Tag Archives: literature

Texts for Talking About Race

As I continue to educate myself on anti-racism, I have vowed to devote a weekly post to this cause.  I have been curating resources for this at a rate that is impossible to sustain, and it has been a bit overwhelming.  I don’t want to dump a lot of links on you because you can basically get any list that you want from social media.  Following the tradition of this blog, I will attempt to share no more than a few quality resources with each post.

Today’s very useful resource is brought to you by CommonLit.  I’ve written about CommonLit a couple of times on this blog, and it is heartening to see that this website has continued to improve.  Provided by a non-profit, CommonLit also has remained free for teachers.  As you know, (and I mentioned in yesterday’s post), quality ed tech tools are difficult to find, and sometimes don’t last very long.

CommonLit has compiled 59 texts for talking about race.  It appears that the grade range is from 4th-12th.  Here is an example of a poem called, “The Child,” by J. Patrick Lewis, that is suitable for 4th grade and up.  As you can see on the right-hand side, activities are provided to go along with the text, including questions and discussion suggestions.  Students who are logged in on a computer (not a mobile device at this time) can also annotate the text.  They can have the computer read it out loud, or translate to another language.

At the top of the page, you will see tabs for paired texts, related media, and parent/teacher guides to go along with the specific text.  You must be logged in for some of these resources – but remember it is free to register!

If school is already out in your neck of the woods, be sure to bookmark this resource for next school year.  Parents, you don’t need to wait, since there are guides for you to use if you want to start the discussion now.

Stop Racism
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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.

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: