The holiday season is officially upon us. Thanksgiving is this Thursday and after that we have three short weeks until Christmas break. Below are some ideas to bring the holiday spirit into your classroom over those few weeks. Please feel free to share any other holiday ideas in the comments below.
Great Holiday Read Alouds - Check out this list of read alouds worth checking out during the holiday season. This link is in the form of a letter to parents and would be great to share with families for ideas for home reading!
47 Elf On The Shelf Classroom Escapades and Resources - Brighten up your December with these funny ideas. Elf On The Shelf can be employed as a fun and engaging management tool. This post provides ideas about how to set the elf up in the classroom, how to name it, and even what to do if a student touches the elf. If you're hesitant to use the elf, there are also alternatives ideas provided.
Persuasive Writing: Holiday vs. Holiday - This post is more appropriate for intermediate grades. It lays out a plan to write a persuasive essay about a holiday from the perspective of the mascot from another holiday. For example, Santa Clause writes his opinion on Thanksgiving, or the Easter Bunny writes about the 4th of July, etc. You could have a lot of fun with this.
Go Deep with Christmas Trees - Here is another neat idea. In this post, ideas for researching and exploring the history of the Christmas Tree are presented. Students can learn about topics such as the origin of the Christmas Tree, the evolution of holiday decor, famous trees throughout history, artificial vs. real trees, etc. A curious class could really run with this project!
I've had several conversations with teachers trying to incorporate more nonfiction text into their classrooms, whether through close reading, guided reading, read aloud, or independent reading. One of the frustrating things is finding nonfiction reading that is appropriate for our students. As adults, they will have access to a wonderful array of nonfiction that is both entertainingly constructed and highly informative. One solution to our woes is provided by The Nonfiction Detectives. This blog was created by two librarians named Cathy and Louise for the purpose of reviewing nonfiction books for kids. They have so many great resources. I encourage you to bookmark this blog.
Today, I want to share with you the information they shared from their post "The Nonfiction Detectives' Tips for Evaluating Nonfiction". In this post, they share their tips for evaluating nonfiction. These can be applied directly to the nonfiction texts you are using during your balanced literacy block. These tips could also be directly taught to students to use when they are evaluating nonfiction on their own.
First, ask yourself: WHAT TYPE OF NONFICTION IT IS? This will help you decide how and when to use it. You'll also be able to discuss text structure with your kids using the following categories. Notice, there are links to sample texts that represent each of these types.
Next, ask yourself: WHO IS THE AUTHOR? The following steps will help you determine if the text is of value or not. This is also a great step to model for your students when doing research and can even be applied to web-based research.
After that, ask yourself: WHAT ABOUT THE BACK MATTER? This set of questions guides you beyond simply the author's credentials, but gets you thinking about the research and the structure and whether the book is still useful without these.
Finally, run through the following categories to fully analyze the text:
These tips are great when selecting text for your classroom, especially if it is a close read that you'll be doing. There will be no perfect text, but at least you'll be analyzing what you are selecting to see whether it is appropriate, useful, or relevant. Please let me know how I can support your work with nonfiction instruction going forward. When you're ready to dig into some close reading or some nonfiction analysis, please be in touch.
On a related note...
Check out the images below for some sample charts that support nonfiction instruction.
So... Where does close reading fit in? What is close reading? When does close reading occur? How do I select text for close reading? Continue reading for some ideas.
What is close reading?
Close reading is when we use our "heavy" weights. These are the short bursts of practice that are highly directed and coached.
Close reading is:
Who does the reading?
When do we do close reading?
Close reading can be done several times a week. You will most likely use one text over the course of a week and really dig into it, engaging in repeated readings and reading for a new purpose each time, pushing the level of text-dependent questions deeper each time.
How do we select texts for close reading?
Close reading is not the time to differentiate text. You select one text that will challenge your students and give them something to truly tackle. The text should be complex enough to spur discussion and inspire students to debate, investigate, write, present, or take some action of some sort.
On a related note...
Close Reading Model Lessons - Check out the downloadable lessons from Achievethecore.org. There are several sample plans organized by grade level. You can download the lessons with the text for reading included. Using these sample lessons might be a great way to step into close reading before selecting texts on your own.
Awhile ago I came across this blog post from Byrdseed.com. This is a website dedicated to differentiating instruction for high-level learners. However, I find many of the things Ian Byrd, the blog's founder, blogs about and shares are able to be applied at a variety of levels. The post I want to discuss today is called Tickling Students' Curiosity. In this post, Byrd offers suggestions for how to capitalize on the curiosity of your students. I'll summarize his suggestions here:
1. The Book - Create a book of unanswered questions with your students. This can take the form of a simple binder or it can be a bulletin board in your classroom. This is what the third grade team at Harvey Dunn has created. Here students are encouraged and given time to write questions that may come up (whether related to the content or completely off topic) and hold onto them for later investigation.
2. Scaffold -
3. Curriculum Connections - Once students understand how exciting it can be to ask questions, start connecting to your curriculum. What lingering questions do students still have about a topic you've been studying? Put these questions in the book as well as any answers that come up.
4. Using the Book - Return to the book when you can and remind students of questions that have been answered, but also of questions that are still waiting for answers. Encourage them to keep pondering.
There are no doubt countless ways to incorporate these ideas into your day. Perhaps the questioning happens as a wrap-up to a lesson, or even as an opener. Perhaps it takes place during morning meeting. Maybe it becomes a closing circle activity before the day is out. Giving students opportunities to ask questions, demonstrate inquisitiveness, and excitedly seek those answers deepens their critical thinking and problem solving skills. In order to prepare our students to be successful in the 21st century, we need to support their curiosity and the search for answers. How can you capitalize on your students' curiosity?
On a related note...
Google Search by Reading Level - When students use Google to search for answers to their questions or research topics, they can use the simple steps on this handout to filter their Google searches by reading level. Just follow the steps in this document.
I am an elementary instructional coach for the Sioux Falls School District.