, ch, j/ /ez/ as in buses, sizes, bushes, watches, badges
Root word ends in: Past tense “-ed” morpheme sounds like:
/p, k, f, th (voiceless), s, sh, ch/ /t/ as in hopped, walked, coughed, birthed, flossed, washed, watched
/b, g, m, n, ng, v, th (voiced), z, j/
and any vowel sound
/d/ as in rubbed, hugged, hummed, banned, arrived, bathed, buzzed, wagedbowed, peed, tied
/t, d/ /ed/ as in batted, glided

These context-dependent variations on morphemes are called allomorphs.  So using the above examples, /s, z, ez/ are allomorphs of the regular plural morpheme -s, and /t, d, ed/ are allomorphs of the regular past tense morpheme -ed.  Despite the different sounds, children are typically able to learn and apply grammar rules just by talking with adults around them, without even being aware that these variations exist.  Our knowledge of spoken grammar is mostly subconscious: you don’t even know that you know it.  In fact, I would wager that most adults who have not studied linguistics or early literacy instruction are not aware of allomorphs, and also probably can’t easily explain other grammar basics, such as when exactly we use he versus him and that the suffix -ly is used to change an adjective to an adverb.

So how do we know that little kids are actually applying their knowledge of grammatical rules, rather than just learning new grammatical words as whole units, parroting words they have heard mom or dad say?  After all, most 2-year-olds won’t say, “Today I learned that I have to put a ssszzz, or ez at the end of the word to indicate that there is more than one thing.”  How do we know that they know that?

For starters, children will begin to apply a rule more and more consistently, using it across multiple contexts, which suggests that the rule is acquired.  Furthermore, we hear evidence of grammar knowledge in the errors and inventions that are so common in the speech of young children.  When children make errors such as mouses instead of mice, they have not likely heard an adult say the word mouses, meaning they just came up with it on their own.  This is an example of overgeneralization of a grammatical morpheme- using it where it doesn’t actually belong.  While it’s technically not correct to say mouses, it’s a normal stage of language development and shows that the child can generate words using the plural marker.

I recently polled an online parenting forum for examples of such inventions of words.  The post generated a lot of interest, and responses were both adorable and brilliant.  Let’s take a look at some, and see what they tell us about those children’s understanding of spoken grammar.

Quite a few kids demonstrated understanding of present progressing -ing.  As mentioned, it is one of the earlier emerging grammatical morphemes, and so there’s a lot of opportunity for kids to get creative.  There was a girl who said someone doing yoga in the park was namasteing.  A boy was wapping things with his wapping stick.  Another child used puzzling to mean playing with puzzles.  In the autumn, the leaves are fall-downing.  You go grossing at the grocery store.  A truck is back-upping.  And finally, I AM carefulling!!

There was a child who stuck two allomorphs at the end of words to mark plurals: carses, cookieses, toeses.  (Moses supposes his toeses are roses?)  Another child mistook the word much for a noun, and showed her ability to use the plural /ez/ allomorph: so many muches.

soooo many muches!!

One child said at bedtime Can you cush and coze me? meaning that she wanted her mom to make her cushy and cozy.  This represents an understanding of the suffix -y in adjectives.  She knows that -y often means having the quality of the root word (which could be either nouns as in sandy or verbs as in runny), and so invented root word verbs cush and coze.

This next one is particularly genius, in a couple of ways.  A child apparently said that when the family car got new tires, it was retired.  This shows an understanding of the prefix re-, meaning to do something again (to again put tires on a car).  Then, adding -ed in this case changes the word from a noun to an adjective, called a participial adjective (as in I am bored).  Also, we know that retired is a word that actually does exist, although it means something completely different.  Likely this child heard that word at one point, and used his smarts about morphology to infer a possible meaning.  Genius!

Here’s a neat one: a child used willn’t instead of won’t, apparently having analyzed all the other n’t contractions and determining that they should closely resemble the words from which they are derived (as in do-don’t, can-can’t, should-shouldn’t).  So of course the opposite of will is willn’t.  I’d like to see how many grown-ups have thought of that.  Not me, to be honest, and I think about a lot of stuff like this.  Thanks, kiddo, for pointing me towards this explanation.

Another little girl apparently used peace-ify in the place of pacify, I’m guessing in the context of talking about a baby’s pacifier bringing about a moment of peace.  That parent basically has a mini etymologist on her hands, because this kid probably already knows that both peace and pacify come from the Latin word pax, and the suffix -ify changes a word to a verb that means to become the root word.

Similar to the cush and coze example, this one involves the child removing a part of a word.  Hammers are what you use the ham things.  The -er suffix changes a word from an action to a thing that does the action.  Workers work.  Players play.  Hammers ham.  Of course!

I want so badly for this next one to be correct: the child who thought that the opposite of nocturnal was turnal.  It’s brilliant, because a) the kid already knows the word nocturnal b) it still shows awareness that words can break into parts, and c) noc sounds like not, so it’s a pretty reasonable guess!  Alas, in this case, noct comes from the Latin nox for night.  (The opposite of nocturnal is diurnal, which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard in my life.)

Threeth.  Not a word, but the kid who said it gets that the suffix -th is used to express the ordinal numbers such as fourth, twentieth, and billionth (but not first, second, third).

Some kids were able to show understanding of morphemes for negation: dis-, un-, and de-.   One wanted to be disbored (bored of being bored?), another who wanted his friend to be unsick so they could playand another who said he would never delove his mother (I’m not crying, you’re crying!!).

These next ones involve little phrases.  English has many two-word verbs, such as shut down, figure out, fit in, that are often idiomatic phrases (and notoriously difficult for English second-language speakers).  A few parents shared examples that demonstrate that the child knows that grammatically there is such thing as a two-word verb, but hasn’t quite gotten it right: pick me downbuckle me outand tuck me up (ok, that last one is my own son).

Next, some examples from bilingual or multilingual households, where kids sometimes mix vocabulary and grammar from more than one language in the same phrase. For example, a little girl who said lumes to mean that something lit up.  This is a sweet mash-up of French luminer and English -s third person singular. She also used unlâche to tell someone let go of something.  This shows that she likely knows the un- English morpheme for negation, but lâche in French already means let go.

Another bilingual child was mad because her brother retruired her castle.  The child combined re-, détruir (destroy)and the English past tense -ed.  Seems like someone wrecked that castle a few times over.

And finally, because no story about preschoolers in complete without reference to poop and/or boogers: microttes.  This one is a portmanteau, or a word coined by blending two words, such as breakfast + lunch = brunch.   A child from a trilingual French-Spanish-English house apparently regularly invented her own words and one day came up with microttes as a combination of microbes (germs) and crottes (boogers/little poops).  Great! And gross, so let’s go wash our hands, shall we?

Are you curious about the age at which children typically acquire grammatical morphemes?  Although we have a pretty clear picture of the sequence of development of early grammar, the age of acquisition varies a lot from child to child.  This chart can give a general idea, though a word of caution: age estimates are based on observations of a rather small number of children.

Grammatical morpheme Examples Common age of acquisition
Present progressive ing

Prepositions on, in

Regular plural


On the table.  In the car.

Dogs, cats

27-30 months
Irregular past tense

Possessive ‘s

Uncontractible copula

It fell.

Mommy’s coffee

Is it here? It is!

31-34 months
Articles a, the

Regular past tense

3rd person singular -s

A flower.  The car.

I licked my ice cream.

He likes pizza.

35-40 months
3rd person of have, do

Forms of the verb be

He has a dog.  She does yoga.

He is climbing. I’m not sliding, but she isAre you hungry?

41-46 months+
From: Bowen, C. (1998). Brown’s Stages of Syntactic and Morphological Development. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33 on September 24, 2020.

This post has been about children’s development of spoken grammar.  Some children need extra help with this, but, as previously mentioned, children learn spoken language mostly by simply talking with others.  Little kids don’t need to worry about understanding how grammar works in spoken language, because they unconsciously learn the rules.  However, we know that learning written language is not the same process.  In order to efficiently acquire literacy skills, school-aged children benefit from explicit teaching of many aspects grammar.  For example, many young children will write stopped as stopt and hugged as hugd.  When we teach kids that the letters ed at the end of a word represent the regular past tense, we are teaching morphological awareness. This helps developing readers decode, understand, and spell complex words such as impossible, cooperation, mismanagement, unfathomable. But morphological awareness is a huge topic for another day. Willn’t you stay tuned??

October 4

Anchor Charts

Anchor Chart: it’s a phrase used commonly in education.

They adorn walls in classrooms across the country, and, when used correctly, they can be an excellent instructional tool.

But sometimes the phrase “anchor chart” is used to refer to something that isn’t an anchor chart at all. It’s a poster.
So what’s the difference?
Let’s start with anchor charts. There are a few things that make them special:
Anchor charts are…
  •  made DURING the lesson.
  • records of student and teacher thinking.
  • an anchor (ahhhh) for student learning.
  • placed on the wall to help students recall the lesson experience and content.
  • replaced when they are no longer needed or useful to students.
  • interactive. They can be added to over time.
  • full of student and teacher handwriting.
  •  purposeful.

Anchor charts are not…

  • printed out from a file or teacher-created and possibly laminated.
  • done BEFORE the lesson.
  • records of teacher thinking or information only.
  • static; remaining the same  over time.
  • wallpaper in the classroom.
  • the same year after year.
  • decorations.

Those are posters.

So let’s talk a little bit about how to use anchor charts effectively.

Anchor charts can be cute, but are they purposeful? Read about these five tips for making your reading, writing, math, or science anchor charts more than just classroom wallpaper or decorations. Here's a hint: if you printed it out, it's not an anchor chart. It's a poster!

Tip #1: Use them purposefully.

Anchor charts come into play when there’s an important concept and learning experience that you want kids to recall. You may be a planner: you may know in advance that you plan to use an anchor chart to record and think through the lesson with kids. But you might not. You may be suddenly inspired during a lesson, whip out a blank chart paper, and go to town! Either way is ok!

That being said, you probably don’t want an anchor chart for every single lesson. It’s overwhelming and cluttered. You may want to identify the main concepts you want kids to have a reference for and build charts in those situations. As charts become outdated or unnecessary, take them down so you can replace them with current ones.

You can save the old charts, if you think kids will need to refer to them later. You can also just stack new charts on top of the old chart, by stapling only across the top.

Tip #2: Do some thinking first.

Some people have a template for the anchor chart before they begin the lesson. Having a general idea of structure and organization for your chart is a good thing, but you don’t need (or even want) to have every last detail planned out. If you already know what you’re going to write on the chart, you’re less likely to allow for kid input.

It definitely helps to have kid-friendly definitions or language ready so you’re not fumbling for how to word certain things on your chart. Ideally, you’ll probably have this as part of your lesson planning anyway.

Tip #3 Include a learning target.
I try to include a learning target, purpose, or title on the chart. This helps kids recall what the point of the lesson was. I also will try to include the concept information (main bullet points of important ideas) needed for kids to recall the lesson later.

Tip #4 Try it out!
Then, we try the strategy out in the way that I want kids to try it later. We might use sentence starters, post-it responses, task cards, or a graphic organizer to help kids try out the strategy, and record it on the chart.

Tip #5 Don’t stress about beautiful-ness!
Anchor charts can be cute, but are they purposeful? Read about these five tips for making your reading, writing, math, or science anchor charts more than just classroom wallpaper or decorations. Here's a hint: if you printed it out, it's not an anchor chart. It's a poster!

I keep it all-natural 🙂 I record as we go through the lesson. I try to use color well, but honestly, I usually forget. My charts are not beautiful or gorgeous. You can definitely see a difference between the charts I make as a sample and the charts I make in the moment in the classroom. And that’s ok! If they’re legible and they’re purposeful, and kids can access the information on them, they’re fine!

Some teachers take home charts after the fact to rewrite them. The issue with this is that, at that point, it no longer looks like the chart you made with your students during the lesson. It’s invariably organized differently or has information in different places. Will kids still refer back to it, or will it become wallpaper?

The main purpose of an anchor chart is to be a useful record for student reference. It anchors student learning to the chart. Posters, while they may be attractive and perfectly designed, are not anchor charts. They serve a completely different purpose.

Do you have any great tips for using anchor charts?


More Example:
If you’ve read my previous post about anchor charts, you know that I feel pretty strongly about a few things.

They must be created with kids, during a lesson, and they shouldn’t just be wallpaper in the classroom.

Instead, we want charts that grow and can be added to as kids learn and try new things.

The best way to ensure that anchor charts don’t become wallpaper is to make them interactive. If kids can interact with charts, they are more likely to learn the content and strategies that the chart represents.
Also, having their own handwriting on a chart, or their own work, can give them ownership over that learning.
And the more times we refer to a previous “anchor” lesson, the more it will solidify in kids’ brains.
So here are a few ways to do just that!
#1 Post-it try-its
Have kids try out the strategy or skill you’re working on. For example, on the first chart, we recorded characteristics and important details of two different texts to help us make connections. We figured out the lesson from the first text, and I had the kids figure out the lesson of the second text on their own. They wrote it on a post-it and we charted them up!
If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly, including a chart about making connections!

#2 Task cards

One easy way to have kids try out a skill or strategy is through using task cards. They’re equipped with short texts and they’re made for targeting specific skills. For this anchor chart, I had kids identify evidence on task cards for author’s purpose. They marked their evidence with yellow highlighter. Then we sorted the cards by author’s purpose. This interactive lesson required kids to practice the strategy and apply it right away. Then we used their thinking as evidence for our chart! You can grab the materials for this lesson here.
If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly, including a chart about author's purpose!

This isn’t exactly a task card, but I did provide groups of kids with a paragraph that they could analyze to find evidence and make inferences about characters. Kids marked their evidence and told me what to label on the chart. They love this activity! For some reason, marking up a paragraph in large font is so much more fun than marking up a little paragraph.
If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly!

In this anchor activity, groups of students matched cards with examples of sensory language, the sense the language appealed to, and the effect of the language on the reader. They underlined their evidence on each card to prove their thinking.

Then we built a three-columned chart with their cards to have an anchor to refer back to! It was a great way to help kids get started with noticing sensory details in mentor texts.

If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly, including a chart about sensory details!

This resource is in my TpT store! Narrative Writing Minilesson: Using Sensory Details

#3 Growing list

Charts that kids can add to over time make great interactive reminders of their learning. They’re also helpful for setting a purpose for independent reading! For example, you can direct students to look for examples of figurative language, or specific types of characters, and add them to the chart.
For the charts below, I introduced a strategy (identifying theme, and describing characters) and the categories or types kids might encounter. Kids were encouraged to add the titles of books as they came across them, and in other cases we added the titles of texts we read together as a class.
If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly, including a chart for teaching theme!

Adding pictures of the covers is a great way to help kids remember the book, too!

If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly, including a chart for teaching character traits!

#4 Post-its on graphic organizers
Blank graphic organizers make great anchor charts because they help kids organize information visually. For this chart about plot structure in fiction, we marked the important elements on the plot map with symbols. Then we recorded important events from the stories we read on post-its. We sequenced the events on the map. For a bonus, we pulled the post-its off of the plot map to represent cause and effect in the bottom right corner. This would make a great work station, too!
If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly, including a chart for teaching plot!

#5 Record of learning
For these interactive charts inspired by Lead4ward, we broke up the space into four different areas of focus: texts we read, summary elements, making inferences, and vocabulary. Each chart represented a different genre.
If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly!

As we worked through texts, we added them to the chart. Sometimes students provided their copy that they’d written their thinking on to add to the chart! We also added question types that referred to summary elements and making inferences. As we came across important academic vocabulary, kids recorded the words on post-its and stuck them on the charts. Great way to record learning and to review later!

If your anchor charts are cute but your students don't know how to use them, they're not purposeful. This post includes five ideas for how to make your ELA anchor charts interactive! Reading and writing anchor charts are the best when students can add their thinking to them. Read about tips for using sticky notes, interactive graphic organizers, and more to make your charts student-friendly!

These are some of the fun ways I’ve used anchor charts to help kids record and interact with their learning. Which idea would you try?
September 21

Show them the inside of your brain

I used to tell my kids, “I can’t show you the inside of my brain, so instead, I’m going to think aloud! This is going to help you understand exactly how I think as I write.”

And then I did it!

But sometimes teachers are unsure how to do this. Here are some thoughts on how to think aloud for your kids while you’re writing (or reading, for that matter):

1. Slow your thinking down and notice every decision you make as a writer. The choices you make as a writer are exactly what kids need to hear! Why did you decide to start with a description? How did you know when to start a new paragraph? How do you introduce a new character? All of those decisions happen like magic in front of students – they see it but can’t understand how it happens – so we have to spell it out!

2. If you’re having trouble doing this, assign a student in your class to be your “Wonder Kid”. Every time you do something, have them say, “Why did you write that?” It’s a good way to train your brain to notice your thought process!

3. Need some starters to help you think aloud? Try these out!

  • Where should I start? I can always skip the beginning and start with my main event. I think I’ll do that and come back to the beginning later.
  • Let me check my prewriting to see if I’m sticking to my narrative plan.
  • I’m stuck. Let me think about what I can do to help myself.
  • I don’t think I’ve added enough development here. What other details should I add to help the reader understand what this felt like?
  • I think I should add in a thought/description/feeling here to help my reader visualize this moment.
  • Hmmm. What word could I use that would express my idea clearly?
  • If I say, “___” will the reader understand my message?
  • Have I painted a picture in my reader’s mind? I may need to add more development to do that.
  • How can I move from this idea to the next idea? Can I think of a transition that would help?
  • How can I close this piece to help the reader understand the message and why it’s important?
  • Is there a tool or chart that can help me? Let me check.
  • I’m going to reread to get a running start and see if I can figure out what I should write next.
  • Does that make sense? I’m not sure. I’m going to reread.
  • I think I’ve found a good place to close my writing because my reader will have a really strong feeling in this moment.
  • I don’t like this word/sentence/idea, but I can’t think of any other way to say it. I’m going to write it down anyway because I can always revise it later when I think of a better way.
  • I think I want to try out that craft/strategy we noticed our mentor author so-and-so using the other day. Remember that? In the book __, so-and-so did ___. I think that, if I try that, my reader will really get the feeling I want them to have.

Happy teaching!

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September 20

“Help! How Do I Handle Students Who Are Always Slow to Finish Their Work?”

Teacher Channel,  on October 8, 2018

Do you have students who always take longer to turn in assignments, or never turn them in at all? While everyone learns at their own pace, managing slow workers can be a challenge, especially as curriculum demands increase. Even under ideal circumstances, it’s difficult to cover everything. And when some students aren’t completing the work, you may wonder if they will ever hit their benchmarks.

Of course, when it comes to knowing how best to support our slower-working students, teachers must step back and evaluate each student’s situation completely and thoroughly.

Ask yourself these questions about the student:

  • What are some other possible circumstances prohibiting the student to complete his/ her work?
  • How does the location of student’s desk in the class affect productivity?
  • Looking at this student’s academic and social history, is this behavior typical for the child?
  • Does this student have other learning needs impacting his or her ability to complete classwork?
  • How does this behavior compare to the student’s work in other classes?

Once you have the answers to these questions, it’s time to decide how to proceed. It’s always a wise first step to reach out to the child’s family to let them know you have a concern. Send an email or try calling home. Perhaps all this student needs is a little gentle nudge from home to get him moving on his classwork.

If the family isn’t supportive, or if the family is also at a loss as to what to do, it’s time to reach out to other professionals in the building. Can the counselor lend a hand? The special education coordinator? The reading specialist? You need to do what you can to assemble a team of professionals to hold this student’s support net, and you need to start soon.

After the team decides how to proceed, a number of different plans can be put in place. Here are a few ways to manage slow workers, making sure everyone gets to the finish line:

Make sure assignments are relevant and varied.

Let’s be honest: worksheet after worksheet after worksheet is boring and monotonous. Who wants to do ten worksheets in one day? No one.

Instead, make sure that you are filling the day with a variety of activities for students: group and independent activities; worksheets and hands-on activities; online and offline activities.

Add “Buddy Helper” to your job chart.

If you use a classroom job chart with the typical paper-passer, messenger, recycler, pencil sharpener, teacher helper, and the like, then consider adding “Buddy Helper” to the list. The Buddy Helper can be the student who takes time—after his own work is finished—to walk around and help others when they need it. Perhaps if every student had the chance to lend a hand, even your slower finishers would speed up a little on the days that they were the Buddy Helper.

Use a timer.

A digital timer on the Promethean board can be a game-changer for elementary schoolers since so many students of this age lack the ability to conceptualize time. No smartboard? No problem. Grab a large digital timer that you can put near the front of the classroom.

If you’ve got a handful of slower finishers, consider giving each student a small, simple timer to help her keep track of time.

Break up tasks.

Sometimes, it’s just hard to get started when you’ve got a big project at hand, and the same is true for our students. Students who need more of a nudge to complete work will most likely freeze when faced with a 5-step assignment. Instead, break these biggie assignments into mini-tasks for these students, giving them one piece at a time.

Adjust work load.

Step back and ask yourself: Do the students really need to complete all of this classwork? If there’s something that can be adjusted so that the playing field is more level, then go ahead and adjust.

Try an incentive system.

Some teachers use tickets, clips, marbles, or stickers as incentives to have students complete their classwork. Perhaps when each assignment is completed, a student receives some sort of token, tokens are placed in a special jar, and at the end of the week, there’s a drawing for a special prize: a lunch bunch, extra iPad time, or a chance to sit in the teacher’s chair for part of the day.

We definitely don’t want to celebrate careless work, though, so make sure you’re clear about expectations if you go this route.

Build a bridge home.

Ideally, school is a perfect union of support from school and home, but we know it doesn’t always work that way. If families are willing and able to help from their end, then consider using a daily sign-in chart. This chart can be a simple sheet of paper with a box for each day of the week. The student may earn a smiley face, a neutral face, or frown face, depending on the work that they complete. We want this chart to be minimal work for the teacher but to be a consistent tool for families to know how the student performed that day.

If the child worked hard and finished work, then maybe there’s a small reward at home. If not, then the family can proceed accordingly.

Let us know what works for you. How do you handle students who work more slowly in class?

Our Facebook groups are filled with teachers sharing tips and tricks, and we’d love to hear your ideas, too. Please head to the WeAreTeachers Chat group to let us know how you handle slow finishers.

Plus, how to build rapport with students.

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April 27

How to Teach Genre With Ms. B

 few years ago (maybe five or six) our state standards changed for reading, pretty dramatically. I know all of you who have been through the Common Core Craze can understand that.

I, however, am from Texas, where we do what we want *snap snap*, and Texas moved to genre-based standards several years back.

At that time, my reading program was based on the Reader’s Workshop model, with adjustments to suit me, and my shared reading three days a week was fiction. The other two days was informational text.

This was great for me (I love fiction, and I tied my informational articles to science, so double whammy), but it didn’t exactly address my new genre-based standards, which included literary genres: fiction, poetry, drama, literary nonfiction (biography), and informational genres: expository, persuasive, and procedural. I had some work to do to teach reading by genre.

One of the first things I did was take a look at my standards and figure out which standard was expected to be taught (and honestly, tested) in which genres. I used the document below to figure out where I had to teach different standards, like cause-and-effect, predicting, making inferences, and sequencing.

Then I chose some titles for each genre that I wanted to focus on as mentor texts for really understanding how that genre worked and how good readers approach that genre. My kids and I worked through a variety of texts, noticing the features of each genre and recording them, and other important characteristics (like author’s purpose, which is actually the essential reason genres are different), and charting them on some giant charts.

To help kids make the distinction, I divided them up onto literary and informational matrices.



During the study of each genre, we examined several texts and isolated the essential elements and strategies to use to best comprehend that genre.

Poetry was a struggle for many students. They didn’t really know how to start! To give them a handle on the main elements of poetry, we used an acronym that my colleague and I created: POETS. The chart below shows what students would look for in a poem. They marked evidence in different colors for each element, trying to put them together to make meaning out of the poem.


This chart shows how we read for the elements, whole-class, and mark our evidence.


I love reader’s notebooks. For each genre, we responded using different strategies. The strategy shown from my model notebook below was great for poetry. I honestly can’t remember the name, but this is how it works:

1. Read a poem aloud to students – each student has a copy to mark up as you read.
2. Read again, slowly, instructing students to find a spot to respond to. Students underline the line and put a star at the end of the line. They quickwrite in response to the poem.
3. Read the poem again, very slowly. As you get to the place where students responded, they jump in and read the response they wrote.

The first time we did this, my kids were a little uncomfortable and nervous. But you know, learning happens when we don’t quite know what’s going to happen! I did it again, with a poem called “Shelling Pecans,” and they seemed to have a better experience, because they expected to share. It was a very interesting strategy that I would use again!


Other posts on teaching poetry

When I introduced fiction, I made sure to introduce a variety of genres – I really spent some time here, choosing texts from each genre to make sure that students had a good understanding of the varieties of fiction they might enjoy reading. We read historical fiction (Nettie’s Trip South), and science fiction (Sector 7). We read myths and folktales! And at the end of the unit, one of the kids’ most interesting responses (I always ask for their input) was “I never knew there were different kinds of fiction.”

How rewarding is that?


An important part of a strong reader’s workshop program is independent reading. While it’s important for students to enjoy reading (really the most important thing), you have to find different ways of ensuring that students are applying their strategic thinking in their independent reading. One fun way is the question ring below.

I hole-punch the cards in the corner and put them on a binder ring. I hang them in the classroom library, and students can choose a question to respond to in their independent reading. There’s a ring for each genre. We practice using the rings to respond to our reading during our whole-group lessons, and then, as we practice with each genre, I add the rings to the library.


Other posts on teaching fiction



Drama is a very unique genre as well. As we read dramas, we add to our chart of drama features. It’s important to do more than simply name the features. We need to help students understand the purpose of that feature, so they know how to use it. For example, students very readily point to words in brackets and pronounce, “stage directions!” But do they use those stage directions to understand how a character is feeling or acting? If not, then we have to teach them how to do that!

Other posts on drama

Expository text is very focused on pulling out important information. We practice my favorite summary strategy: providing each team with a sentence strip. They write the main idea of their paragraph and then we put them all together to build a super summary! You can read more about that here.


I also added my Expository question ring to the classroom library!


Other posts about teaching Expository text

Persuasive text is a very specific type of informational text. It’s informational, but it’s tinged with someone’s bias and persuasive techniques. I used this persuasive cube in partners to help students think through a persuasive text and identify the persuasive techniques and arguments used by the author.


As I introduce new genres, it’s important for students to learn how to navigate between genres. I use these three questions to help students think about what genre they are reading. It’s so important for students to naturally think about texts differently to determine what’s important about each genre. Students who are fuzzy on this read each genre the same, usually like fiction, and studies show they are the least able to navigate those genres. So we spend a lot of time on it!


The chart below helps kids remember to think differently on three major genres:


Genre bookmarks are a great way to help kids be independent in their identification and thought about genre during independent reading. If you provide them with each bookmark as you learn about each new genre, they can pull their set of bookmarks out during independent reading.

I copied them onto colored cardstock and provide them to students, one at a time. Students “grow” their set, and when they choose an independent reading book, they identify the genre, pull out the bookmark, and think about the questions or items under the “Look for” part of the bookmark.


And then there’s testing.


I know, I hate it, too. But if we teach our children to be real readers and real writers, we can more easily teach them to navigate the test structures and be successful. When we focus only on testing, we neglect the real thought and rigor of the world of reading and writing. Instead, focus on real reading and writing, and then bridge it to the test. This is how I bridge genre instruction:

We reviewed each genre with a mini-selection. Each student had a copy and they practiced using the three questions to decide on their strategy for approaching the text (ex: Do I look for characters? conflicts? main ideas? arguments? stage directions?). We marked the essential elements, and decided on the author’s purpose. Then we brainstormed the kinds of questions we expected to see on the test and recorded them on our chart.


We repeated this for the most frequently tested genres.


And we built our test-genre wall!


We developed a strategy chant to remember what’s important about each genre! It goes to the tune of a cadence, like “Sound off- 1-2”. The first four stanzas are the verses, and the last stanza is the sound-off.


I cut up a million questions from the released tests, and students sorted them into different genres, based on the evidence they could find in the question and answer choices. It’s incredible how much they could infer, just from the questions and answers!

Teaching reading by genre is fun and purposeful with these anchor charts and activities! Each genre has its own special characteristics and structures. Help students apply reading strategies to each one, and encourage them to read in different reading genres with these minilesson ideas! #genreanchorchart #teachingreadinggenre