Possible Sentences: A Close Reading Strategy

This year I decided to really "tackle" Close Reading! I have been all over pinterest and teacher blogs to find the best tools. And I have read countless articles and books to find the best strategies. I recently found one strategy that has completely changed everything about how my students and I read informational texts....

This brilliant strategy comes from Kyleen Beers, the co-author of the book Notice and Note. Recently, some of the teachers in my district had the opportunity to attend a workshop that she presented. A couple of them brought back amazing strategies to share, including this one.....

Here's how I use this strategy...

{Please note, that I have adapted the strategy to meet the needs of my 4th/5th grade class!}

1. Before reading a selection with my class, I create a list of about 10 to 15 words and phrases that relate to some of the main ideas of the selection. I type them up and project them. They could also be written on the board.

2. Next, I ask my students to use the words and phrases displayed to write 5 "possible sentences" about the article they are about to read. In other words, they have to piece together words and phrases to write 5 meaningful sentences that they "predict" might be in the selection. They come up with some great stuff!! My students then share the sentences as a class and we record some of them to display. 

3. From there, we start to generate questions as a class to get everyone thinking about the words and phrases displayed. I highlight different words and phrases to focus their thinking. 

4. FINALLY, they get to read the article! At this point, they can't wait to figure out what the selection is actually about, and they are dying to know if their sentences are correct. They are also eager to find answers to the questions we generated as a class!!! So much buy-in already, and they have barely laid eyes on the text.

5. As they read, students check to see if their possible sentences are correct. If they are, they simply mark them as "true". If they are incorrect, they modify them to make them true. 

6. In the end, we use the phrases to discuss the main ideas and important details of the selection. Students share which of their sentences were true, and how they modified others to make them true. We also revisit our questions to see if they came up with any answers. 

I love how this strategy builds up students' excitemenet and enthusiasm for reading an informational text. I also love how possible sentences force them to closely read, in order to determine the accuracy of their sentences, and to possibly answer the questions we generated as a class. 

I have found that Scholastic News is a great source for these types of selections. Each week before handing them out, I select an article or two, and write a list of words and phrases. My students look forward to using this strategy and we get to have so many wonderful conversations about the topics we read about. This is a strategy that is easy to prep, easy to implement, and one that offers amazing results for students!!! I hope you will give it try!!
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Decoding Multi-Syllable Words

Do you have upper elementary students who struggle with decoding longer, multi-syllable words?  During my time as an ESL teacher and a grades 4-5 Title Reading teacher, I stumbled across a method that seemed to work quite well for my readers struggling with this skill. When I used this method with my students consistently within guided reading groups, I witnessed marked improvement on how well students attacked those longer, multi-syllable words.

Do you have students who struggle when they encounter long words when reading? Use this process for helping students learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 1:  Prior to class, scan the text for about 5 multi-syllable words that are likely to be challenging for students.  (This step is easy, isn’t it?  We teachers tend to know exactly which words our students will struggle with.)

Step 2:  (During your guided reading group) Ask, “How many syllables are in the word __________?”  For example, “How many syllables are in the word “imagination”?  My students often clapped it out to determine the answer.

Step 3:  Draw that many lines on your board.  I often had students draw the lines on a sheet of paper, also.
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!
I am in love with this alternative to using a dry-erase board shared just last week by Lynda from Curls and a Smile!  Just slip a sheet of paper inside a clear-view binder cover, and you have a versatile, portable dry-erase board!!

Step 4:  Zoom in on that first syllable.  Ask a question like “What two letters do you hear in that first syllable?”  After students answer correctly, write the correct letters on the first line.
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 5:  Zoom in on the second syllable.  Ask a question like “What two letters do you hear in that second syllable?”  (Students might answer A-J, and I would respond by saying, “no, this time it's the other letter that sometimes makes the /j/ sound.)  Write the correct letters on the second line.
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 6:  Zoom in on the third syllable.  Ask a question like “Which vowel do you hear in that third syllable?”  (By this time, students are usually going back to the beginning of the word and repeating the first two syllables quietly, and then shouting out the third syllable, which is music to my ears because they are focusing in on each individual syllable and reading those syllables repeatedly!)  Write the correct letter on the line.
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 7:  Zoom in on the fourth syllable.  Write the correct letters on the line.
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 8:  Zoom in on the fifth syllable.  Ask a question like “What four letters almost always say /shun/?” (Students quickly learn this pattern, because it seems like nearly every day at least one of our target words contain this syllable!)  Write the correct letters on the line.

Step 9:  Students take turns running their finger under each syllable and saying the word parts slowly first, and then the entire word quickly.

This looks like it might be a long process, but it truly takes less than a minute per word, and even less time after students are accustomed to the procedure.

described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

A spin-off activity that students usually enjoy is The Mystery Word activity.  Just like before, I begin by scanning the text prior to class for 5 target words that students will likely find challenging.

Step 1:  Begin by drawing a blank line for each syllable in the mystery word.  (For example, if the mystery word is “impressive”, I would draw three blank lines on the board.)
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 2:  Write the first syllable on the first line, and say, “How would you read this syllable?”  Students will sound out the /im/.  Then I allow them a few attempts to guess the mystery word.  For example, students might guess important or impossible (to which I would help them count out the syllables in impossible and determine that it has too many syllables to be the mystery word).
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 3:  Write the second syllable on the second line, and say, “How would you read this syllable?”  Students sound out the /pres/ syllable and immediately go back to the first syllable and say both word parts.  If, at this point, a student guesses the correct mystery word, I verify that he or she is correct, and then ask the students to help me determine which letters need to be written on the final line by sounding out that final syllable.
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 4:  If no one has correctly guessed the mystery word, I write the third syllable on the third line, and say, “How would you read this syllable?” 
described in this blog post to help your struggling readers learn to decode multi-syllable words correctly and independently!

Step 5:  I have students take turns running their finger under each syllable and saying the word parts slowly first, and then the entire word quickly.

After all five words have been introduced (and any other teaching points have taken place), I assign pages to students, and they begin reading.  I take turns listening to students read, and I always wait expectantly for students to come across one of the target words that we built up together.  More often than not, students are able to decode the word!  However, even more rewarding is when I see students encounter an unknown multi-syllabic word, and observe as they attempt to break it into chunks and decode the syllables!


Math Sorts!

When I taught first grade I would use spelling sorts ALL THE TIME. Students enjoyed cutting and manipulating the cards. (Who doesn't like to cut/paste?) I have wanted to have a sorting center in my classroom for a while now and FINALLY it hit me to combine sorting cards and math :) SIMPLE! I already had the perfect pocket chart to use. It has been stored in my closet, and I was so happy to take it out!

I bought the above pocket chart from LakeShore.  (Click Here).
I decided to start with rounding since that is a skill my students need a refresher on before they move on to fourth grade. I was amazed at how even though they are good at rounding, they found this activity challenging. One way to make this simple skill challenging is to NOT give them the categories.

Ways to Extend the Sorts
1. Have students write down the categories and the cards in their math notebook.

2. Have students explain how the cards in each category are related.

3. Have students store their cards in a baggie, so they can sort the cards multiple times.  This is great to improve their fluency!

4. Have students write their own cards that would follow the categories.

If you would like to try some rounding sorts with your students, I am going to share 4 with you!  You can use them on pocket charts or simply have the students sort them on a table.

If you are interested in a NO PREP version, CLICK HERE to view the bundle on my TPT store.

Citing Text Evidence in 6 Steps

Knowing the answer is one thing...but being able to justify your thinking by citing text is an entirely different type of skill. Taking the text and combing through it, like an old man at the beach with a metal detector, determined to find some treasures, not only takes strong reading comprehension skills, but also takes some perseverance, to find what we're looking for.

Here are the six steps I use in my classroom, to teach this important reading skill:

1. Teach the Specific Steps to Cite Text Evidence
No secrets here...I'm a firm believer in teaching kids explicitly how to do the skills we want them to have, whether it's reading or math or any other subject. Often times, I like to make my thinking public, so that my modeling will give the kids an idea of what they can do to reach a particular learning goal. Mentor texts are a great tool to use here and can be read in one sitting, using lots of examples.

About the steps...To cite text evidence, we talk about how we need to read the whole text first (duh, but some kids might just try to skip this part and just try to answer the questions). Then, we read the question and think about how we might answer it. Once we figure out our answer, we go back to the text and search for specific parts of the text, that will help us justify our answer. We make sure to take some time to discuss what it means to justify something and the kids enjoy this part a lot. For example, justify why you should have recess... Justify why you should be able to have a cell phone... Justify why you should be able to have a sleepover... Like little lawyers in the making!

2. Explain How to Cite Evidence
I like using anchor charts so much and this one really comes in handy to teach kids how to cite evidence by using the author's exact words, using quotation marks, and telling where you found it (On page 7..., or In the second paragraph...). We also spend some time working on using commas and quotation marks properly, which is a skill that goes hand in hand with this reading strategy.

Next, I teach the kids a few specific sentence starters, which work really well when citing text evidence. After we've used them for while, these come so naturally to the kids, that they have the set memorized without even referring to the chart.
3. Use Color Coding
Another early-on activity I have found to be useful is a whole class activity, which lets us practice/model this skill together. To get ready for this activity, I copy an interesting passage and then have the kids color code specific parts of the text that answer different questions. I actually do this verbally and write the questions on the smart board as we go. For whole group activities, I've found that if all the questions are all written down, you know the speed demon worker bee is going to do the whole page before we get to the second question! So, here's how I do this activity...I might say, do you think so and so showed responsibility in this passage? Highlight the specific part(s) of the passage that support your answer (use yellow). For the next question, we might highlight in green, or underline in purple. I plan ahead so the kids have lots of opportunities to practice finding different parts of the text, without color coding on top of another answer. 

4. Use Task Cards
Ok...I admit it, I can't get enough of task cards, and they're a great tool to use to help kids practice citing text evidence. Task cards give kids a lot of concentrated practice in a short period of time. Plus, the format is such, that they don't feel overwhelmed. When we do task cards for text evidence, I like to match the kids up in partners and they go around the room, recording their answers on a record sheet. Besides doing a Scoot/Scavenger type activity with the cards though, they could be used in small groups, for centers, photocopied and put into a reading notebook, or used to play a number of fun games (See my blog post called 16 Ways to Use Task Cards for more ideas).

5. Use Resources for More Practice
I often create resources that I need for my classroom and this is no exception. I wanted high interest passages that the kids would enjoy reading, that were rigorous enough to allow them to search for and find justification for their answers. Whether you use my differentiated Text Evidence Kit for 3rd - 5th grades, with color coding passages, practice passages and games or the  Text Evidence Unit (for 4th and 5th graders) or another type of resource, kids definitely benefit from practice with shorter pieces of text before we push them out of the nest a bit, into longer pieces of literature/novels or informational texts.

6. Use Actual Literature or Informational Text Books
All of this practice is necessary and the process is a great one for the kids, scaffolding their learning starting with the teacher, to guided practice, to the more independent work...but there comes a time when they have to show you what they've got. Time for them to dive into an actual book (gasp!) and to use that book, whether it is a piece of literature or some informational text, and answer comprehension questions, while citing evidence to justify their reasoning from the text. Whew! Not an easy task, I know, and not one that occurs overnight, but it is one that is attainable, with the help of a caring teacher...like you!

Want to read about how to teach your older students (4th and above) to write effective constructed responses? This post has lots of tips as well as a link to a set of RACE materials that are FREE! Click here to take a look!

I'd love to hear about your experiences with this concept. What has worked for you or what do you think is the most challenging aspect of it?


Using Child Safe Search Engines

The Internet is a wonderful tool to help aide students in researching topics.  With our society
depending on computers more and more, it's important for students to learn how to use it to find information.  The struggle I had when I first started teaching; however, was making sure students located safe websites.  When I first started teaching in third grade, I used my classroom website to host links that I posted.  It took me hours to compile these lists for my students because they were not all researching the same topics.  Nonetheless, I did it because I knew the value of using the Internet for research and wanted them to have that experience.

Two years later, I moved up to fifth grade and had the opportunity to have over a third of the students in my class that I had a couple years earlier.  They were used to using the Internet, but because they were older, I wanted to give them a little more freedom.  I sat down and found some great ways teachers (and parents) can provide students this freedom without having to worry about them stumbling upon something that is not appropriate or at a level too difficult for them.

Safe Search Kids is a search engine powered by Google.  It's very user friendly and even has a safe image search for students to find pictures.  I like that on the right side of the homepage it has articles on Internet safety for children, teens, parents, but one downfall to this search engine is that it does contain sponsored posts and ads.  When I did a search for Kangaroos, all of the search results I saw were safe and at a child level, but I also saw an ad for "Kangaroo Shoes" at Zappos as well as ads for video games.  I also put Kangaroos into the image search and scrolled through a few pages without finding anything questionable.  I'd suggest this website for students fifth grade an up, or if you feel comfortable with them not being tempted to click ads.  

Perhaps my favorite child-safe search engine is OneKey.  It really does act just like Google, but it does a great job of focusing on sites that are child friendly and doesn't have any advertising!  This search engine is perfect for older students or those that do a good job of finding information as if really give them a lot of options and provides a lot of results.

KidsClick is a website designed for kids by librarians to offer kid-friendly search results.  It works similarly to Google where the students have to enter the information they want to find, which results in a list of various websites.  One thing to keep in mind is that you will get different results based on the terms they enter.  For example, the search for 'kangaroo' and 'kangaroos' offers different suggestions.  This search engine doesn't offer as many results as OneKey, but is perfect for those students who have trouble focusing.  Because it only offers a few results, I have found that students waste less time going from site to site and spend more time reading the information.

Using the aforementioned child-safe search engines are perfect for those times when you're doing class research in the computer lab.  I've also found it useful when students come up to me in class and as if they can look something up on the computer.  These three sites are on my classroom website, so all my students know that they have to use one of those to search the Internet.  It has really taken out all of the worry on my end!

5 Ideas to Teach Poetry

I absolutely love teaching poetry!  That explains why I teach it ALL year!  Each month I focus on TWO types of poetry and then during POETRY MONTH, we review all of our work, create poetry portfolios for a review, and have a POETRY SLAM!  Read on for details!


At the beginning of the year, make a bulletin board to display posters of the different types of poetry.  Leave a space below each one to place a student example.  Review it with your class and tell them by the end of the year, they will have written an example of all the types.  For the time being, put a little sign under each type of poetry that says something like, "Under Construction" or "Coming Soon!"  I place a large 12" X 18" black piece of construction paper under the posters.

concrete poetry acrostic poetry


Each month, introduce a new type of poem and teach the rules for that poem.  If you created a bulletin board like above, add a student example.

The following order works well for upper elementary!

August-  Couplets and Quatrains
September- Acrostic and Cinquain
October- Haiku and Humorous
November- Diamante and Informative
December- Free Verse and Concrete
January- Narrative and Lyrical
February- BioPoem and Ballad
March- Limerick and Parody
April- Review and Poetry Portfolios (see below)
May-  Poetry Slam


In addition to introducing a new type of poetry each month, also choose a poem or song to analyze each month.  I actually try to do two of these a month -  one regular poem and one song to analyze the lyrics.  Students love the musical feature and I start to see them wiggle in their seats and try to sing the songs.  I allow them to sing and even dance to the songs.  Any little thing to get them excited about learning poetry!   I love when they say, "My dad likes that music!" or "Who is that?"

Use the following elements of poetry when analyzing poems!

Alliteration-  Ex. Slimy slugs slither slowly on the sidewalk.

Imagery-  Ex. The thick fuzzy coat was a blessing in the winter blizzard.

Metaphor-  Ex.  A good laugh is sunshine in a house.

Onomatopoeia-  Ex.  Bang, ding, pop!

Personification-  Ex.  The wind whistled its happy tune.

Repetition-  Ex.  Leaving my friends, leaving my home leaving my room, leaving my memories

Rhyme-  Ex.  School, tool, rule

Rhyme Scheme-  
Ex. Roses are red    A
     Violets are blue   B
     Sugar is sweet    C
     And so are you.   B

Rhythm-  (musical quality)

Simile-  Ex.  She was as pale as a lump of sugar.

Stanza-  (a poetry paragraph)

Theme-  (the message)

Tone-  (feeling)

Grab these free poetry study cards!

At the end of the year, I like to have students create their own Poetry Portfolio.  Basically, they get out their notes from throughout the year or I supply them with directions.  Since it is a review, I don't usually teach the rules for each of the poems.  I either give it as a class project in centers or  homework.  If you don't have time for your class to write new poems for each different type, save the poems throughout the year and create a portfolio of poems.

couplet acrostic limerick haiku cinquain diamante ballad rules and templates


Finish off the year with a Poetry Slam!  Oh yeah!  Students love to share their work and this way they can show ownership and pride of their hard work.

1.  Allow your students to relax around the room and enjoy listening to poetry from their fellow classmates or set up chairs for them.  It can be formal or informal!

2.  Set up a schedule so students know the order of when to share their poems.

3.  Have a special author's chair?  Use it!

4.  Do you have iPads, tablets, video cameras?  Have the student videotape!  I have my students rotate.  After they present, they go to the video chair.  That way each student gets the experience of both being the videographer and the presenter!  AND parents absolutely love to see these videos!

Thank you for visiting!  Come back to get some more amazing ideas from Upper Elementary Snapshots!!!!   If you need poetry resources, click below! They are sold separately too.    


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