Thursday, April 17, 2014

Positive Thursday: Simple Pleasures

I am going to link up for Positive Thinking Thursday with Mrs. Laffin's Laughings.

Lately, I just have been working every time I have a negative thought I try to think of a positive one. I have decided to start over counting my 1000 Gifts.  I only ever made it to 400 something. Being thankful helps transform your attitude and thoughts.

I also love to listen to praise and worship in the car.  That always encourages me!  My favorite song right now is "Keep Making Me" by Sidewalk Prophets.

Sometimes it is also worth the time to just enjoy some of Life's simple pleasures:

Happy Hour at Sonic ( I love my large Rootbeer with crushed ice in my styrofoam cup that is bad for the Earth. I know I shouldn't, but I do.)

A cup of tea

A walk with the dog on a pretty day

A new book

An afternoon power nap

A good workout

Monday, April 14, 2014

Must Read Mentor Texts and #IMWAYR April 14th

Today we started a unit in Science on Scientific Thinking and the Scientific Method.  Normally, you would do this at the beginning of the year, but it fit with what I wanted to cover right now.  We are finishing up the Civil War in US History.  After that, I want to spend the last six weeks or so covering the US Regions.  We have been looking at Ecosystems in Science, so we will look at how the Ecosystems and climates, etc. are different in the different US regions. I am putting my students in groups.  Each group will have a region.  They will choose an experiment based on features on their region, as well as conduct a research project to find real world problems and solutions in their region.

Before we can do all that though, we needed to talk about the Scientific Method.

Today we read 11 Experiments that Failed. (I am linking up with Collaboration Cuties.) It is a great story to introduce the Scientific Method.  The little girl tries all these experiment ideas that go completely wrong.  The kids pick up on the steps and process super quick from the story though.

We followed it by completing some activities from this Scientific Inquiry Unit, which worked out great. We will complete some more of these, while they start identifying what they want to research for their region.

Some other things I read this week:
Must-Read Monday Linky

We read Come on Rain today to introduce our fictional narrative unit.  We discussed how it was a great story for small moments.  We also identified all the sensory detail and descriptive details. There are some great descriptive sentences in this book, so it will flow well into also doing some poetry over the next couple weeks. We will be using a mentor sentence from the book this week from one of Jivey's mentor sentence units.

On my own, I have been reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.  I really like Sherman Alexie.  I first read one of his books in a graduate literature class.  It deals with some real issues about the poverty, alcoholism, and depression that exist on many of the Native American reservations.  Alexie is a very witty writer, and his books are very enjoyable to read while also very real.  I am about half way through and really enjoying the book.

I started an ebook I checked out from the library called The Wicked and the Just.  I love Historical Fiction and was interested in learning more about the history of England taking over Wales.  I am not enjoying the book though, so I am not sure I will finish it.  The characters are really flat with no depth, which is sad because the history is interesting.

I am just starting The Diviners by Libba Bray.  I have loved all of Libba Bray's books.  Loved! So when I saw this one, I had to read it.  It takes place in NYC in the 1920's with some supernatural stuff.  I am curious to see how it measures up to her other books, which are some of my favorites.

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bibliotherapy: Using Literature to help Kids Deal with Social and Emotional Issues

Have you ever heard of bibliotherapy?  Bibliotherapy is something I learned about since I started working on my PhD in Gifted Education.  It is the use of literature to help kids deal with social and emotional issues.  Kids (and even adults) are able to learn about life and how to deal with difficult circumstances through the catharsis they experience with characters. You can use picture books or novels.

If you want to learn more about Bibliotherapy, one of the best resources is to read Some of my Best Friends are Books by Judith Halstead. I read the book and keep going back to it.

Tonight I am giving a talk on Bibliotherapy (as a graduate student) by suggesting different books that can be used to help gifted kids deal with issues that are common to giftedness, such as perfectionism, isolation, social skills, empathy, developing imagination, valuing differences, etc. I look forward to sharing some blog posts as well with suggestions of picture books and novels that could be used for some of these different issues.

The idea of "some of my best friends being books" is something I can definitely relate to.  As a kid, I was an only child, very mature for my age, and we moved a lot.  I liked being by myself, but I also always struggled with feeling lonely and making friends.  I always loved (and still do) finding great series to read.  I loved really getting to know a character well because those characters really were my friends and became very real to me.  Bibliotherapy could be used with all kids, but it is especially appropriate for gifted kids because so many of them often are prolific readers.

You can click HERE to see my Pinterest board for Bibliotherapy where I am pinning books to use for different issues. Have you ever used a picture book or novel to help a student deal with an issue?  If so, what are some of your favorite books?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Literature Circles by Student Choice of Genre

We spent the last two week surveying the different fiction genres. The week before last they read three different stories from different genres.  For each genre, they completed one of Jen Runde's Genre Posters.  They worked out perfectly.

Last week for some variety, I put them in three groups.  Each group read one genre.  Then, they had to complete a project to teach us about the genre they read.  Two groups wrote skits they performed and one group made a short movie.  They presented their projects on Friday.

 Then, they had to vote for their top 3 preferences of genre to read.  I had explained that we would be doing a round of book clubs/literature circles based on genre.  I chose our books based on their votes.  Everyone had either Science Fiction or Fantasy as their first or second choice.

So, I chose a Science Fiction novel and a Fantasy novel.  The Science Fiction group is reading A Wrinkle in Time and the Fantasy group is reading Gregor the Overlander.

Today we started our novels.  I handed a blank calendar template out to each group with their novel.  They had to decide as a group how much they would read each day.  They had four weeks to read the week.  One group chose to read the book in three weeks, and the other decided they wanted to finish the book in a week. By giving them a calendar and making them decide, it holds them accountable and motivates them to read.  We will be doing some different writing assignments as we read. I am going to have them focus on writing and citing text, as opposed to just answering comprehension questions.

How do you organize literature circles in your classroom?

Now to catch you up on what I have been reading:

This week I finished:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

This book is a really interesting story that is paired with photographs throughout.  The idea of a phototext - a fictional story with photographs - is something that really intrigues me and I would like to research more as a graduate student. The story is about a teenage boy that always thought his grandfather was crazy because he talked about his childhood spent with these peculiar children with special gifts.  If you look at the cover of the book and the photographs, the book almost seems like it will be creepy.  But it actually is really just a Fantasy story.  The photographs add a whole other layer though that tell their own story. This would be a fabulous story to do with a study involving graphic novels, where you could discuss what are the elements of a visual narrative. I am looking forward to starting the next book in the series.

The Madman's Daughter

This book was inspired by HG Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau.  It is from the point of view of Moreau's daughter.  This was a really interesting story.  It definitely could be used for a discussion of ethics.

Grave Mercy

This book takes place in Brittany, a sub-region of France, that was once its own country during the 15th century.  It is about a girl that is supposedly sired by death and gets sent to a convent to train to be an assassin.  The book sounds dark, but was actually more about royal political intrigue. I didn't realize that when the Catholic church went into the Celtic areas that they adopted a lot of the pagan gods as saints to pacify and convert the Celtic groups. Most of the people and details in this book are based on real people, but the main character that is trained as an assassin was fictional.  It was a really interesting story, and I look forward to reading the second book.  Historical Fiction will always be my favorite!  Now, I want to go research more about France, England, and the Celtic regions. From Wikipedia, I learned Brittany was sometimes referred to as little Britain (as opposed to Great Britain), hence now I know the significance of the term Great Britain.

What have you been reading?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Must Read Monday: Mentor Text Picture Books and Teen Fiction

Despite my crazy schedule of being a full-time teacher and part-time doctoral student, I always find time for pleasure reading.  I read all the time for graduate school, but that is mostly articles and nonfiction. I love fiction, and I have been entertaining a love affair with young adult literature since the 6th grade.

There are a couple of great linkies on Mondays about books, so I figured that is a great way for me to share what I have been reading.

Teach Mentor Texts - It's Monday! What have you been reading?

Teaching Maddeness - Must Read Monday

Must-Read Monday Linky

I read a ton of books over Christmas break and Spring Break, so I have quite a few books I would like to review overall.  However, this is a good way for me to get started.

Picture Books:

This last week we used The Best Story and Crow Call as our mentor texts for writing.

The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli is a cute story about generating ideas for stories and how the best stories come from the heart.  You can follow it up by having your students make a heart map. We used it to discuss ideas for what make the best stories.  We are working on narrative writing.

Crow Call by Lois Lowry is a fabulous story for discussing creating small moments in a story and also using sensory details.  We used this to model personal narratives and describing one day in detail.

For reading in class, we are working a unit to survey different genres.  They are reading stories from ReadingA-Z from different genres.  Then, they will choose a genre they want to read and I will assign literature circles for novels based on their genre preferences.  We introduced our genre unit by reading The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.  This is such a great story with a great theme of the joy that can be found in a book.  Next year, I will read this book at the beginning of the year and use it to introduce genres.

Teen Fiction:

Here is what I have read in the last couple weeks in teen fiction. I try to read a lot of teen fiction because I also have fifth great students who read at very high reading levels and are already reading a lot of the teen fiction.  I like to know which books might have content I think is too mature for them and which ones are a little more clean.

I finished Looking For Alaska by John Green.   It is a great book with some really interesting characters.  It deals with a lot of mature subject matter like sex, drugs, smoking, and suicide so I would not recommend it for younger students.  It definitely brings up a lot of room for discussion on character analysis.  I would recommend it for 8th grade and up.

I had finished The Fault in Our Stars right before Looking for Alaska.  The Fault in Our Stars is so popular right now.  It is a sad story about two cancer patients who fall in love.  It definitely deals with issues of life, death, and love.  Overall, it is a cleaner read than Looking For Alaska but definitely still on the mature side.  After reading The Fault in Our Stars, I almost wanted to go back and reread A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (which I have not read since 10th grade).

I have recently discovered that I can check out ebooks from my library and borrow them for two weeks on the Kindle on my iPad.  It is awesome!  It is making it so easy for me to keep up with my reading without going broke.

This weekend I read Mystic City by Theo Lawrence.  It reminded me a lot of Legend.  It is a love story set in a dystopian novel.  It was a clean read and one younger students could read.  I would recommend it to any student who liked Legend.

I also read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  This book involves sixth grade students and some time travel.  It takes place in the 1970's in New York City.  It might make an interesting read aloud.  This book does reference A Wrinkle in Time a lot, so it might be nice to pair with A Wrinkle in Time.  This book reminds me a little of Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett for situational plot and characters, but I liked Chasing Vermeer a lot better.

What have you been reading?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Finally Trying Out Mentor Sentences

Over the past week we are back from Spring Break and starting quarter 3.  The last couple weeks I have put a lot of time and effort into trying to really plan out the last 10 weeks of school.  It always feels so hard to decide what needs to be covered and what doesn't.  I attended a teacher workshop about four years ago where someone told me about Jeff Anderson and his book Everyday Editing.

I immediately bought the book and really wanted to try to start using mentor sentences.  It always seemed like so much work to have the time to pick out sentences, so I never implemented it.  I decided that this quarter would be the perfect time to try it out. I have been trying to plan out what sentences I would use and matching those to the different texts I am using to introduce writing units.  We are doing a genre study for Reading and working on writing narratives for writing.  Then, we will do a novel study and some opinion writing.  Then, we will cover some poetry and lastly review over nonfiction text structures. That comes up the rest of the year.

I was researching resources for mentor sentences.  The best place to start is Ideas by Jivey.
Ideas by Jivey

She has some great blog posts and some great picture book mentor sentence units.  I purchased some of her units.  I am using some of her books, but using some of hers gave me a starting point where I felt motivated to pull out some sentences of my own with other mentor texts I knew I wanted to use.

There also some other TpT sellers who have made some mentor sentence units that are not dependent on a mentor text.  I think this sounds like a great idea if you just want to match it to any curriculum plan. If you do not use a lot of mentor texts, this would be a good way to go. Here are a couple options:

Amber Thomas - 4th grade mentor sentence packs (These seem like a good option, especially if you teach fourth grade.)

Jen Bengel - Monthly interactive edits (These have monthly themed sentences.  I tried these in December.  You make observations about the sentences, but the students are not asked to create their own sentences inspired by the mentor sentence.  The themes are cute though and would work well for a center.)

I personally love the idea of matching it to a mentor text because you can tie it to other writing or reading lessons to always show the interconnectedness of great reading and writing.  I think also encourages students to look for great sentences in what they read.  It shows that we should pay attention to the way writers create great description. We got started this week. I had my students go through the process of writing the sentence in cursive, noticing the sentence structure and then creating their own sentences.  I created this form.  You can have a free copy HERE.

This week we used a mentor sentence from the book Crow Call by Lois Lowry.

We are working on personal narratives, and this is a great text for discussing small moments and sensory detail.  I just put the sentence on the board this week.

This was my sentence inspired by the mentor sentence.  I was showing them it did not have to be as long, but they needed to have two complete sentences joined by a semi-colon and try to use some description in their sentence.

Here were some of my students' sentences.  Overall, I think it was a good start with mentor sentences. Some were more descriptive than others, but they still tried to mimic the sentence structure. 

I am hoping to start having them find some sentences in their reading that we could use.  We will be starting a novel unit soon. Have you tried mentor sentences?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Workshop Wednesday: Easy Resources for Teaching Students to Write Poetry

I am linking up with Jivey's Workshop Wednesday for Writing Poetry.

One of my favorite resources for teaching writing poetry I bought several years ago.  It is this Poetry Writing Handbook for Grades 4-6.  It has examples of lots of different kinds of poems with graphic organizers to help them plan and publishing paper to write the different types of poems.

I also have this Easy Teach Poetry Unit from Mr. Hughes that I got in Educents' Grades 6-8 bundle over the summer. This has similar easy examples and forms to teach different types of poems.

What I like about both of these resources is that they are versatile.  You could easily incorporate any of these types of poems into another topic.  You could write them about novels, animals, Science topics, etc.

I also have Laura Candler's Writing Powerful Poetry.  This is a great resource to really get your kids to work on free verse poetry, creating imagery, and really thinking about creating meaning in poems.

I had decided that for the rest of the year we were going to a unit on surveying the different genres followed by a novel unit based on their genre interests, as well as cover some poetry and review over nonfiction text structures.  I asked my students today if they would rather do a couple weeks of poetry and then a couples weeks of text structure, or if they would rather do like one poetry type and one text structure each week over a longer period.  They decided they liked the idea of doing one text structure type and one poetry type each week.  We will pair this with them having longer to read their novels as well.  I will have them read the entire novel, and then we will discuss the novels and do some projects when they finish the novels.  This way they can read at different paces without feeling like they have to slow down, but we can also squeeze in the text structure and poetry while they read their novels independently.

I am thinking about tying in the nonfiction text structures and poetry together by having them make an autobiographical anthology.  We are working on personal narratives now, so those could be included. Then, their different poems they write could be about their lives, family, and friends.  They also could choose different aspects of their lives to write problem-solution, cause-effect, compare-contrast, etc. paragraphs.  I think it could make a fun project to send home at the end of the year with a great way to review over a lot of things but also encourage some self-reflection.
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