Tag Archives: language arts


Note: As I was looking up resources for this post, I realized that yesterday, the day that I introduced Guernica to my current 4th graders, was the 80th anniversary of its bombing. I’m sure I probably knew that somewhere in my subconscious, but it still sent a chill down my spine when I saw the date.

Every year my 4th grade gifted students study masterpieces of all types – literary, mathematical, and artistic.  “Guernica,” by Picasso is one of the artistic masterpieces that we examine as we discuss the empathy that the visual arts often reflect on the part of the artist.  It is a difficult piece to confront, particularly once you know the history behind it, but I think that it is important to study for many reasons.  Picasso’s internal struggle as a man who disdained using art for political reasons but also a man who felt compelled to convey his emotions with every brushstroke make this painting into an engaging topic of conversation with my students.

Gavin Than recently created another one of his fabulous Zen Pencils comics dedicated to Picasso’s “Guernica,” illustrating a famous quote from Picasso about the piece.  It would be a great way to start a debate in your classroom about whether or not the students agree with Picasso’s stance.  Another philosophical discussion that stems from the painting is the love/hate relationship we have with technology, as symbolized by the light bulb in the center of the painting.  The same technology that allows many people from all over the world travel to see this work of art by air also doomed the Spanish town to being blanket-bombed by the Germans.

For more on teaching with Guernica, here is a Pulitzer Center lesson on interpreting global issues through the lens of the painting.

Older students might also want to take a look at this video, which gives a 3d perspective of the painting.

And, here is a current event news article from Newsela that makes the connection between Guernica and recent tragedies in Syria. (You must log in to view this – registration is free.)

You might also want to try one of these lessons from Read, Write, Think, which also includes links to other Guernica-related sites.

image from Manuel Galrinho on Flickr

Literature Quote Bingo

The New York Times has many lesson plans and other resources for educators that can help with the integration of current events. One portion of the site that you may not know about is the page that offers, “Over 50 Reusable Activity Sheets to Teach any Day’s Times.” With downloadable PDF’s of graphic organizers, games, discussion starters, and other lesson ideas, this page should be bookmarked on the computer of any upper elementary – secondary educator.  One of my recent discoveries was the, “Literature Quote Bingo” PDF, (which just happens to include one of my most favorite Harry Potter quotes of all time).  The students must match famous quotes to news stories, which is a great way to demonstrate understanding of the quotes and make connections to real world events. This is an open-ended activity that could be used with any selection of quotes.  If your students enjoy quotes as much as mine do, then they will find it engaging and you will get some valuable insight into their perspectives.


Tuck Everlasting and the Wheel of Life

On Monday, I wrote about Tarr’s Toolbox and one of the resources you can find there, the “Wheel of Life.”  My 4th graders have been reading Tuck Everlasting (R.I.P. Natalie Babbitt, who died October, 2016), which uses wheels and circles for symbolism throughout the novel.  They have also been discussing the attributes of the main characters, so I thought the “Wheel of Life” would be a fitting activity to try with them.

There are many ways this activity can be done, and Russel Tarr has great suggestions on his blog.  Because it was their first time doing this, I gave the students character traits to copy on their wheel, and deliberately asked them to put them in the same spots on their wheels.  Then I “secretly” assigned each student a character to plot the points for, and told them to hold off on writing the name of the character at the top.  I deliberately assigned the same characters to several students so we could compare their responses later.

When everyone was done, we went around the room and tried to guess the character by how each student’s Wheel of Life looked.  It was almost eerie how easy it was – until we got to one student’s graph.  After several wrong guesses from her classmates, she finally had to reveal her character’s name.

Jaws dropped and there was immediately the beginning of a debate. However, an unexpected interruption happened before we could discuss the varied opinions, making us table our questions until next week’s class.

The conversation associated with this activity is so deep and rich.  I can’t wait to continue it next week.  I also see some other extensions that we can do, such as creating graphs for our own personalities to compare and contrast with the characters in the story.

The experience with this lesson reminded me of the great learning that happened last year when we used Hexagonal Learning to examine our literature.  If you are looking to integrate higher levels of Bloom’s into your lessons, I highly recommend both of these activities.

Click here to go to Russel Tarr's Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable
Click here to go to Russel Tarr’s Wheel of Life blog post, which includes the printable

photo-dec-07-2-28-46-pm photo-dec-07-2-28-34-pm photo-dec-07-2-28-13-pm

Hexagonal Learning with Tuck Everlasting

When you can give students time to deeply discuss a text, you may be surprised by the connections and conclusions they make on their own.  This is the purpose of “Hexagonal Learning.”  You can read more about the origins and many uses of Hexagonal Learning in a blog post I wrote 4 years ago on the topic. (I can’t believe it has been that long!!)

When my gifted fourth graders completed Tuck Everlasting, I wanted to facilitate a rich and meaningful discussion about the novel.  Ahead of time, I visited Pam Hook’s SOLO Hexagon Generator and created 3 pages of terms from Tuck.  One sheet included a character’s name in each hexagon.  The 2nd sheet, printed on a different color, had one of the book’s themes in each hexagon, and the 3rd sheet, also printed on a different color, had symbols from the book.  I also printed a 4th sheet as a blank, so students could add more words to hexagons.

The task for the students was to connect the hexagons in as many ways as they could.  Having learned about tessellations, they already knew how easily several could connect together.  I explained that I was looking for “deep” connections, not something like putting two characters together because they were both boys.  Then, I split the students into small groups, and gave each group a set of the hexagons and a long piece of paper to slide them around on.  Then I “hovered” so I could listen to their conversations.

The first thing I noticed was that they stayed completely on task, and took the discussion very seriously.  They got very excited when they were able to put several hexagons around one central word.  When I worried that there wasn’t really a meaningful connection, they were quick to explain to me what I had been missing.  The groups had completely different conversations, and their final “hives” took on dissimilar shapes.

At the end, the students looked at each other’s collections, and asked questions to clarify.  Their faces would change from perplexed or slightly critical to understanding and, sometimes, even admiration for the unique connections.

I feel like this was definitely a better way for the students to make sense of the book we read than if I had lectured them about it.  In fact, I may have learned a few things about Tuck Everlasting from listening to them that I’d never considered before! (Click on images to enlarge.)

UPDATE 2/1/17: Here are links to some Tuck Everlasting hexagons you can use if you would like:


Word Sift

Larry Ferlazzo recently published a post on his blog about a site called Word Sift.  I decided to try it out with a text that I am reading to my 5th grade students, hoping to give it more meaning.

We just finished reading The Giver together, and Lois Lowry’s Newbery Acceptance speech for the honor received by this book is included in my edition only.  It is an amazing speech, and the students always become excited as the revelations are made that connect all of the pieces in the book to Lowry’s life.  However, I am regularly seeking ways to add some more interactivity to this oral reading and discussion.  This year, the students created mind maps with the book’s recurring themes (which we analyzed using LitCharts) as different nodes.  They are adding the relevant examples from Lowry’s speech to the nodes as I read. Word Sift might add another layer to this analysis with its visual representations.

I copied and pasted the text of Lowry’s speech into Word Sift to see the results.  Word Sift will not only give you word clouds, which can be modified in several ways, but you can also select words from the cloud to see them in context and images from the web that represent them.  There is also a connection to a visual thesaurus.

With the word cloud, you can highlight certain vocabulary, such as Marzano & Pickering words from the 4 core subjects.  You can also sort the words alphabetically or by how rare each word is in our language.

This tool would certainly be an asset for ELL’s, but it is a great resource for anyone who would like to examine a text more deeply, and to learn more about the words used to compose it.

Word Swift example using the text from Lois Lowry's Newbery acceptance speech for The Giver
Word Swift example using the text from Lois Lowry’s Newbery acceptance speech for The Giver


Novel Engineering

As many schools begin to realize the need to integrate more STEM/STEAM into the curriculum, those of us in elementary education who may feel a bit inadequate when it comes to lofty fields like engineering sometimes have a hard time incorporating it into our lessons.  Novel Engineering is a project that aims to show how engineering and language arts don’t have to be in separate time slots on your daily schedule.

From what I can tell the Novel Engineering project is open only to a few schools at the moment.  However, you can see what it’s all about in the video synapsis on the home page.  Basically, certain books seem to pose engineering challenges which are just waiting for a skilled design thinker to solve.  You can see several examples of novels that could be used here.  For example, Tuck Everlasting offers two potential engineering problems – how to hide the water that gives eternal life, and how to help Mae Tuck escape jail before the town discovers that she is immortal.

Even though it would be nice to have access to additional program materials and examples, I think that teachers can certainly get many ideas from the novels and their corresponding engineering challenges that are shared on the site.

image from armymaterielcommand on flickr.com
image from armymaterielcommand on flickr.com

Customized Padlet Backgrounds

@LearnMooreStuff and I had a history-textbook-worthy Twitter battle yesterday over who would blog first about this amazing resource from @TechChef4U.  Laura Moore graciously conceded (although I think she is secretly afraid that my light saber is more powerful than hers).

I love to use Padlet (formerly known as Wallwisher), and I’ve recently started to make my own backgrounds to organize the notes added to the board.  Yesterday, Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U) tweeted out an awesome resource that she is offering for free – 13 Graphic Organizer backgrounds to add as your Padlet wallpaper.  That is truly an awesome deal!  She even gives instructions on how to insert them.

Padlet Graphic Organizer Background from @TechChef4U
Padlet Graphic Organizer Background from @TechChef4U


If you want to make your own Padlet backgrounds, one easy way is to make one in Powerpoint or Keynote and save the slide as a .jpg file.  If you check out this post from Cari Young, there is a video from The Organized Classroom that gives a tutorial for using slides to make desktop backgrounds – which could easily apply to making Padlet backgrounds as well.

Recently, I’ve used backgrounds in Padlet for mini-EdCamp type PD. Teachers add notes about what they would like to learn about, and then the notes can be sorted into sessions.

Padlet is such a versatile tool – device neutral and user-friendly.  And, there have been two recent upgrades – an option to have a grid layout, as well as a Chrome extension.  Now, thanks to Lisa Johnson, it has even more potential!