Sunday, October 15, 2017

Analyzing Conflict

Analyzing Conflict has become one of my favorite activities to teach my students.  Identifying the type of conflict is usually pretty easy for kids to grasp, but analyzing things like the origin of the conflict, things that contribute to the conflict, and what events help to resolve the conflict can be difficult to understand.

I teach analyzing conflict in steps.  We start out simple: identify the types of conflict in the story and provide text evidence that supports the conflict.  As soon as they start to master that skill, I throw in a new element.  I keep adding new twists throughout the year.  Because I like to teach in steps, I have created eight different activities that are meant to be progressive.  I believe kids thrive when they have a clear routine, but I also believe that repeating the same lesson over and over again leads to less engagement.  These activities are just different enough to add some variety without losing the gains they have made.  So far this year I have used three of these activities with my eight graders, and I am looking forward to taking it to the next level with them in our next unit.

All of these activities require the students to cite relevant evidence.  With my 8th graders I am color coding these activities for our different units.  After grading, the students will keep them in their binder so we that we can not only see the progression, but we can also compare and contrast the impacts of conflicts between texts.

Some of the analysis tasks in this set include:

Conflict origin
Character influence
Setting impact
Events that lead to resolution
How the conflict impacts the characters, setting, theme, and plot
Positive & Negative Outcomes
Making Connections

Here are some samples:

I hope you enjoy these activities that I have put together.  Many of these are tasks that I have taught for many years, as I am sure you have too, but putting them together in a new format has been energizing for both me and my students!


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Interactive Notebooks: How I Use Them in My Classes Part 1

I LOVE interactive student notebooks.  I mean serious love.  I wish this had been a thing when I was a kid in middle school.  I am positive that I would have been more involved in my course work.  This is my fourth year using them in regularly in class, but I dabbled with them for a few years before I took the big plunge.  I have learned some things along the way that I thought I would pass along.  Undertaking ISNBs is a challenge, and I am still changing things.  I do not think it is possible to implement everything the first year you use them!  But with that said, everyday I learn a bit more, and I think my students really appreciate the process.  I have had older students come back and tell me how much they learned from the process.  Good stuff.

Before I get started, I just want to say that there are so many incredible teachers out there using interactive notebooks.  They share their successes and failures online, which has been so helpful for me.  I use little bits from so many different people.  I have also purchased several products on TPT that include foldables and notes.  There are so many resources out there!  If I remember where I purchased things I will share - if I do not know where I got something, I apologize in advance.

When I started using these in class years ago, I had my students use regular, spiral notebooks.  The school had a standard supply list that I had to stick to, so spiral it was.  Anyway, I learned that I despised using these notebooks.  Pages fell out all the time.  Covers - both front and back - tore off so easily.  The spirals in a stack of notebooks would get tangled and then rip the notebooks.  Yuck.  Two years ago when I switched schools, I was able to switch to composition books, and it has made such a difference.  They are the best.

Something else that I have discovered through the years?  Glue matters.  Glue sticks are worthless when it comes to these notebooks.  Anything you stick in or on the notebooks eventually falls out.  Regular Elmer's glue works the best.  Everything stays put and you only need a few drops.  So much less hassle than with glue sticks.

I usually use one whole class period for the kids to set them up, but even that isn't enough time for some kids.  I realize that this takes up precious time in the beginning of the year, but it is so worth it when class time isn't available in the future.  Here is the list:

1.  I have the kids label all three sides of their notebook.  This is one of the best ideas ever, and I have no idea who I learned this from.  When you have a stack on your desk, you can see the names without digging through them.  When they are in a storage bin, you can see the names even if they are put in all different directions.

My notebooks.  I make one for each class I teach.
If a student is absent, they use my book to get
the correct notes.

2.  I color code each class and have and have them put a cover on the front.  Since we get a pile of random colored notebooks for our students, this is just another quick way to identify notebooks.

If you use glue sticks, these will not stay on.  Elmer's glue.  The best.

3.  I go over how to cut and glue everything into the notebooks.  I even have the kids glue a set of directions into the front of the notebooks.

One rule that I did not put on my directions, but
is an understanding in my room: everyone stands when they cut.
No exceptions.  They all seem to cut faster and 
chit chat less when they stand.

4.  On the first page, we attach a grading rubric.  Makes grading so quick.  I wish I knew where I got this.  I think it can be recreated fairly easily to meet different needs.  I grade notebooks about every 10 lessons or so.

Sometimes I have the kids do a quick "peer check."
It saves time if I am grading a few assignments on completion.

5.  We leave 3 full pages for the Table of Contents.  Then I have the students number every single page in the notebook - fronts and backs.  When we start novels, I have the students add a post-it flag around page 70.  that section becomes our novel study section, and the first half of the book is simply skill/element introduction and practice.

Excellent photography skills here.  

6.  Next I have the kids add a bookmark.  I precut ribbon and duct tape.  We tape the ribbon to the top in the back and then flip it forward.  I make sure to cut the ribbon long enough in case they fray a bit, but that could be solved by putting tape on the end.  Too much work if you ask me.  Easier to cut them longer.  Just my two cents..

This is a simple story map I made for ISNB work.
If anyone is interested, I can post it as a freebie on TPT.

7.  Finally, I have the kids glue an envelope in the back.  The envelope should be fairly close the outside edge (so that the envelope can hold items that are bigger than the envelop), and the opening should be facing in so that when the notebook is closed, pieces won't randomly fall out.  The envelop works great when an activity takes more than one class period, or if you run out of time due to an unexpected interruption (last week we had a fire drill with only 10 minutes left in class).

One more thing that I do has to do with how I organize the notebooks.  Students are not allowed to take the books out of the classroom.  That way I can grade them anytime I want.  And they don't get destroyed.  I do not have the notebooks separated by class.  After years of struggle, last year I finally started separating them alphabetically.  I did this because:

1.  When I had a crate for each class, I would have 25 kids trying to get their notebooks from the same crate at the same time.

2.  Now 25 kids in a class are retrieving their crates from 4 different crates.  The process goes much faster and their are fewer arguments.

Initially, I thought that this would make it more difficult to grade, but that hasn't been the case.  Because they are color coded, I can quickly pull a certain class period.  This change has saved my sanity.

Lots of steps, but it only takes a class period to do it, and makes such a difference throughout the year.  I have seen such an improvement in skill level and work engagement since starting to use these notebooks.  And even though we do not always have the time (or take the time), older kids still like to color, cut, and glue!  I will do another post on lessons I use in the future~


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Back to School - Back to Crazy

Back to school has been crazy!  I have been so busy since school started!  Not only did I go back to work with my students, but I also started up with another grad school class.  So.  Much.  To.  Do. 

At our school we have several different meet the teacher nights: k-5th, 6th grade, and 7th-8th grade.  We also had our annual fall fundraiser.  It is called the County Fair, and runs for three days.  We have live bands and performers all weekend an outdoor stage, carnival rides (ferris wheel, giant slide, tilt-a-whirl, etc. etc.), a giant silent auction, bingo, indoor games, a craft and art market, book sale, karaoke, more food venders than I can count, the list just keeps going.  Super fun but super exhausting.  Next week we start another fundraiser (Christmas wreath sales) and our students participate in a "marathon" to coincide with our Twin Cities Marathon.

Anyway, I'm starting to settle into a new routine, so I'm ready to start writing again.  I'm trying create some new TPT products, as well.  I usually create products as I need them, so I have a few upcoming projects in mind. 

I'm currently working on a post on how I use interactive notebooks in the classroom.  I'm also thinking about a series of literature posts that each focus on a different concept.  I will probably start with analyzing conflict, but then after that, who knows... whatever I need that week I guess.  Anyway, I am still here and will hopefully be back a bit more regularly as I work my way through a new curriculum. 

Here's looking to a great October!


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Teacher Hack! - Turn an old chalkboard into a bulletin board!

When they remodeled my classroom this summer, they actually expanded my room into a less used room next door.  That room had an old, and quite disgusting, chalkboard in it.  Well, half of that board ended up in my room. (Why they didn't take it down I have no idea.)  Besides the fact that I cannot stand blackboards, this one wasn't even useable.  It had something rough that looked a bit like rust all over it.  Nasty.

Look! A message from ghosts of days gone by!

Anyway, I decided to cover it, but I really did not want to spend too much.  Well, my mom and I came across an idea in the Dollar Tree that worked fantastic!

I had wanted to cover the board with cork, but the rolls are super thin and crack, and the tiles would have cost a fortune.  I had seen a video a few years ago where the teacher covered the board with construction foam board (around here we call it styrofoam insulation board), and it worked well, but again, I would have to find a way to get the huge sheets in my Honda CRV with my daughter in the backseat.  Not gonna happen.  At dollar tree we found poster board that is a foam board about 1/4 inch thick in small sheets (I think they were about 18" x 30").  I bought 12 of them, but only needed 7, so $7.

I put the pieces up with double stick tabs I had from Lakeshore.  I have no idea how long I've had them, but I love them, and I am sure they still sell them.  I put one in each corner, a few down each edge, and a couple in the center.  I started at the top, and worked my way across and down.

When I finished with the larger space, I had to cut a few pieces to fill the rest of the board.  I wouldn't have been hard, except that I had forgotten my carpet knife/box cutter, and had use a razor blade that is a scraper.  Yeah.  Always a plan B.

Look at me, measuring and everything...
No eye-balling and praying here today, friends.

After I got the rest of the areas pieced together, I covered the whole thing by stapling a plastic table cloth and some boarder around the sides.  I.  Love.  This.

Now, I am fully aware that the table cloth is a little wrinkled.  Although this project only took about 2 hours, I had been working in my room nonstop for two days.  I think my brain told me it looked fine because it wanted me to take it and the rest of my exhausted body home.  It will be a quick fix to tighten it up when I go in on Monday, so I'm not worried.

I liked this project so much, that I covered another small, and less disgusting, blackboard area, as well.  I had a few pieces of foam board left, and let's be real here - there was no way I was driving all the way to the dollar tree to wait in line for half an hour to return 5 extra pieces of board.  I WILL always force myself to find a use for something to avoid heading back to that store.

Back to school for me tomorrow!  Have a good one, everyone!


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Purposeful Talk Sentence Starters - Back to School FREEBIE!

After working in my classroom for too many hours to count this week, I decided I needed to make new purposeful talk sentence starters at 10:30 on Friday night.  Why?  I have no idea other than I wanted a new color scheme, and I was over tired, and it sounded like a 5 minute task.  Two and a half hours later, I was finished and realized that I really did not need to start that project at that time of night.  Anyway, I decided to share them as a freebie - since I spent so much time on them, I might as well share them!

I've used the same basic starters for many years, with all grades.  These are just starters, and students often learn to develop their own ways to phrase these types of discussions.  Regardless, I've found that it doesn't matter what the grade, they need to practice these communication and critical thinking skills.

Since I created these in the middle of the night, I still need to print, laminate and cut.  No pics today, folks.  This set includes 14 different discussion prompts.  What I like about these as that they can be used in any space.  I have traveled between three schools with these babies, and always have found a spot for them that is easily visible during discussions.

I hope they brighten your classroom and stimulate deep discussions with your students!


Purposeful Talk Sentence Starters

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mini Notebook Writing Tasks

Every summer I see things that other teachers do, and I think, "that's super cool," but then I never do anything about it.  Well, this year I did something about it!  Somewhere along the line, I had seen a post where a teacher had cut composition books in half to use for different subjects.  I wasn't sure how I could use them, but I kept them in the back of my mind for future years.

Before I go into details, I will tell you how I came to decide this year was the year to try this.  During the year I teach four sections of sixth grade literature.  These classes only meet four days a week, and the fifth day is a study period.  Well, last year I only taught one period of study, and I found that for sixth graders who have never had a period to manage their work on their own, this can be a struggle.  As it turns out, this year I am the study teacher for all four of my classes.  I decide to have an "I-don't-have-anything-to-do" assignments that will be part of their literature grade.  I decided to do collaborative journals that would reinforce concepts from lit class.  I chose theme, characters, and quotes (citing text).  AND, because I am completing my master's project on mindset, I made sure that two of the journals include mindset analysis.  Mini notebooks seem like the perfect size for this type of activity.

OK, so here's what I did.... well, my dad did it, I'm just claiming it as my own...

First he cut the notebooks on his table saw.  I handed them to him.  That's all I know...

Then I made cover plates that are the actual writing prompts.

Ok, yes, I chose themes from each house of Harry Potter, and yes, I put them on notebooks that match the house colors, but this does not mean that I have a problem....

By the way, these are all themes that we will be exploring in our class novels, so totally relevant and helping to activate background knowledge.  And supporting HP.

Then I added bookmarks to the notebooks by taping a ribbon to the back.

This is the back of one and the inside of another

I also made one for our study hall lists (similar to other school's detentions), as well as a hall pass.  The hall pass sign out is my favorite.

I wish it wasn't blurry, but it was the best I could do tonight between making dinner and dropping over from back-to-school exhaustion.  If anyone wants these cover plates, I will post them as a freebie on TPT; however, probably not tonight.  Must sleep.....

In other news, I posted a new note-taking, graphic organizer on TPT earlier this week.  I designed it for my classes, so it may be too specific for others to use, but I posted it anyway.  The front side is focused on the basic information from the book, and the back side is all critical thinking with mindset as the guiding topic.  I know, I know, more growth mindset, but it really is such an important skill, and our students need to learn young how to make positive changes.

Here it is:

Here is a preview pick of the back side.  Sorry that is says "preview" across it.  Can you believe someone took one of my blog posts and posted it as their own on TPT?  It makes me sad, but I will still share.  Right now it says preview until I feel good about it again!

Hope everyone is having a good "back to school" season!


Note Taking Graphic Organizer for Literature

Monday, August 7, 2017

Back to School!

Back to School!

That exclamatory sentence can be taken a couple different ways - depending on your inclination.  Well, regardless of whether you are anxiously anticipating the start or trying to hold on to the last few weeks of summer and sanity, school is in the back of all of our minds; specifically, the amount of work that awaits us between opening week and the first day with students.

I turned in my master's capstone a week ago, and then had to immediately attend a department meeting with our administrators.  I had to creatively answer questions, since I seriously had not even thought about literature curriculum.  Everyone else had their curriculum maps there and I ... well, I'm a great talker so...

I went home and started going through first week activities, and decided to reuse a few.  I also found that I wanted to jazz several up to be a bit more engaging.  This year, I want all of my ice breakers and first week activities to be focused on the content areas - no generic "find someone who..." activities this year.  I plan to use the activities to assess basic skills that first week.  Note the word "basic."  I'm not trying to challenge to the point of tears before they even make it to the first Friday.

What I came up with is some pretty fun stuff that I think both my 6th and 8th graders will like.  This is what I created:

There are 18 different activities: 3 "getting to know you" pages, 3 book pages, 1 story elements page, 1 figurative language activity, 1 parts of speech activity, and 9 writing activities.  The writing activities include paragraph writing, summarizing, narrative writing, letters, personification, and a newspaper article assignment.  I'm so excited to have my kids complete these this year.  I will have the 6th grade lit classes complete a few, 6th grade English a few more, and the 8th graders will do a mix of everything.  Week one: ✓, ✓,  & ✓

Here are a few examples that I'm going to use to get the 6th graders started:

Fully aware they are Harry Potter themed.  If you haven't figured out that I have an obsession yet, then I don't know what to tell you.  Actually, I think HP is why I decided to teach literature.  More on that another day, as I am going to need another whole post to show you what I've been up to in terms of HP.  True love.  Always.  (You see what I did there?)

Anyway, I hope other teachers can find these useful.  This set is already up and ready for download in my TPT store.  Have a good night, everyone!


Back to School ELA Activities