Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Daily Word Ladders: A Fun Way to Increase Vocabulary and Build Decoding Skills

Have the test prep blues invaded your classroom? The symptoms include the appearance of an abundance of standardized reading passages, multiple choice math and reading questions, and open response prompts, often accompanied by moans and groans, as well as looks of helplessness and frustration in the eyes of your students. Sadly, I can not offer you a cure for this depressing ailment, but I do have a suggestion to help alleviate the symptoms temporarily. The antidote for the symptoms of the test prep blues is a simple, three-letter: F-U-N!

F-U-N recently arrived in Room 202 in the form of a teacher resource book that was delivered to my classroom two weeks ago. I had forgotten I even ordered Daily Word Ladders with Scholastic Book Fair dollars earlier in the year, and I didn't pay the book much mind when it arrived. It wasn't until I had a chance to look at Daily Word Ladders over the weekend that I realized what a great resource I had stumbled upon.

According to Scholastic, "Kids climb to new heights in reading and writing with these engaging, reproducible word building games! Kids read clues on each rung, then change and rearrange letters to create words until they reach the top. All the while, they're boosting decoding and spelling skills, broadening vocabulary, and becoming better, more fluent readers." The activities in the book look like this:

There are three levels of puzzles: K-1, 2-3, and 4-6. In addition to the reproducible sheets, the teaching resource comes with a CD of all the page files that can be uploaded on your interactive whiteboard using ActivInspire software. 

I have been using a word-ladder-a-day as a collaborative team challenge, and my students are LOVING it. I print four copies of each word ladder challenge, one for each team/table in my class. I give the sheets out face down and prepare the children for a timed competition. Each day, a different student gets to scribe for their team while everyone at their table works to finish the ladder puzzle before all the other tables. The teams work furiously as they vie to finish the puzzle first and win a coveted "house point"( think Harry Potter and the houses of Hogwarts) for their team. Three minutes seems to be a reasonable time limit for completion of a puzzle, and it takes another minute and a half to check the answers. That's less than a five minute investment for a pretty substantial return.

In just a few days, we've added the words "dame" and "tine" to our vocabulary repertoire, and my kids have gotten a crash course on nursery rhymes because nobody could fill in this blank:  "__________ be nimble. __________ be quick," during our second word ladder challenge. These benefits are awesome, but they're nothing compared to the fun we are having and the enthusiasm we are generating while thinking and learning together. It's such a welcome diversion from the intensive test prep regiment we've been following lately.

I can't wait until we've had a few more days of practice, and I can challenge my students to make up word ladders of their own. It will be interesting to see if they can successfully create original ladders to share with one another.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sum It Up: After Reading Summarizing Strategy

This is a quick share of a simple strategy that is working remarkably well with my reading intervention group right now. I've seen the Sum It Up strategy organized several different ways, but this is the version I use with my students.

The Sum It Up strategy requires readers to select words related to the main idea of a reading. After reading, the reader writes the specialized vocabulary, key terms, or repeated words or phrases from a passage in the collection box marked with the $. This focuses attention on key words that can then be used to build a summary. Once the collection box is filled, it helps to go back and star the words you think are most important from all those listed. This is a critical thinking skills and does require some practice. The final step is to use the key words that have been collected to create a summary statement of 20 - 30 words.

The Sum It Up strategy lends itself nicely to gradual release of responsibility. Initially, you can model it for your students. Then, you can complete the graphic organizer as a shared writing activity after a shared reading. I also like to add an additional bridge step where we collect the key words together, but the kids each create their own summary, and then we share. This is the place where we spend the most time practicing, before I ask the kids to use the strategy independently.

In Room 202, we call this process "Making a $2.00 - $3.00 Summary", and the kids LOVE doing it.
It never ceases to amaze me that such simple little twists on otherwise mundane tasks make all the difference when working with young learners. If I ask my students to summarize a passage they've read, I usually don't get the most enthusiastic response, and I can never be sure how succinct or accurate the actual summarizations will be. However, if I add the simple caveat of not being allowed to "spend" more than $2.00 - $3.00 worth of 10 cent words to create the summary, it's a whole new ball game. Suddenly, the kids are selective about what they want to say. They monitor and adjust their wording to stay under the allowed "spending' limit. They are competitive with one another, trying to see who can cover all the key points of a main idea while spending the least amount of money on their wording.

I've been using the Sum It Up strategy with my morning intervention group this week, and they have been very successful with it. One of my struggling fifth grade readers came up with this after reading a passage from a series of pretty complex texts about the U.S. Constitution and federalism. I am impressed with what they are producing, and they are proud of themselves. I love it when that happens!

If you've never tried this summarizing strategy with your students, I recommend you give it a try. Here's a link to a graphic organizer to get you started.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

Room 202 needs your help. Can you take a few minutes to complete the Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? survey found HERE Please do not phone a friend or access any online resources for assistance while answering the questions. After you've completed the survey, please leave a comment on this page summarizing your experience with the questions. We'd like to know your age, profession, time spent on the survey, and opinions about the questions. My students and I are convinced that a lot of the questions that the PA Dept of Ed has released as sample items for the fifth grade math PSSA's are too wordy and complicated for fifth graders. We'd like to hear your thoughts. If you can share the link to this survey on your Facebook wall to help us get more participants for the survey, we would appreciate it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Head Up, Seven Up with a Twist: Valentine's Day Fun with Idioms

      Most of us know Heads Up, Seven Up, because we played it when we were kids. These rules are nostalgically familiar: Seven people are chosen to be “it”. Everybody else puts their head down on their desk, closes their eyes, and puts their thumb up. The seven people who are it, each sneak around the room and gently push down one person’s thumb. When seven thumbs have been pushed down and all the “its” are back in the front of the room, the teacher calls, “Heads Up, Seven Up”. The seven students whose thumbs were pushed down, try to guess who picked them. If they are correct, the guessers switches places with the person who picked them and become “it”. If the guesser is wrong, he stays in his seat and the person who chose him is "it" for another round.
       In Heads Up, Seven Up with a Twist, the rules are essentially the same except for one thing. Instead of pushing down a person’s thumb when you are it, you leave a slip of paper on someone’s desk. The slip you drop matches another slip you keep in your hand. When “Heads Up, Seven Up” is called, people with slips on their desk stand up and try to match up two slips correctly.
       The possibilities for creating slips for this game are as endless as the content we are required to teach. Think math facts and answers, vocabulary terms and definitions, famous historical figures and their accomplishments. You can review just about anything using this game.
       For Valentine’s Day, the fifth graders in Room 202 will be playing Heads Up, Seven Up with a Twist to review idioms. This link takes you to a file that includes enough cards to play two rounds of the game. It is my Valentine's Day gift to you and your students. If you want to return the love, you can sign up to follow this blog or you can "like" my Facebook using the button on the left.
       If you'd like a more robust review of all the types of figurative language you have introduced to your intermediate elementary grade students, check out this activity in my TpT Store. Your students will appreciate this brief respite from all the standardized test practice they've been doing lately. They'll be happy to be playing a game and having fun, and you'll be happy to know that your students are actually reviewing eligible content with smiles on their faces.