Category Archives: Language Arts

Tooth Traditions Around the World

Silvia Tolisano of the Langwitches Blog shared in this post how a teacher from Argentina is trying to help her first graders learn about the “tooth” traditions of other countries.  Students are invited to add to this Flipgrid their own stories about what happens when they hit that favorite milestone of losing a tooth. Similar to the other lessons that I’ve shared that help students to learn about commonalities and differences throughout the world, this is a wonderful idea for crowd-sourcing knowledge from our young people about a topic that means quite a bit to them!  Unfortunately, there is a disadvantage for those of us who are mono-lingual, as several of the videos that have already been shared may be in a language you do not know.  (I tried using Google Translate on my phone with some interesting results…)   Maybe including some hand-drawn pics like the one below might help.

I enjoyed hearing Maggie H.’s comparison of England and India (I think my students will be horrified to hear that some children plant their teeth!).  Considering the wide variety in monetary value that teeth seem to bring just within my tiny class, it might also be fun to research the currency exchanges mentioned and do some math along with your geography lesson.

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image from Cathy Meier on Flickr
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CommonLit Poetry

Back in 2015, I found out about CommonLit from Richard Byrne and pointed people to his post to learn more about this free resource for teachers.  Since then, CommonLit has added a Guided Reading feature that can really be helpful for differentiation in your classroom, Book Pairings, and probably a few other tools that I haven’t mentioned – yet it has continued to be free.  This is huge in the world of EdTech, where teachers often find ourselves priced out of “free” programs.

Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I would remind you of CommonLit, which does have quite a few poetry offerings.  Once you log in and go to the library page, you can see some of the featured poems selected by the staff for this month.  You can also go to the “Browse all Text Sets” page in order to search for particular genres, themes, grade levels (3rd grade and up), and lexiles.

I love looking at the Book Pairings, which offer supplemental short texts to accompany novels.  For example, my 5th graders read The Giver, and CommonLit links to 4 poems that nicely fit with the themes of the book (along with some news articles and informational texts as well). The search page helpfully identifies the genre of each link, its lexile level, and grade level.  CommonLit even gives you advice on which point in the novel would be a good time to add the paired text.

CommonLit offers a Teacher Dashboard so that you can assign passages within the site.  There are also short assessments and suggested discussion questions for each assignment.

Because CommonLit is a nonprofit organization, it promises that its resources will always be free for teachers.  Take advantage of this site to encourage deeper reading, discussion, and connections.

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Go to CommonLit for more information.

National Poetry Month Ideas

April is National Poetry Month.  Here are a few poetry activities I’ve done in the past that I felt were really worthwhile:

Also, if you are looking for an awesome new-ish poetry book for kids, here is my review of I’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris.

ReadWriteThink offers two tools for writing Haikus (an interactive site and an app).

I’m not especially fond of Acrostic Poetry (it usually turns into a list, rather than a poem), but here are some ideas to make Acrostics a bit more rigorous, especially for gifted students:

Or, how about acrostic poems where both the initial and the final letters of each line spell a word?

Here are 30 other ways to celebrate National Poetry Month from Poets.org.

For your own amusement, if you have a Twitter account, check out Poetweet.

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War

One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2018 was presented by a group from Richardson ISD.  #4CoresonFire focused on some cross-curricular activities using tools that I’ve used before.  However, I got some great integration ideas I hadn’t thought of – which makes the session a success in my book.

One of the teachers described how she had used StoryCorps and Newsela to start a unit about the Civil War.  (Here are my previous posts on StoryCorps and Newsela.)  I starred my notes wildly as she spoke; this is my secret code for, “USE THIS AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK TO SCHOOL!”  My 5th graders were about to read the chapter in The Giver that describes Jonas’ first introduction to the concept of war, and I knew these would be great connections.

In the lesson described at TCEA, the teachers posed the question, “When do the costs of war outweigh the benefits?”  Their students discussed this, and then watched, “The Nature of War” on StoryCorps.  After a post-video discussion, the students read an article about the Civil War in Newsela (you do need to register for free to read the articles).  Then they launched into a study of the Civil War in their history class.

I tweaked the lesson to use with The Giver.  I used Pear Deck to give an interactive, student-paced lesson.  Here is the link.  If you want to use the presentation as intended, you will need to register for Pear Deck.  You can find out more about Pear Deck, as well as a link to get a premium code that lasts the rest of this school year, here.  Also, the StoryCorps video link is embedded.  Do to our district filters, students had to log in to YouTube on a separate tab before they were able to watch the video on their own devices.

I chose to use an article from Newsela about, “Just War Theory.”  Student responses at the end of the presentation varied widely from their initial ideas about whether or not war is ever justified.  Many of them agreed with the quote I posted at the end about war being banished from the earth – until I brought up The Giver.  There is no war anymore in this dystopian world, but there is also no freedom.

Is it possible to banish war without giving up most of our freedom?

That was a discussion that definitely engaged the class!

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Wonder Hyperdoc

If you haven’t been formally introduced to Hyperdocs, you may want to check out this post from last year.  Michele Waggoner tweeted out a link this week to an incredible Hyperdoc using Google Slides.  The Hyperdoc is to be used for a literature circle activity based on the book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.  It embeds Depth and Complexity into this collaborative presentation using David Chung’s ideas for literature circle frames.  This doc is 139 slides long, and gives students many opportunities to do meaningful reflections, activities, and discussions.  It looks like Michele put weeks of work into preparing this, and I, for one, am grateful she is sharing it with the world!

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slide from Michele Waggoner’s Hyperdoc

Holiday Ethics Lessons for Primary Students

One of my favorite activities posted on Joelle Trayers’ Not Just Child’s Play blog is the lesson she does with her Kindergarten students on ethics using The Gingerbread Man story. “Ethics” is one of Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity icons, and an excellent way to take a topic to the Analyzing and the Evaluating levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

I think that we spend a lot of time in school teaching students right from wrong, but we forget to tell them that not everyone agrees on what is right and wrong.  It can be shocking to a child to discover that her own judgment differs from someone else’s when it comes to morality, and it’s important for kids to learn to question the “obvious” and consider other perspectives.

Trayers also recently posted, “In Defense of Grinch,” which was a lesson where her students explained why the Grinch should not be put in jail for stealing the gifts.  With older classes, you could have students argue both sides.

Another good holiday ethics lesson could be done with the video, “The Snowman.”    Asking if the snowman should have saved the rabbit would be too simple, but “Should the snowman have kept the carrot at the end or given it to the rabbits?” could probably generate some good controversy in your classroom.

Speaking of snowmen, should Frosty have gotten a ticket for ignoring the traffic cop?

Of course fiction does not have to be your only resource.  Newsela (free to register) has lots of great news articles that I have used in the classroom for ethics discussions.  When we discuss the juxtaposition between freedom and safety in my class, I like to use, “Some Cities Say Sledding Too Dangerous.”

For a few more ethics resources, you can find a free animated video about ethics on BrainPop (most suitable for 2nd-5th grades) and Teaching Children Philosophy has a list of children’s books that you can use for teaching ethics, along with suggested discussion questions.

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image from Pixabay

Wrestling with Writing

It is not uncommon for GT students to dislike writing.  I was intrigued recently when I saw the article, “Why Do So Many Gifted and Talented Children Hate to Write?”  Although the article does not give any scientific evidence, it does suggest that it can sometimes be difficult for gifted students to gather thoughts that make perfect sense to them and go through the excruciatingly slow process of organizing and communicating those thoughts on paper (or screen).  I like to compare it to asking an adult to write down the instructions for tying a shoelace or walking.  Sometimes we just know things, and we don’t find it pleasant to try to tease out the details.

The above article suggests a writing exercise that turns the task into more of a challenge.  I haven’t tried it with my students, but I have learned that giving them unusual rules or restrictions often seems to motivate them more than unlimited freedom (which usually just paralyzes them).  This article from Alice Keeler also recommends adding constraints to writing, and she provides a spreadsheet template to help this process.

Unexpected topics can also stimulate ideas.  You can find some fun video writing prompts here.  “Writing Sparks” from Night Zookeeper offers random topics. (Click on “Create Spark.”) Different perspectives can also galvanize student writing.  And one of my favorite online tools that has never failed to intrigue my students with its incredible illustrations has been Storybird.

Writing can be a challenge for anyone.  Students with high I.Q.’s are not immune to academic difficulties.  What may be perceived as laziness can often be just a matter of fear of failure.  With a bit of creativity and lot of support, students who “hate” to write may discover a strength they didn’t know they possessed.

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image from USDA on Flickr