Making Time for Speaking and Listening

When I first started teaching, Speaking and Listening meant student speeches and presentations. Unfortunately, assigning students to give presentations took a great deal of class time, and I often only assigned presentations once per quarter. Even then, I still found them extremely difficult to fit in, with all the other subjects that needed to be covered. I wanted a way to assess students' abilities to meet speaking and listening standards more than once a quarter.

In recent years, I started using Conversation Cards to engage students in conversations and the practice of speaking and listening to their peers. They really helped me to address some of the Common Core standards for Speaking and Listening.

According to the standards, students should engage in collaborative discussions with their peers, based on grade-level topics and texts.  One of the best ways to do this is to provide students with opportunities to discuss the texts they are already reading in class. Why not kill two birds with one stone, by addressing reading standards at the same time?? The conversation cards that I use, give students the opportunity to discuss both literature and informational texts. They might be texts that we are reading as a class, texts they are reading in small groups, or texts that are assigned independently as classwork or homework. Either way, these grade-level texts lend themselves to some very meaningful conversations.

Come Prepared

The first step toward meaningful conversations about grade-level texts is being prepared!

Students should come to a conversation ready to discuss the reading material, and any concepts or skills that will be the focus of conversation. As a teacher, you decide what students will read and what they should focus on. Before discussions, students should read assigned texts and take notes on the necessary skills. You may choose more than one concept or skill in order to cover multiple standards, and to keep students engaged in the conversation.

Rules & Roles

For student conversations to run smoothly, agreed-upon rules and assigned roles should be established.

Once students are in groups, they should start by assigning roles. As a teacher, you should decide how this should be done. Will students rotate? Will you assign them based on their strengths in a group? After roles are established, students should establish agreed-upon rules. This is something that you could discuss with the class as a whole group, or you can give groups this responsibility. Rules should address when students can speak, how they speak to each other, and other norms that will keep conversations running smoothly and effectively.

Conversation Stems

Students need to be able to ask questions, clarify meanings, and add comments throughout their discussions. 

Conversations Stems provide students with appropriate language for interacting with their peers. You may even encourage students to come up with their own conversation stems.

Conversation Rubric

Once students are focused and actively engaged in their discussions, this would be the perfect time for you to walk around the classroom and assess their speaking and listening abilities. Use a standards-based rubric to score students on how well they communicate with their peers, share their ideas, and listen to others.

For these collaborative discussions you only need about 15 to 20 minutes a few times a week. Through practice, students will learn how to effectively communicate in a group setting. If you would like to learn more about my Conversation Cards, click the pic below to visit my teacher shop.


5 Simple Ways to Include Grammar Practice in Your Classroom

Grammar practice is one of those things most teachers just don't have time for.  Our intentions are pure, but our schedule is packed.  Teaching and practicing grammar standards always seem to take a backseat to other subjects.  However, our students are in desperate need of grammar instruction and practice.  With social media and texting, kids are picking up bad habits every day.  If you want to incorporate more grammar practice into your daily classroom schedule, this is for you.

Grammar practice is hard to find time for in a busy teacher's classroom. Here are tips for including daily grammar review every day.

Here are a few simple tips for getting in some grammar practice every day.

1. Morning Work or Warm Ups

Grammar practice in the morning (or as a warm up) can be as simple as writing a sentence on the board and asking your students to diagram the sentence.  You could also use a sentence or question that is more specific to a skill you are focusing on. For example, you may write, "The football player played with his friends and drinks lots of water."  You could then ask students to identify the error in this sentence and explain why it is incorrect.  This is an excellent way to practice finding inappropriate shifts in verb tense, yet it hardly takes up any instructional time.

One of my favorite morning routines is using spiral review.  Using a grammar spiral review system is the easiest way to ensure students are getting a daily dose of grammar.  You can grab a free sample of my favorite grammar spiral reviews, HERE, and give them a try in your classroom.

2. Games and Centers

At some point in your day, you more than likely have your student play games in small groups or move throughout center activities. This is the perfect time to incorporate a grammar practice game. If you have access to a smart board or tablets, here are a few websites your students might enjoy.

Another option is to incorporate some hands-on grammar games that your students can play in small groups.  You can grab some free grammar games for your grade level, HERE.  If you want grammar games to cover you for the entire school year, click HERE.

Grammar practice is hard to find time for in a busy teacher's classroom. Here are tips for including daily grammar review every day.

3. Tie it into Writing

Any time your students write, give them a grammar skill to focus on.  I like to stick to one skill, but if you feel your students can handle more, go for it.  For example, as I send my students off to work on their narrative writing piece, I'll tell them to focus on using quotation marks correctly.  At this point, they've already been taught how to use dialogue in their writing.  Now, as they write, they are paying attention to make sure they have punctuated dialogue correctly.  As I walk around the room, I also keep this grammar focus in mind and give support when needed.

Grammar practice is hard to find time for in a busy teacher's classroom. Here are tips for including daily grammar review every day.

4. Homework

Yes! Homework can be a highly effective time to get in some grammar review. I do not like to give a lot of homework, so I always make sure the assignments are very short and meaningful.  Just like with morning work, I find a spiral review system works best for homework.  The benefits? There are only a handful of questions per night, parents stay informed, I can see where my students are still struggling, and students are getting some quality practice without taking any instructional time. It's a Win, Win, Win.  If you want a system like this for your classroom, you can check it out HERE.

Grammar practice is hard to find time for in a busy teacher's classroom. Here are tips for including daily grammar review every day.

Learn more about grammar spiral review on my blog. {CLICK HERE}

5. During a Read Aloud

Read alouds are an effective way to model grammar and language skills at their best.  Maybe you notice a particular author uses figurative language throughout their writing. This would be an ideal time to point it out to your students and have a discussion.  You can then use the book as a mentor text to show quality writing and grammar usage in future lessons.

One of my favorite books is Saturdays and Teacakes, by Lester L. Laminack.  I've used this book as a mentor text to model various grammar skills such as strong verbs, proper nouns, dialect, and figurative language.  It's a fantastic book. If you don't already have it, I highly recommend you add it to your collection.

Grammar practice is hard to find time for in a busy teacher's classroom. Here are tips for including daily grammar review every day.

Grammar practice is hard to find time for in a busy teacher's classroom. Here are tips for including daily grammar review every day.

Need even more tips for sneaking grammar into your daily schedule?  Check out this blog post!
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Creating a Classroom Community with Memory Makers

I'm always looking for ways to build a community within my classroom.  A couple of years ago, I began using memory makers.  My students love it!

It's very simple to create and keep going.  So, what is it?  Students write down events that have occurred in the classroom.  These events can be funny, sad, exciting, you name it.  For example, if a student masters being able to skip count by 3s, that can be very exciting for them and a memory worth keeping.  The student writes the memory down on a memory slip, and places it in the memory maker box.  Maybe YOU did something that the students thought was funny, that could be a memory to write down too!  Memories are endless!

What makes this really fun and the most exciting for the students is when you go back and read the memories.  They love to reminisce!  I typically share the memory slips about once a quarter.  We spend a bit of time reading the memory slips and do a little reminiscing at the same time.  I then give the students their memory slips to take home with them.

This is a very simple addition to the classroom that cultivates a community and something that the students are excited to participate in.

You can download the free printable HERE.  Now, go build some memories!

10 Ways to Quickly Check for Understanding: Formative Assessment

With school starting back for many teachers, lesson plans is at the top of the to-do list, and planning creative and effective lesson plans is a high priority. One important component to any lesson is checking for students' understanding. A quick and simple formative assessment can be beneficial not only to the students, but to the teacher as well because this quick assessment can help the teacher know what the students understand and what they don't. Here are 10 of my favorite ways to quickly check for understanding that will work for almost any lesson.

Thumbs up/Thumbs down. Use this strategy by simply asking questions. If the students agree or think the answer is correct, they give a thumbs up. If they disagree or think the answer is incorrect, they give a thumbs down.

Individual White Boards. Students can write a simple answer on the white board and turn it around. This is a great way to quickly see who understands the concept and who does not. This is great for math or for any short answers that can be quickly seen by the teacher.

Quick Write- This is a timed writing response. Give students a prompt related to the lesson and a minute or two to write a response. The teacher can take up and read to quickly determine if further instruction is necessary.

5 Words- Students use 5 words to describe the topic of the lesson and explain and justify their word choices.

Top 10 List or Top 10 Takeaways. Students simply list their top 10 ideas that they feel were the most important key points to the lesson. This one is great for the end of of longer unit of study.

Opinion Chart- Have each student to draw a T chart on his/her paper. At the top on the left write Opinion. At the top on the right, write Evidence. Students complete the chart by writing an opinion about the topic they have just learned, then on the right, justify their answer with evidence from the lesson.

Yes/No cards. Simply use index cards and write (or have students to write) Yes on one side and No on the other side in large letters. Ask review questions about the lesson that require only a yes or no answer, and instruct students to hold up the correct answer. This is a quick and easy way to assess students understanding.

Physical Response. This can be a fun way to end a lesson, and students love this! Ask students to do something such as raise both hands or stand up if the answer is_______. For example, if you are studying parts of speech, call out a word and tell students to raise both hands if it is a noun or turn around if it is a verb. This could be done with True and False answers. Call out a question and instruct students to hop one time if the answer is true and turn around if it is false. There are many possibilities to this fun activity. 

Show Me the Card Activity. This is a fun activity similar to the Yes/No cards that can be found FREE in my store. If you are studying there, their, and they're, download this freebie. Call out a sentence (provided in the freebie) and instruct students to hold up the card with the correct spelling. Quickly assess who knows and understands the meanings and spellings of each of these words. This is another activity that students love. Just click the link in the pictures below to get your free set.
Pirate Homophones:  They're, There, and Their

Pirate Homophones:  They're, There, and Their

Exit Slips- Exit slips are a great way to quickly assess students' understanding of a concept. An exit slip is a wonderful tool to use in your classroom at the end of a lesson to help you quickly assess students' understanding of a concept and plan the next steps accordingly. This fun set of exit slips that are found in my store, can be used with almost any subject. Your students will love the variety of these eye-catching exit slips, and you will love the simplicity of having a closure activity for your lessons that will help you assess the progress of your students. To purchase, click the link in the picture below.
Exit Slips to Use with Almost Any Lesson or Subject

No matter which method you use for a quick check for understanding, adding these simple formative assessments to your lessons will help you know what your students are actually learning. 

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3 Simple Steps to Help Students Build Good Character

We teach about slavery and discrimination in American history.  Sadly, intolerance still exists in today's society. Now it is more important than ever to teach students about building good character and getting along with others.  Learning good values will help children become better citizens and also help build a positive classroom community.  So what can you do to help students build good character?

There are three simple steps to use when helping students build good character.

1.  EDUCATE-  How do you educate children on good character?  Gather mentor texts related to character education.  Read the mentor texts and discuss the character trait(s) that are evident in each book.  Discuss these good character traits and their meanings.  Then brainstorm examples of how they are demonstrated in every day life.  Focus on one trait a week or month.  Click HERE for a free poster with character traits and their meanings.

2.  IDENTIFY- Identify good character traits in students.  If you focus on one character trait at a time, tell students you will be looking for that trait throughout the week or month.  You can have students identify that trait in each other as well.  As you build up good character traits throughout the year, you have two choices.  You can identify all the traits that were accumulated or simply concentrate on the good character trait(s) introduced in that particular story.

3.  ACKNOWLEDGE- It is important to acknowledge good character in students.  Tell students that you notice their efforts and that you are proud of their positive choices.  A little praise goes a long way.  Children will demonstrate more good character traits knowing that you are paying attention.  If you are looking for ways of acknowledging students, read this post called An Easy Way to Build Good Character in the Classroom.

I hope these three simple steps will help you get character education started in your classroom. You are a positive role model and teaching students how to build good character will help them now and in the future.  It will also help your classroom and community come together.  Thank you for being such a positive influence in your students' lives and changing the world!

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10 Tips for Creating a Climate for Readers

back to school reading

Most of us are either back at school or thinking about it!  Today I thought I'd share 10 tips to help us really create a classroom culture that celebrates and nurtures our readers.  See what you think!

1.  Share YOUR love of reading.

Whether you are in a book club of your own or simply model your love with HOW you read, how MUCH you read, or your excitement about new books--make sure your students know that you value reading and you are excited to help THEM find the books that will captivate them.  I talk to my students about trying to get into the reading "zone" where you are so into your book that you lose track of time and the world around you.  When that happens IN our class, we totally celebrate it!

2.  Make sure students have access to books.

classroom library

Whether you have a complete classroom library or need to beg, borrow, or steal visit the library  (school or public), make sure you have plenty of books at a variety of levels with tons of different interest levels.  Discount stores, Scholastic, rummage sales, resale shops, and other places are great starting points for adding to your collection.  If you are a newer teacher or changing grades, consider asking students and other teachers what is "hot" in their room before you invest too much!  Think about organizing them in a simple, easy-to-use system to make everyone's life easier!  CLICK HERE for a post about how I organize my ridiculous collection!

3.  Teach them about what a "just right" book is

This is a key part of helping my students transition back to school. I want students to recognize all the things that go into finding that "just right" book--including interests, level, genre, length, and more.  We talk about abandoning books--and how it can be okay ONCE IN AWHILE, but if we become good book "pickers", we won't need to abandon many.  I make sure to model, model, model all the ways we can preview books to see if they are good fits.  At the beginning of the year, this is the number one thing I confer with students about.  I really want them to know that it is NO FUN to read a book that isn't a good fit.

4.  Expose them to different genres

Whether it be through full units to explicitly teach different genres, are mindful of our read aloud selections, or simply doing book talks or other "focus" lessons on different genres, we can really SELL students on different types of books.  We always have some students who are genre picky (think "I only read Harry Potter-like books), but with a little convincing, we can often open students up to amazing books they never would have picked on their own.  Depending on your curriculum, you may even want to have the students graph their reading and track their trends.  We even do a "historical fiction challenge" where I make a "code" on the wall (ex. red for books set during the Civil War, yellow for the Great Depression, and so on).  Every time students finish a book of that time "era", they make a paper link and add to our chain.  Last year we had 132 historical fiction books read in February!
teaching historical fiction

5.  Give them choices

Sometimes we need to give students choices.  Choices about WHAT they read.  Choices about WHERE they read.  Choices about whether they read alone or with a buddy.  Sometimes I'll even take a class vote on what our next read aloud will be!  We need to work to create a climate of readers where we are all celebrating books together.

6.  Get them talking about books

Whether we put sentence starters up on the wall, do fishbowl activities where we watch groups have discussions, or even find example videos online to "study", teaching students how to talk about books is so important--so they can participate in whole class discussions AND small group book clubs. Want to read a post more about getting students talking in their book clubs?  Check this one out!

7.  Give them TIME to read self-selected books

Do I need to say more?  Not time to read "assigned" reading.  Time. To. Read.  Teach students how to develop their stamina and minimize distractions and work toward reading for extending periods of time.  Let them get in that "reading zone"!  After all, the way we get better at reading is TO READ!  Have them keep lists of books they want to read and consider doing some self-assessments to monitor their own reading.
student self assessment reading

8.  Help them understand that reading is more than saying the words

One thing that I have noticed about students who come into my room from other schools is that they often have a different view of what a "reader" is.  They talk about reading "fast" and "thick books".  We work hard to help students see that reading is complicated!  It's about deep understanding.  It's about talking about ideas about books.  It's about seeing "movies" in our minds.  It's about rereading when things don't make sense.  Early in the year, I work with my students to understand how complicated reading is--and that we can set goals in all of these different areas to get better at reading.

setting reading goals

9.  Select interesting read alouds with a purpose

I think it's so important to read aloud a variety of things to our students...articles...poems...picture books...novels.  The beauty of the read aloud is that we can decide WHY we want to read it.  Is it to teach them something?   Purely for enjoyment?  To introduce or reinforce a skill such as theme or setting?  To study a character and how they change?  The sky is the limit--but we should always KNOW our purpose.  For example, I start the year by reading a ton of picture books to model my thinking and other strategies and I read "Fish in a Tree" as a novel to really talk about characters, the setting of "school", and how students treat each other.  We have a lot of power and there are SO many amazing books. Choosing is so hard!  The beauty of the read aloud is that we can expose students to texts that they may not have access to without us; we can "teach" more rigorous reading through our read alouds.

10. Remember to slow down and enjoy!

In our current climate of pushing standards and assessments and units and more, sometimes we need to just stop and savor what we are doing with our students.  When my students are independently reading, and I am moving quietly among them conferring, sometimes I just stop and look around and the 25 little bodies who are in the process of becoming life-long readers.  Pretty powerful!

Interested in some of the forms and lesson ideas I use at the beginning of the year?  Check this out!

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