Tag Archives: literature

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.

commonlit
Go to CommonLit for more information.
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storymamas

As pretty much anyone who attends an ISTE conference will tell you, one of the most important features of the entire event is the connections that you make.  With the explosion of social media many educators have been able to find like-minded colleagues around the globe through Twitter chats, Facebook Posts, or blogging.  But when 20,000 of these people convene in a single city, these bonds can be strengthened as we get to meet each other in-person.

Two of the people I was fortunate to meet up with this week happen to be 2/3 of the storymamas team, Kim and Ashley.  These two, along with their friend Courtney, are the women behind the storymamas blog, a site dedicated to sharing book recommendations for children.  The three all have elementary school experience, and coincidentally they each have 2 children. (Did you have the second one three months ago, Kim, just to even things out?) As soon as I met Kim and Ashley, I knew that we all shared the same passion for reading and education, which definitely makes this an ISTE connection worth celebrating.  If I could just get them in the same room with my Twitter/Blog pal, Joelle Trayers, I think we might become a new alternative source of energy 😉

What is great about storymamas (besides the cool people who created it) is that the blog is a great resource for busy teachers and mothers who are looking for new children’s literature.  Now that my daughter is a teenager and stubbornly choosing to decide her own reading materials, I don’t find myself in the children’s book section very often.  It’s nice to have another place to get ideas for books to use with my younger grade levels.  I also like that they include author interviews on the blog with 3 questions about the story and 3 questions about the author.

So, want great new book ideas and insights into what makes writers tick?  Check out storymamas.  You can also find them on Twitter and Instagram at @storymamas, #storymamasbookaday & #authorsaturday

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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

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This One’s for the Books

I decided to go with a book theme for this week’s Phun Phriday post, as I noticed this seemed to be a trend in the articles I was saving to my Flipboard magazine lately.  Here are some clever literary creations I’ve collected:

  • In Jane Mount’s Etsy shop, you will find hand-made enamel book pins of classic books like Anne of Green Gables and posters of ideal bookshelf collections, such as “Narnia.”
  • If it’s on your bucket list to read the top 100 most essential novels, then you will probably love this scratch-off poster to keep track of your progress.
  • Cassia Beck offers a multitude of “old book” patterned items on Society 6 – including leggings, a duvet cover, and a rug.

I don’t know about you, but I will definitely be curled up with a book at least once during our 3-day weekend in the States.  Happy Friday!

Bookworm Rug by Cassia Beck on Society 6
Bookworm Rug by Cassia Beck on Society 6

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

 

LitCharts

If you teach middle or high school literature classes, you really need to check out LitCharts.  This tool can really help your students analyze a text with a multitude of interactive infographics that can enrich their understanding of a novel in a unique way.

I came across LitCharts while I was looking for different way for my students to discuss the themes in The Giver.  My students are 5th grade gifted students, and the resources are a little advanced for them.  However, there were definitely some pieces I could use with my class.

One of my favorite tools is the “Theme Tracker.”  This page describes the major themes in the novel.  What is unique is that it not only describes the theme and its usage by the author, but it offers an interactive chart for each theme.  The chart allows the user to see immediately which chapters relate to the theme more than others. If you don’t remember the chapter very well, you can click on it to go the chapter page, which gives text evidence supporting the themes.  All of the themes are color coded, so you can see how certain passages support more than one theme.

LitCharts also gives breakdowns regarding symbols, characters, and quotes.  While you are browsing the site, be sure to look at the “Chart Board” for your favorite book, one of the most powerful infographics I’ve ever seen.

Because some of the books included happen to cover somewhat adult topics, be sure to thoroughly check out the LitChart coverage of the book before assigning it to your students.

I suppose some teachers might view this as a high tech cheat sheet, but savvy teachers will find many ways to use this to enrich the learning of their students.

example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver - on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more
example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver – on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more