Friday, December 9, 2016

Novel Study Format

Novel Study Format

After experimenting with various ideas of what to focus on with my novel studies (There are so many possibilities!), I finally decided to concentrate on a few key elements:  common core skills, using text based evidence, and higher level thinking/reading skills.  Now I have a format that I really like, and in fact I think that my novel studies were one of my best ideas this past year!

 Two of the elements that I include – using text based evidence and using higher level thinking/reading skills – can be difficult to write questions for on the quick, and I thought that good novel studies with plenty of these types of questions would be the most useful for busy teachers.  And from comments that I’ve received, it seems that other teachers think so too – always great to hear!

Here is how I combined these elements for each set of chapter questions:

Key Ideas and Details
Getting key ideas and details correct is at the top of the list in several grades’ reading/literature standards, so I wanted to be sure to include questions and activities about those elements.  With novels, that means making sure that students get the story elements correct, and straight from the text.  Characterization, setting, plot elements, themes – students need to be clear about these before they can go on to more complex, inferential questions.  And when they can back up their answers with details from the text, they know they’re getting them right.

Context Clues
Context clues are another great place to start kid looking for text based evidence.  Whether they are working on practice exercises or vocabulary from a novel, as kids learn to look for and use more types of context clues, they get more out of what they read.  Kids can go back to the text of a novel to define important story vocabulary, to choose among multiple meanings of a word, to decide why an author chose a particular word to describe a character, or to complete a cloze exercise such as a chapter summary.

Making inferences is the biggie, the complex reading skill that kids can improve on throughout their years in school.  It’s the basis for coming up with really good responses for many comprehension activities such as predicting, answering the harder chapter questions, determining character traits, stating themes, summarizing, and evaluating.  Requiring kids to provide text based evidence for their inferences gets them in the habit of using evidence for all of their inferences later on even when they may not always have to spell out the evidence.

In my novel studies, I now include all three of these sections – Key Ideas and Details, Context Clues, and Inferences – in every set of chapter questions.  These types of questions keep kids thinking and referring back to the text, and hopefully they make these novel studies a good resource for their teachers.

In addition, I also include separate activities in each of these three areas, for use after reading the novel or whenever a more comprehensive review seems appropriate.

I now also make two “side items” every time a do a new novel study.  These are two smaller resources that I list separately in my store.  One is usually an I Have . . .Who Has . . ? game.  These little whole-class activities make a nice quick review of the “facts” before testing or other final activities for the novel.

The second thing I like to make separately is a little freebie, something that just seems to go with the specific novel.  For example, for the football-themed novel CRASH, my freebie is a yearbook activity.  For the novel SCHOOLED, it’s an activity about metaphors in the novel.  You can find the freebies for each of my novel studies in the novel study section of my Teachers pay Teachers Store.

CRASH novel study

SCHOOLED novel study

So what’s next?  Next year I’ll probably try out a few new types of resources, and for sure I want to do more novel studies.   Now I just have to decide which novel to work on next.  Any suggestions?

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Classroom in the Middle

Monday, November 21, 2016

Activities to Use Around the Holidays in ELA

Hi Everybody!  This is Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns, and I'm going to share some activities I use with my students right before the holidays!

We all know that the last couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday break can be, well.... interesting to say the least (that's why I thought this meme by Presto Plans was so fitting).  Every year I try to come up with ways that I can continue to teach my students things that are Common Core aligned, but will also keep them engaged.

Last year, I decided to use these Holiday Task Cards to review figurative language, and my kids LOVED it!

Then we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore, because we all know that students at all ages still love to hear this.  We read this as a class to begin with, and then students worked with a partner to analyze all of the figurative language and sound elements that they could find.  Once we were finished, they asked if they could find more Christmas-themed figurative language on their own, which I thought was great!

What activities do you use right before the holiday break?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Giving Thanks in Middle School

In my district, we have to come to school on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  I know that many of my students will be absent due to holiday travel plans.  So I know I can't teach anything new.  So instead, I'm going to use the time to review main idea with a twist!

My idea is to read The Important Book to them using this video I made:

We will discuss how it relates to main idea in that main idea is the very important part!

Then, I will ask them to brainstorm all the words they would use to tell why they are important by describing themselves and their friends.  I will record these on the Smartboard.

Next, I will hand out turkeys and ask each student to write their name on it.

Last, students will pass their turkey to the left and each person will write one word from the Smartboard on another student's turkey and then pass it again.  When each person gets their own turkey back, we will look at all the reasons why each student is important and give thanks for these important words.  :)

Combine Thanksgiving and Main Idea with this Quick and Easy Activity!

This activity meets the need for a middle school student to be valued and helps to create a community of learners where everyone is important.  

And that is how we will Give Thanks in Middle School!  :)

Get a free copy of some "Thankful Turkeys" that are ready to go by clicking here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fifteen Favorite Stories, Poems, and Non-fiction Readings for the Christmas Season

There are so many fun holidays coming up, but for this post, I’m sticking to the one I know and love the best – Christmas!  One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is all the preparation in the weeks leading up to the holiday.  So in the classroom, as well as at home, Christmas for me always started early.

Today I’m posting with ideas of stories and other readings for this holiday season.  There’s something of a mixed bag here – classic stories, funny poems, informational articles, and a play.  I’ve included some links so that you can go right to the stories to check them out.  Some of the stories can be copied for class use directly from that site, but not necessarily all of them.

Snowball (poem)
Snowball is a very short, funny poem by Shel Silverstein about a snowball that does what snowballs do when they’re brought indoors.  It’s not strictly a holiday poem, but it’s a fun read at this season.

A Cowboy’s Letter to Santa (poem)
This poem by Eric Ode is one of the many funny, kid-friendly poems on the Giggle Poetry site, in the Holiday Poems section.  It’s about a cowboy letting Santa know that what he really, really wants is a horse.

Christmas Truce (informational text)
Different versions of the story of the World War I Christmas truce are available in various places.  The article on this site, Ducksters, is short and easily readable with the information divided up under subheadings, and there is a quiz at the end.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (story)
I couldn’t write a list of favorite Christmas stories without including this Dr. Seuss classic picture book, and popular Christmas movie.  The Grinch steals all the presents but can’t stop the Whos from singing out their Christmas joy.  Finally like Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch undergoes a Christmas Day transformation.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (poem)
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement Clark Moore, has been published in numerous picture books and seems to be readily available online.  If you plan to project it directly from your computer to read to the class, this version, from the American Literature site, includes nice illustrations.

National Guard Flies to Remote Arctic Village (informational text)
The Tween Tribune site from National Geographic has several interesting Christmas articles. This article, from 2014, is about an Operation Santa Program that brought toys, treats, and other gifts to children living in poverty in an Inupiat Eskimo community.  You can choose among four lexile levels ranging from the 800s to 1200.

The Polar Express (story)
This picture book, by Chris Van Allsburg, is another story that I just couldn’t leave off my list, even though everyone has probably already read it!  It’s about the Christmas bell that can only be heard by those “who truly believe.” There’s a movie, too.

Must be Santa (poem/song)
Must Be Santa, a Christmas song, originally written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks, includes poetry elements like rhyme and repetition and a call-and-response format.  Bob Dylan’s version, on a YouTube video, is fun to listen to and seems to include the names of a few US presidents mixed in with the reindeer!

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (story)
This is a lovely picture book – both the story by Gloria Houston, and the illustrations, by Barbara Cooney. The story takes place in the Appalachian Mountains and features a brave little girl and a dad who’s a soldier and returns just in time for Christmas.

The Elves and the Shoemaker (story)
This traditional story by the Brothers Grimm is also available from the American Literature site.  The elves secretly help the shoemaker; the shoemaker returns the kindness.  Everyone lives happily ever after.

A Christmas Carol (story/play)
In Charles Dickens’ classic holiday story, Ebenezer Scrooge mends his miserly ways after receiving Christmas Eve visits from three ghosts. You can read the story here, but there are also versions written as a play, and in simpler, more modern language, that kids seem to have fun with year after year during the Christmas season.

The Christmas Song (poem/song)
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . .”  The Christmas Song, written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells and made famous by Nat King Cole,  is a good example of a poem with (mostly) four line stanzas and rhyme schemes ABAB and AABB. 

Christmas Bells (poem)
There’s a Civil War connection to Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and you can find lessons online that expand on that connection and incorporate both English and history.  This poem, too, is commonly encountered as a Christmas carol.

The Gift of the Magi (story)
The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry, is widely available online, but I especially like the picture book version illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger.  This is a story set at the turn of the twentieth century and about a young couple who each sacrifice their most prized possession to buy a special Christmas gift for the other.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (story)
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by the poet Dylan Thomas, is told as a nostalgic remembrance of a wonderful Christmas in the past when the speaker was a young boy. At various times, readings of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” were recorded for radio and TV.  It’s not an easy read with its complicated and old-fashioned language, but for a class that could appreciate it, this would be a great holiday story.

Hope you’ve found a Christmas reading that you enjoy here!  And if you have stories to add to the list, I would love to hear about them!

Happy holiday season!  
From Sharon, at Classroom in the Middle.

Classroom in the Middle

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Classroom Management Before Break? No Problem! Use Incentives!

The time between Halloween and Winter Break can be so difficult!  Build in positive reinforcement incentives to keep lessons moving forward and classroom management under control.

What's the problem?

You don't really need me to answer that do you?!  There might not be a more frustrating period of time to teach content than November and December.  Students are distracted by school programs, secret Santas, decorations, countdown to break, social events, more school programs, time off for Thanksgiving.... Okay, we know what the problem is!

What's a teacher to do?

Build incentives into your teaching that will motivate students to stay on track and work for you.  Incentives also provide students with a positive reward that will help improve your classroom management.

1.  Find what they like

By this time of year, you know your students.  You know what activities they've delighted in and have begged for more of.  Maybe you had a cool art project that went with a novel study.  Maybe your students loved the "pass back" story activity or had a blast with your bingo vocab game.

Choose an activity you think your class will work for.  It can be a bit of a trial and error process, but that's the great thing -- you can do something different every time.

2.  How can you incentivize it?

Take you idea to your students.  I wanted to have a "game day" every other Friday.  I proposed the idea to my students.  What if we had a "game day" if we finished all of our scheduled work?  My students loved that idea.

3.  Get organized

My students formed groups and chose what game they wanted to play.  I discovered that many of my students had board games at home that they have never played!    I made sure I had information from each group:  who was in the group (making sure it was a reasonable number for the game and that everyone was in a group), what game they were playing, who was bringing in the game, and if they knew how to play the game or not.

4.  Working toward a goal

I let my students know what we needed to complete before we were eligible for the game day.  For ELA, it included writing goals that I posted on my board each week and broke down for each day.  

The daily goals for the class helped reduce student talking and off-task behavior that wasted class time -- students used peer pressure to work for their goal.

While I originally wanted to stretch out the goal for two weeks, the first time we tried this, I had the game day at the end of the week.  This gave students a taste of what game day looked like and why they wanted to earn it.

5.  Keeping it fresh

Having a game day every Friday would quickly lose its novelty for middle schoolers -- no matter how much they try to convince you it wouldn't!  

After the first week, I stretched the reward out two weeks.  I also asked students to change games and groups.  

I also kept a few games in my closet.  Students would forget to bring in a game, or they became bored with the one they brought.  You could also have a whole-class game day to play that Bingo game you have stashed in your cabinet.

6.  Kicking it up a notch

My original game day evolved into an annual Scrabble Tournament.  Even my principal was impressed!  Words!  What could possibly go wrong?!!

If you're interested in hosting a Scrabble Tournament, here's how I did it Scrabble Tournament.
Give it a try!  Lots of fun!

What do you think?

What incentives would work for your students?  Share your ideas in the comments below!  

Happiness always!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Using Higher Level Vocabulary in Math

We all know that in order for students to be as successful as possible, we need to be using higher level and academic vocabulary in our classrooms on a constant basis. I want to be perfectly honest here. I think that math-minded people, those that went to college just to study math, have an easier time with this. I was not such a person. I majored in education, and even though I was always really good at math, using higher level vocabulary was tough for me. I had to teach myself to develop very purposeful and strategic ways to make sure it was occurring often in my classroom.
One of these ways was to make sure I was using very precise academic vocabulary in my lesson planning. By thinking about it well in advance, I could prepare my mind to use the correct terminology. This made it easier for me to remember to use higher level vocabulary when my actual lesson was taking place.

Another way was using higher level and academic vocab in all of my anchor charts. I had all of my anchor charts hung up on the walls once we learned about the concept. They were laminated for use year after year. By having them always hanging on the wall, it enables the students to also be reminded about the correct terminology when they need a little assistance. Plus, it adds just that much more support for student higher level thinking.
Lastly, I always tried to keep up with a word wall. This one was probably the one I kept up with the least. It got tough to maintain constantly adding to it as the school year got busy. If I could go back and redo, I would definitely have a word wall setup like this one from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher. This one can be done all in advance and easily changed out to fit the current lesson.

Not sure where to start? Pinterest it!! There are so many amazing ways to accomplish each of the above on Pinterest that you will surely find one that fits your needs.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Teaching Vocabulary with Games

This month, the Mob is focusing on vocabulary. There's no doubt that introducing, teaching, and reinforcing vocabulary is vital, but what is the best way to do it?

Umm, Don't Try This

Yes, you guessed it.    Giving students word lists, vocabulary word finds, and even crossword puzzles are not going to build their vocabulary.  Rote memorization doesn't work -- not in any real, meaningful way.

But What Works?

I'm not sure there is one perfect way to teach vocabulary.  (That's the good news!)

Since students all learn in different ways and at different rates, it's important to practice vocabulary in a variety of ways.  We know that repeated, meaningful interaction with words helps students learn, understand, and use them.

Try This:  Generate Word Interest

Help raise your students' awareness of the importance of word use by getting them out of their seats to play games!  Gather up your Scrabble board and borrow several others and play scrabble.  Even though your students aren't technically studying content vocabulary, they are searching their minds for words that contain high value letters and words that will fit on the board. 

Make a word wall -- or at least an "Interesting Words" wall.  Encourage students to add words to a blank piece of butcher paper on your classroom wall.  What words do they notice from their reading?  Allowing students to illustrate the word's meaning or initial their word finds can help generate interest and enthusiasm for word collections.

Subscribe and use Merriam Webster's "Word of the Day."  While I wouldn't recommend trying to keep up with a new word a day, you could choose a word of the week.  I love this resource because it provides an audio pronunciation and a bit of etymology for the word.

Try This:  Vocabulary Collector

When your students are reading, provide them with a vocabulary collector.  It can be as simple as a sheet of paper folded into thirds.  Ask students to jot down words and phrases that they come along in their reading.  These words could go on your "Interesting Words" wall or into a Vocabulary Catcher (see below).  Again, you are encouraging your students to become more aware of words and how they are used.
Vocabulary collectors are also helpful in practicing using context clues.

Try This:  "Vocabulary Catcher" Games

Remember fortune tellers? Cootie catchers?  Use them for vocabulary.  The great thing is that students can create several throughout the school year and use them for impromptu games.  I also like them because each one only has eight spots for words -- a manageable amount of words to gather and understand.

I have a Vocabulary Catcher freebie on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Be sure to check it out!

The Bottom Line

Vocabulary, whether it's content vocabulary or not, is important.  Getting students interested and engaged with new words is the first step!

So, what innovative ideas do you use to teach vocabulary?  Share your ideas below!

Happiness always♥

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Teaching the Vocabulary of Language Arts

In any English classroom, there’s a lot of vocabulary that has to be covered throughout the year.  In addition to the vocabulary from the stories and articles that you read, there is the vocabulary that is specific to our subject – and there’s a lot of it!  There are the story elements, poetry terms, genres of reading, types of writing, figurative language terms, terms about vocabulary itself, and more!

No matter how you divide it among the different units that you teach, it’s a lot of terms that your kids need to understand as they progress in their language arts skills.  The good thing is that, like with other language arts elements, these literary terms tend to come up again and again throughout the year so your kids will get a lot of chances to practice. 

Story Elements
Characterization, setting, plot, conflict, and theme.  What else? Maybe types of conflicts, plot elements, examples of themes – nearly every main story element can be broken down into its own list of more literary terms to teach! 

But to me, story elements are the easiest terms to teach because every story that you read is a ready-to-use mentor text.  Each time your students complete a story map, plot map, or other story organizer they are practicing using these terms.

Poetry Terms
You might include types of poems here, or sound elements of poetry, or figurative language, or maybe all three!  Of course, figurative language will fit just as well with fiction readings, and it can also be found in non-fiction, although this may be more for the older kids. 

For types of poetry, I like to have kids make a collection of their favorite poems of each type, maybe by making a booklet with their own hand-written copies of the poems, or a chart with a description of each poem and an illustration.  Sound elements are fun to search for, too, but can be a little difficult to find, so it might take a little time to set up this lesson.

Genres of Reading
Genres of fiction, genres of non-fiction, and oh yes, types of poems could be included here too!  My dilemma was always just which genres, and how many, to include – any suggestions?

One thing that comes to mind in this area is a library activity about finding different types of books on the shelves, along with suggestions from your friendly librarian for some good books in each genre.  Another idea would be to have the class, maybe one small group at a time, sort through the classroom library and organize your books by genre.

Types of Writing

Once I started to look at this group at a whole, the list turned out to be longer that I had thought, too.  Even a basic list might include:  narrative fiction, narrative non-fiction, biography, autobiography, personal essay, descriptive, informational, expository, explanatory, opinion, argument, and persuasive, prose, and poetry.

But in addition to these basic types of literature, kids also do plenty of daily writing, and so do many adults, that is more in the form of lists, charts, forms, social media comments, and writing combined with graphics.  Maybe these types aren’t as necessary to teach, but they could be used as a bridge into more sustained writing activities.

Figurative Language Terms
These are the fun ones, but they’re not easy!  How many times have you had to remind a student of the difference between a simile and a metaphor, or explain that all exaggerations aren’t automatically hyperbole?  And isn’t it fun to teach a word like “onomatopoeia,” – who but an English teacher would even try?

The fun part is when kids begin to really get the concept and appreciate the figurative language in stories and poems that they read.  To introduce each literary term, find a few great examples that kids can copy in their notebooks.  It will help them to remember the terms much better than just a definition. The example that has stayed in my mind all these years for the term simile is a line from “Old Friends,” an old song by Paul Simon about some elderly people passing the time by sitting in the park.  These “Old friends, Sat on their park bench Like bookends.”

Vocabulary Terms

Yes, there are even terms about vocabulary itself that middle graders will still need to learn.  Connotation and denotation, for example.  And don’t you know of a few kids who still get synonyms and antonyms mixes up?  Many kids already know prefix, suffix, and root, but how many of them know the term affix? 

Altogether, it’s a lot to teach.   Oh well, English teachers can handle it.  Anyone who can teach a term like “onomatopoeia” to middle grade kids can handle just about anything!

I’ve found it useful to have one big resource that I can go to as needed to introduce or reinforce each little set of terms as needed, and so I’ve collected all of my little bits and pieces of literary terms information and combined them into one big, organized PowerPoint presentation.  Literary Terms includes definitions and examples for 77 literary terms, and it includes student review slides at the end of each section as well as student note pages to print out with definitions for all 77 terms.  Check out the preview for more details if you think this is something that might be useful to you.

I would be interested in hearing which literary terms teachers at various middle school grades include.  Are there any categories that I could add to my lists?  Or any that don’t seem necessary?  Click on the comments below and let me know what you think.

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Blog post by Sharon from Classroom in the Middle where you can read more about teaching language arts topics like reading skills, the writing process, and vocabulary in the middle grades,

Monday, October 3, 2016

Using Digital Tools to Teach Vocabulary

Hi Everyone!  This is Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns, and I'm going to be sharing how my I teach vocabulary using digital tools.  I typically teach our content area vocab as I'm introducing that particular skill, but there isn't always enough time throughout the year to teach all the words that students need to know.

When looking for ways to ensure my students comprehend multiple words at a time, I came across this amazing website, called BoomWriter. BoomWriter is a FREE collaborative and interactive writing program that features 3 separate tools: StoryWriter, WordWriter, and ProjectWriter.

The feature I use for vocabulary is WordWriter.  As the website says, "WordWriter lets students apply, share, and assess their vocabulary knowledge in a new, fun, and interactive way." It's a great way to let your students practice the vocabulary words you assign them.  You can sign your students up yourself by entering their names one by one, or you can save time and have them do it by going to the following link:  Here, they will type in the name of their school, which will then display your name, as well as the name of your school (you'll have to register first, of course).  Once they have registered, then they can begin the activities. 

I use WordWriter to have students practice the vocabulary that we're working on.  To set this up, you will "create a new WordWriter Project."  Then enter the name you want to call it and the subject area.

Next, you will select the students you want to participate.  I typically choose them all, but this is also where you could differentiate, creating different vocab lists for different students, depending on their needs.  Then you will add the vocab words you want your students to use, in addition to your instructions.

After you have done this, you will see your word bank, which is all the vocab words you entered for this activity.   If everything looks correct, you will click, "I'm Finished." 

When students go in to complete the activity, they will see the words that they are required to use, and then must write a paragraph, story, etc. (whatever you specify in the assignment instructions) using all of the vocab words.  As students use the words, they are highlighted within the passage and turn green in the Word Bank.  

The pic below is an example of what students see when they first open the assignment.

BoomWriter has been a huge hit in my classroom, and is a terrific way to spice things up a bit.  It's also a great way to incorporate technology.  What digital tools do you use to help your students to master vocab words?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Keeping Up with Multiple Preps

The dreaded multiple prep. If you are lucky in the secondary world, you will only have 1 subject area to have to prepare for every day. However, there seems to be a whole lot of us that have 2+ preps that we teach. Having multiple preps can make it very difficult to get everything accomplished in a timely manner. A big part of this is just being ORGANIZED. If you are not organized, then something will inevitably slip though the cracks. Below are a few ways that I keep organized myself when having multiple preps.

One of the biggest for me is having everything typed up in a spreadsheet. It is not the full lesson plan, but a general overview so that I can thought process and remember what I need to do at a quick glance for each class. This helps me stay focused on where I am going as the day progresses. It also make changes a breeze. And, as cute as all of the lesson planners are out there, most do not give me enough space to thought process as fully as I could like. By having it digitally saved, then I can use as much room as I need. An example of what a day might look like with multiple preps is found below.

Another great way to stay organized is to keep a daily list of schedule changes or to-do's. This planner is from Blue Sky and it is hands-down my favorite. I can plan out what I need to accomplish for classes for each day as well as any schedule changes I need to be made aware of. This lets me focus a day at a time and not get completely overwhelmed with everything that needs to be accomplished before I leave on Friday.

Lastly, I keep a binder with my full lesson plans in it. As much as I love online lesson planning websites, there are times when I do not have the ability to look up each class to remember the small details within the 5 minute passing period. By printing each lesson plan out and having a copy at my fingertips by keeping them in a binder on my desk, I can be better prepared for each class in case an emergency arises. It also lets any administrator that walks in to quickly see what this class is doing today.

Do you have any strategies that help you stay organized with multiple preps? If so, please share them below so that others can find new ways to help out their own classroom.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Organizing Vocabulary Instruction

Organizing Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary lessons – where do you even start?  If you’re a new teacher, you’re probably already thinking of a long list of skills that you’ll need lessons and materials for.  If you’re an experienced teacher, maybe you have a big collection of resources, but the task of organizing them for a new year can still seem huge!   I think that’s because vocabulary covers so much ground, and so many details.  I know that I have arranged, and rearranged, my vocabulary lessons numerous times over the years!

Just a few of the things you’re sure to be touching on at some time during the year –
·         The Basics – prefixes, suffixes, Greek and Latin roots.  This could be a full year of vocabulary lessons in itself!
·         Word Meanings – understanding specific meanings of words in their reading, and choosing vocabulary for their own writing – synonyms and antonyms, denotations and connotations, using context clues, understanding multiple meaning words, symbolism, and figurative language.  Another tall order!
·         Content Vocabulary – poetry terms, literary terms, and even terms related to vocabulary itself!
·         Story Vocabulary – interesting words from the stories and articles your class reads.

Some people have a strict order they follow to keep it all organized.  Others prefer to introduce vocabulary topics as they come across good stories to use as mentor texts.  I usually started with a few specific topics at first, probably prefixes and synonyms/antonyms.  Then things tended to get more flexible after that!

Wherever you decide to start, having students keep an organized vocabulary notebook can be a great help.  Students can set it up with sections for the various topics you want to cover, and then add to each section bit by bit as you add information and new words throughout the year.  In fact, I used this idea when revising my prefix, suffix, and root PowerPoints over the summer.  At the end of each presentation, I added a basic note sheet for students to complete as they viewed the slides, along with a completed sheet for students who need that.  Students can complete the note sheet for just the prefixes, suffixes, or roots that you are working on at the moment and glue it in their notebook to add to later.  Here is a picture of the note sheets and a few of the slides from my Suffixes 3 PowerPoint. 

Suffixes PowerPoint with Student Notebook Page

Of course, mentor texts are great for introducing something new, and the great thing about vocabulary is that you can find examples for many of the topics – especially prefixes, suffixes, and roots – just about anywhere!  For more complex vocabulary topics, like connotations and denotations, there are still plenty of examples; it just takes a little more advance prep to find a good piece of text with several examples that you want to use.

Do you also keep a list of websites with good vocabulary activities for each topic?  Or maybe a Pinterest board for each?  If you do, be sure to include ReadWriteThink, a site where teachers contribute lessons and other resources.  You can search for a specific topic and narrow your search to either lesson plans or student interactives.  I searched for prefix lessons for 6th grade and found 3 complete lessons plus one student interactive.  My favorite was the game called Make-a-Word, which is played like the old fashioned card game, rummy.

What about some other vocabulary organizers?  Word lists?  A word wall?  Vocabulary cards?  Anchor charts?  Any or all of these will help keep things organized as you add more vocabulary rules, words, and examples during the year!

Why so much organization for this one topic of vocabulary?  Well, as strange as it may sound, I think it is so that you actually can remain pretty flexible throughout the year.  With basic organization in place, it frees you up a little bit to incorporate a new idea or a few new words whenever you come across them.  After discussing them in class, just add them in to one of your existing structures.

So, to me, these are the basics to have in place:
  • ·         Attractive anchor charts (or plans to create them with the class)
  • ·         Student notebooks, and a plan for how they should be organized
  • ·         Mini-lessons to introduce each new vocabulary topic
  • ·         Short practice activities to review individual skills as needed

But what do you think?  How flexible or how structured do you think vocabulary instruction should be for middle grade kids?  I would love to hear what works best in your classroom!

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Organizing Vocabulary Lessons

Blog post by Sharon from the Classroom in the Middle blog, where you’ll find more articles about teaching vocabulary and links to more vocabulary resources in my store, also called Classroom in the Middle.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How I Organize Learning with Anchor Charts!

As a Middle School Teacher, who blogs at Mrs. Spangler in the Middle, I am happy to tell you that this year, I am a 6th grade Language Arts Teacher!  In my area of the country, Language Arts focuses on writing.  Sure, we read, but we use that reading as a springboard for our writing.  So, as you can imagine, there are all kinds of things for us to remember.  How do I help keep it all organized?  I use anchor charts and "anchor walls".

I use an "anchor wall" to visually organize all the skills students need to learn!

This is my embedded assessment "anchor wall" where for each class we broke down the end of unit essay test to its specific pieces and parts.  I had pre-printed all these skills on sticky notes.  Then, we ranked our knowledge level to determine what we really needed to focus on in order to be able to successfully write one of the four essays.  So on this wall, since all the skills in the unit are all laid out on sticky notes, as we learn we can move them!  This is great for showing growth as well as tracking our learning.

An "anchor wall" for Essays!

This is my anchor wall for the 4 parts that all essays must have (Polestar Focus, Rules of Conventions, Organization, and Support.)

As you can see, I used the doors for my cabinets to display my anchor information and I build it one piece at a time as we learn that piece in class.  Students love the idea of becoming writing "pros" and I love having a way to display the key concepts of writing that we have been learning!

For other related concepts, I use anchor charts - some of which we create together in class:  

Informative Essay Anchor Chart with an easy to remember mnemonic for organization!Argumentative Essay Anchor Chart with an easy to remember mnemonic to help students learn the organization!  

I especially like these anchor charts because they give students a pattern to use as a foundation for their writing.   Naturally, I hand them near my PROS anchor wall.  Of course, I have other anchor charts for things like grammar and parts of speech.  I find that I use these instead of commercially bought posters most of the time!  Not to mention that they look great for Open House when I am talking about what we are learning and I can reference our charts and walls!

The best part is when the students look at them as we're working on something.  I love to see students use their tools!  And even though I have to cover them up during state testing, they will still look to where the charts are located as if they can somehow "see" them and remember.  

If you love anchor "walls" and charts as much as I do, then stop by and visit my Pinterest board for them:

How do you visually organize learning in your class?  Join in the conversation by commenting below.  

Thanks for stopping by!