Reading and Writing Strategies: A Mentor Text Lesson for Fall

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Happy Fall my friends! I hope the first weeks of school have treated you well and this year is shaping up to be the best year ever. I love using mentor text lessons to kick off a new comprehension or writing skill. Using a beloved picture book to model for your students the process you take to fully understand a text is so important. It is a great time to slow down, and practice the "I do" and "We do" of a gradual release model before letting students practice the "You do" on their own. 

A favorite Fall book of mine is, Little Tree by Loren Long. Long is the illustrator of The Little Engine that Could, author of the favorite, Otis the Tractor books, and he co-authored Of Thee I Sing with President Obama. These titles are well worth the trip to your local bookstore to check out.
Little Tree by Loren Long mentor text lesson to support understanding theme
Little Tree is about a tree who loves life, and cherishes its' leaves, so it holds onto the leaves throughout several seasons, and as a result remains unchanged. Everything grows and changes around the tree, but it continues to hold onto the leaves. After much time, the tree comes to realize the decision it must make, and embraces change and growth. The tree drops its' leaves and grows into a large, strong tree.
On the surface, this text would be a great addition to your library, to welcome Fall and discuss the changes of the season.  This text, paired with a non-fiction text about the changes of Fall would kick off the season perfectly. However, there is a deeper meaning about personal change and growth. The tree needed to let go of something very important to it, so it could grow into something even more amazing.
Before reading this text, you will want to introduce your students to THEME.  When starting a new skill, I always seem to be asked, why do we need to learn this, or how will this "really" help me? So, for that reason, I have started giving my students the 'why' right up front. Not only do I instruct on what the theme is, but I also tell my students why we need to uncover the theme. This can help establish the importance of your lesson, and hopefully cut back on the "why whines" as I call them.
To start, you can discuss with your students themes of other popular texts, movies or songs. It is important to share with them some key components of a text they will need to understand in order to determine the theme successfully.  Skills such as summarizing, and identifying character traits should be introduced prior to teaching about theme. This anchor chart FREEBIE can help you set the stage to explain and justify your lesson on theme. 

To introduce the text, you can ask students what they know about trees in the fall. Hopefully you will get a lot of discussion about how they change, and eventually drop their leaves.  Then, you can ask students to predict what would happen if a tree didn't drop its' leaves.  You may choose to prepare your students even more and ask them about a time they were afraid or resisted change. You can ask them about the outcome of resistance - Did change come anyway? What positives came about because of change? Who helped them through a change?

While reading, you can draw your students' attention to the changes (or lack of) the little tree is experiencing. When discussing within the text, you can ask your students to compare and contrast the little tree to the trees around it (they can use the illustrations). Starting to discuss beyond the text, your class could share why the tree is not letting go of its' leaves - the leaves provide shade, and rustle in the breeze - the tree loves its' leaves. You can challenge your students to really think beyond the text, and make an inference that the tree is comfortable holding onto its' leaves, and is avoiding change.

Once you have read the text aloud to your class, and guided them through discussion that will help their understanding of the story and character, it is time to start uncovering the theme. 
If you are using this text to introduce theme for the first time, or as a reteaching, the remaining part of the lesson would best be done as a teacher heavy think aloud, with leading questions that will help your students construct the theme.  If your students are familiar with theme, and this text is serving additional practice, you can provide scaffolding through your questions, but release more of the discussion and uncovering to your students.
You can now use your during reading discussion to summarize the story, paying special attention to the problem and solution of the story.  I find using the Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then structure very helpful for students to easily identify and relate the problem and solution within the story. However, in the resource that supports this text, I included a differentiated option for your students. You can use Beginning, Middle and End to summarize the story, and also highlight the problem and solution (either in writing or pictures).  This version may better support your struggling readers.

Understanding the character is very important to the development of theme, so you could draw upon your discussion of why the tree held onto its' leaves. With my students, I identified the tree as 'reluctant'. We then pulled evidence of the tree's actions, thoughts and dialogue to support this trait. By describing the tree as reluctant, nervous or uncertain, it connects the problem and starts to shed light on the fear that comes with change and the unknown. Some of my students picked up on the tree's personal growth, and argued that the tree was brave. This discussion and evidence of character change, made for the perfect transition into a discussion of theme.
I don't know about your students, but mine LOVE to talk. They are getting better at academic talk, but they just have a need to converse! With that said, I try to give them as many opportunities to do so throughout the school day.  This lesson was no exception.  By breaking my class up into small groups, I was able to facilitate more discussions than I could with a whole group.  I proposed three questions related to the tree overcoming the internal struggle. In the small groups, students discussed their answers to these questions. As a group, they developed a collaborative answer and wrote it on a post-it. The post-it was left behind on a poster (with the question), and they moved to the next question.  In about 15 minutes, all students had collaboratively answered all three questions and were ready to debrief. 

To get my students thinking about the text, I asked why they felt the author wrote this text. Yes, I got in a quick author's purpose question there. But, it is because author's purpose IS the theme. I really try to teach these skill together. In this case, the author wanted to model a lesson about growth and change through the experiences of a little tree. I also find my students have a hard time understanding that theme isn't just the lesson that the character learned.  So often I hear the lesson learned is that 'the tree needed to drop its' leaves so it could grow into a big, tall tree.' Yes, that is the lesson the tree learned, but, that is not the theme. For my students, it has been crucial to connect the lesson learned to themselves, so they can best uncover the theme. By now taking the tree out of the lesson, they can be left with how everyone must go through change, sometimes difficult and unwanted change, to learn and grow up. 

Finally, to wrap up this lesson, you could connect this to a writing prompt in which students write about a time they needed to change, and have them describe the outcome of that change. The stories are always very interesting, and can be revealing of some deep stories from the students who need our love the most - which makes this a perfect theme not only for the changing of seasons, but also still so early in the year when we are getting to know our students.

This is such a wonderful book to share in early or late fall as the tree are really starting to loose their leaves. Change and growth from change are themes all of our students experience, and this text does a great job of sharing and explaining that message in an easy to understand way. 

Checkout these related posts:

This post was part of a mentor text link up hosted by The Reading CrewOn each blog, a Fall mentor text lesson using a book and focusing on a vocabulary, comprehension or writing skill has been featured. The posts and resources from The Reading Crew, never disappoint, and this time was no different. Check out all the posts below. 

Establishing Meaningful Word Work Routines

Get ready for a new school year with literacy tips to help you planning and establish word work routinines
Hello and WELCOME! Thank you for joining me, and The Reading Crew for our  Back to School Literacy Tips link up. I know as I get ready to head Back to School, I am always looking for new ways of organizing, planning and revamping some of my lessons. There is a wealth of information, tips and FREEBIES in this link up, and I hope we have just the thing you are looking for. 

If you want just the highlights of this blog post, you can watch this (3:30) video instead!

My favorite part of literacy instruction is WORD WORK! It is the foundation for everything that is to come later.  Not to mention how much FUN word work can be.  I have never heard a student say they didn't like to play games, or use different tactile methods to learn phonics patterns and sight words. So, I'm going to share my THREE BEST WORD WORK TIPS with you.

Using multi-sensory engagment can help your students to retain the foundational word skills they need to be successful with more complex literacy skillsGet ready for a new school year with literacy tips to help you planning and establish word work routininesTip #1: Make It Multi-Sensory: Multi-sensory teaching can mean a lot of things. The first thing that comes to mind is tactile learning. It is true, a lot of our learners (especially struggling learners) retain tasks better if they have had a hands on experience with that skill.  Using materials like shaving cream, sand tables, rice and sandpaper are great ways to engage your students' tactile sense when working with words. You can change up the materials to keep things fresh, but by allowing your students to activate their mind through touch, you will help them to retain the skills you are teaching. I have these letter cards (from Really Good Stuff) and my students love them. I use them for letter recognition, as well as building basic words that match our phonics skill for the week. 

But...if you look at the word MULIT-SENSORY, MULTI is really the most important part. When teaching phonics skills or sight words, engaging as many of the students' senses as possible is what is the most important. Try to use a variety of activities that incorporate hands on learning, big body movements, auditory (make sure they hear and produce the sound/word) and visual (make sure they see how a phonics sound or sight word is spelled). 

For example, if I am teaching the final -ck sound. I will give my students a concrete object to think of like a backpack. I bring in a backpack and we fill it with the letters -ck written on index cards, pictures or drawings of final -ck words (brick, clock, duck, kyack). We use rice tubs to write -ck while I model and the students copy the sound final -ck makes. Then I ask my students to write words that have the final -ck sound (kind of like a spelling test, but without time to study) so I can see if they are applying the sound in isolation. I also ask them to write a sentence that highlights the sound. In this lesson, I am trying to get them to interact with the sound as much as possible using various senses so it will STICK! This method of teaching is an Orton-Gillingham approach. It was designed for students with dyslexia, and since being trained in the Spring of 2015, it has completely changed the way I teach phonics and sight words! Like I said, this is my passion, so please check back for my blog posts about multi-sensory teaching. 

Get ready for a new school year with literacy tips to help you planning and establish word work routininesTip #2 Make It Engaging: I know we all strive for our lessons to knock it out of the park, and for our students to still be talking about how awesome it was two months later. But the reality is, they probably are not talking about how great your lesson on the word "what" was. But don't worry, I know you ROCKED it! Word work is something that we teach everyday and it can become monotonous. When it does, your students are probably tuning you out. So keep your lesson ENGAGING.   
Keep in mind the short attention spans of your students and hit them in spurts (but make sure you are doing it every day). You can incorporate games and competition.  I love taking games my students already know and turning them into word work games (Memory and Go Fish). They also really like made up games like Bam! and Don't Feed the Raccoon. 

I have also given my students a word of the day.  During independent reading time, my students are on the hunt for that word.  Every time they find it, they get a ticket, and at the end of the day whoever has the most tickets is rewarded. 

Often, collaboration can work just as well as competition. Padlet is a simple app (or desktop website) in which your students can collaboratively share "post-it notes." Instead of doing a word of the day, I might do a sound of the day challenge.  For this, my students will look out for a sound, such as long a.  When they find the sound (ai, ay, a(magic)e, or open syllable a) they will post the word on the Padlet with their name. Everyone participating can see the posts so the students know who is finding the most words and will hustle to find more. 

Padlet is a a technology resource to encourage collaboration with foundational skills

Something else to keep in mind is trying to keep these skills fresh in your students' mind. Finally, as a solution to "I forgot that..." I spiral review skills and words from weeks past in a Throwback Thursday Review.  We play games and recycle center activities to give a quick refresher.

Get ready for a new school year with literacy tips to help you planning and establish word work routininesTip #3 Make It Consistent: There is nothing worse than feeling like you spent half of your instruction time going over directions and expectations. Especially when working with your struggling readers, every second is precious and it is crucial that you maximize your instruction with them.  For that reason, I keep my routines and expectations consistent. My students learn quickly that when they enter my room, they need their notebook, a pencil and they need to get to work on our bell-ringer (a warm-up posted for review). Then we quickly get into our lesson. I try to teach word skills early in the week, and practice/reinforce them later in the week through various texts. This is a daily and weekly routine that my student come to expect. It is predictable and once learned, it leaves more time for instruction. 

I also take this a step farther. Even my lesson routines are consistent.  My students come to expect using rice to write our phonics sounds and using other multi-sensory techniques for sight words. They know right when they will need to use their notebooks or when it is appropriate to grab crayons for sight word practice. 

Even with the games we play, I keep consistency. For example, BAM! and ZAP! are the same game, but the different name makes it a whole new world of fun. We can play BAM! or ZAP! with game cards or popsicle sticks, same game and rules, new fun! My students play the same 5-6 games all year, but between rotating the games and changing out the content it always stays FRESH and ENGAGING, while remaining CONSISTENT. 

Why is consistency so important? When rules, expectations and routines are consistent, you are able to free up more of a student's working memory.  This "extra space" can be used to learn content, the real important stuff. Have you ever taken a Zumba class? The first time you take the class you are really concerned with what the steps are, doing them right, and not looking like a fool. But, if you go to the second, third, fourth...classes, you notice the routines are reviewed.  Each time the dance gets easier. Your working memory is not worried about what the steps are, but now you can increase the intensity of your workout and have fun. This is exactly what we want for our students! 

Get ready for a new school year with literacy tips to help you planning and establish word work routinines, I want to help you with establishing more consistency in your classroom. I have one of my most downloaded FREEBIES here for you today - my GAMES freebie. In this download, you will get FIVE games your student can play in any subject. The games can be used to review sight words, vocabulary words, phonics based words, math facts....the list goes on.  The games included are : BAM!, ZAP!, Don't Feed the Raccoon, Baseball and a general game board. Game directions are included for each game as well. Also included in this download is a sample of final -ck phonics games cards.   If you are looking for more low-prep game cards to add content to this freebie? Click HERE! I have Dolch Word cards, and I am add to the list of phonics based cards all the time. If you do not see what you are looking for, ask! I can put a rush on a set for you.
Thank you so much for joining me in this link-up. I truly hope the tips and freebie will help support you in establishing new word work routines in your classroom. If you have other tips you would like to share about your word work routines, please share them below in the comments!

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I hope you have the most FABULOUS school year ever.

Check out these related posts: 

This post was part of a link up hosted by The Reading CrewOn each blog, a Back to School tip, lesson or resource has been featured. The posts and resources from The Reading Crew, never disappoint, and this time was no different. Check out all the posts below

Looking Back at Class Dojo: One Successful Year Later

When working with small groups, I rarely have behavior issues. So you may be asking yourself, "Why do you use a behavior management system, 
and how effective could it really be?"
Well, let me start off by saying that I have long struggled with how to motivate my students to develop positive reading behaviors. Behaviors like persistence, participation, and stamina, are just not yet a part of my students' independent reading toolbox.  However, I feel these behaviors help bring about the most success. 
So, I was very thankful I found Class Dojo. 

Class Dojo was very easy to start using! Once you create your account, you can start to add 'classes', 'students' and 'groups'. They even provide you with a demo class so you can practice with a "class" that won't be effected by the adding/subtracting of points, or adjusting the points criteria.  I suggest you play around the demo class for a little bit before creating your real class.

Once you are ready to make your own class(es), just click on the plus sign (similar to creating a new Pinterest board) and follow the prompts. Here is my desktop dashboard with all of the grade levels I work with.

A classroom teacher's dashboard would probably only have one class, but once you click into that class, you could have different groups. I have different groups based on my push-in and pull-out groups. This helps so I can award points to a whole group, rather than just individual students. Here is a picture of my 3rd grade groups. It's really nothing spectacular, but it is a great way to award points when the whole group is working collaboratively and actively working toward group goals.

So now that you have your students and groups all set up, you can also adjust your criteria for awarding and deducting points. You can edit this criteria to match whatever your classroom needs are.  At first I chose to only reward the positive behaviors, my students could not loose points. I really wanted to encourage my students to start participating and asking questions when they needed clarification. I also wanted to celebrate when my Tier 3 students met their weekly goals. I didn't feel these were points that should be taken away from them, once they were earned! I can also adjust the points value, so if I really wanted to encourage "Strong Reading Stamina", I might bump that up to 3 points for a little bit.

Class Dojo has a really fun chime when positive points are awarded, and a really bumming buzzer when points are deducted. I found these to be slightly distracting.  If I didn't immediately award points, I would forget to give them out, and then also forget to directly acknowledge the student modeling the positive behaviors.  If I gave the points, with the sound on, students wanted to know who it was for and why - my lessons came to a bit of halt so we could talk about the behaviors.  Instead, I chose to turn off the volume on my iPad, and when we had a transition, I commented on the students who did a great job and had earned additional points. Problem solved!

But wait...there is more to Class Dojo. It is not just a behavior management tool...yes, it does get even better!

Class Dojo has a parent communication tool.  It actually looks quite a bit like a Facebook Wall, and a text messaging app (so it is very user friendly). Families can provide an email or a phone number in order to access their child's account. They can see the points that were awarded (or deducted) that day/week. They have the opportunity to message you (the teacher) privately, that is the text message or email similar portion. I have heard there is a way to set "office hours" so families know when to expect a response, or quiet hours - however I have not found how to set that. Please share in the comments if you have figured out that feature!

Then, you can also have a "Class Story" that mimics a Facebook Wall.  You can post updates,
reminders, pictures, and more. Families can comment publicly and interact with the other families in your classroom.  What a great way to build classroom community, beyond the walls of your classroom. If you have been hesitant about starting a class Instagram or Twitter because of the public views, this may be a good place to start, because the only people that can see the account are those that have given you their phone number/email, and YOU have given access by invite.

But wait...there is more to Class Dojo.  It is not just a behavior management and communication tool...yes, it does get even better!

Class Dojo has some pretty fabulous features that allows it to be a great tool for progress monitoring.

For instance if you have a student that is struggling with behaviors, you
can monitor how those behaviors are improving over time - you have the option to view various time frames (this week, previous week, this month, previous month). And, with the awesome graph, you can visually see how these behaviors are improving as well.

In my classroom, I had a student that was struggling to work independently.  I knew that I would be adding and DEDUCTING points for this specific skills, so I created a SECOND avatar for this kiddo. With his classroom teacher, we set a reasonable goal of "Kiddo will be able to work independently for three minutes." After three minutes, I would check in with him to see the work he completed, if he was on-task and the work was satisfactory, he earned a point for meeting his goal. If he was distracted, or did not complete the expected work, points were deducted. He could visually see his progress, percentages were readily available for us to review as well. As a team, we were able to use this data to adjust his goal.  Not only did we up the time on task from 3 minutes, to 15 minutes throughout the year, but we also increased his percentage of completion from on task 70% of the time, to 90% of the time. This data tracking would have been so much more difficult without Class Dojo. Just the click of a button allowed for us to have this amazing information available for the student, team and family!

The good news is, Class Dojo is always adding more fabulous features. Just last week, they added student portfolios. I haven't had a ton of time to explore this new feature, but from what I have seen, it looks like the progress monitoring options are only getting better! 

My students had a lot of fun with Class Dojo this school year, and I'll be honest, I did too. During the last month of school, I had a lot of families ask about what they can do over the summer to help their children practice reading.  I heard so much about the struggle with getting the kids motivated to read!

I think we have all experienced the resistance students have to read.  Even if we have worked through that road block in the classroom, when we send these kiddos off on summer vacation, they lack the extensive classroom libraries and guidance we provide them when selecting quality reading material. They miss our encouragement and "hip-hip-hoorays!"

I have sent home BINGO boards, summer reading name it, I've probably sent it home.  But sadly, it either doesn't come back, or it comes back incomplete and poorly done. Ugh! So this summer I decided I was going to start a "Book Club" on Class Dojo. I sent home a letter explaining the plan, and asked families to sign up/volunteer their participation. I advertised this book club as a fun way to keep reading. The pressure would be low, but engagement would be high. I explained, I know summers are busy, so it wouldn't be a huge time commitment.  With about ten students in my book club, I was pretty pleased with the response. Not shabby for my first year.

So what have I been up to with this book club so far this summer?
Each Monday (at 11:00 A.M.) an alarm goes off on my phone to remind me to send out my weekly challenge.
On the "Class Story" page, I type up a quick check in. You know students love to know about more about us, so I told them we went to the zoo and the lake. I told them Mr. Christensen celebrated his birthday and because he doesn't like cake, I had to make a giant cookie! I usually give a shout out to one of my readers, and encourage everyone to keep going because I LOVE finding out what they are reading. Then I give them their actual challenge. It is different each week, and flexible.

Here are my weekly challenges so far:
Week 1: Read outside (it was the first week of summer vacation and the weather was PERFECT!)
Week 2: 4th of July so I asked them to read a book about summer, or a book about our country
Week 3: My family went to the zoo, so I asked my kiddos to read a book about their favorite animal
Week 4: It was forecasted to be pretty rainy, so I asked them to build a tent and read in it.
BONUS: Flashlight Friday - we do this in school sometimes and they love it. We turn off the lights and read with flashlights.

To check in, my students/parents send me book titles, reviews, summaries, highlights, hand-drawn pictures, or photos of them reading. Whatever they want to show/tell me about their reading. With all of this, I can be pretty confident that my students read at least ONE book that week.

With this summer reading challenge, I have coordinated with a local ice cream shoppe - any student that completes 70% of my challenges,  will get a coupon for a free ice cream sundae.

However, throughout the school year, I have a different reward system.  Just as the point criteria is flexible, I wanted my reward system to be flexible too.

I really didn't want my students to model these essential reading behaviors just because they were going to get rewarded. So I developed a system that could be adjusted throughout the year. On a daily basis, I awarded my students Dojo Points.  In the beginning of the year, it was like every minute - we really needed to correct some lax summer habits! As the year progressed, my kiddos needed to work for it a bit more.

In conjunction with the Dojo Points, I allowed my students to cash in
points, for Dojo Dollars. At first three points = $1.00, then it was five points = $1.00 finally, my students could use their Dojo Dollars to buy
coupon reward cards.  Again, throughout the year I 'upped the ante' by increasing the cost of the rewards.

My students were completely fine with me upping the stakes throughout the year, they knew to expect the unexpected with me! I would reward them "gimme weeks" when I would make the reward cards $1.00 and give points away like crazy (weeks following holidays and vacations so I could re-establish expectations). you have a special coupon request that you would like for your classroom, please leave your request in the comments below, or email me at,
You can grab my Class Reward Coupons with QR cards, HERE

If you are looking for more information about Class Dojo, here are a few other blog posts you might enjoy! They are filled with more ideas and systems that might work in your classroom.

Going Strong in 2nd Grade: Class Dojo (multiple posts)
Teaching Trio: Using Class Dojo Effectively
Edutopia: Classroom Behavior? There's an app for that
Sixth Grade Tales: A management system that works!

If you use Class Dojo, I welcome you to share your experience in the comments below. If you have a blog post you would like to share, please feel free to drop a link in the comments as well.

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Check out these other related posts:
Reward Reading with Reading Prizes
Quick Tips to Become a Better Teacher
What is in Your Teacher Survival Kit?

Increase Engagement with a Classroom Transformation

Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year reading
My students have crossed another day off the "Countdown to Summer" chart. The dismissal bell has rung and I stare at the countdown... 10...9...8...7...6...
I have to pack up my classroom. Time is running low, and summer is in sight. How do I take all of the bright and cheery decorations down, and still motivate my students to keep working hard on these last few days? How do I give myself enough time to thoughtfully pack things up with intention? 


Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year readingThis was the first time I have done a classroom transformation, and the first time I tore down my classroom before the students left for the summer. I certainly do not regret either decision.  It was a great experience for the kiddos and myself! I hope you will stick with me, while I share the physical classroom transformation and activities that made this last week of school a complete success!

If you have done a classroom transformation, I would love for you to share how it went in the comments below.

Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year reading
I quickly decided on doing a beach theme for the last week. Typically we take all students in grades K-6 to a local State Park to go swimming. This year, sadly, there were not enough life guards available, so we couldn't go. The beach theme was supposed to lead into us going to the beach, but instead it worked as a substitute for it all together. Sad, but not a bad alternative.
After I decided on doing a beach theme during the last week, I started to sketch a plan in my mind. What did I want the room to look like? What will I need to execute? Below is a picture of my shopping/planning list. Click below to open a file (shared in GoogleDoc). You will want to download the file and open the PDF to have editable capabilities. One file is an editable PDF for you to start your planning. The other file, when available, I linked up the the materials I used to execute my makeover.

I continue to work with students up until the last full week of school, so the week before I really started to gather my goodies. I went shopping, started planning the academic activities, and got creative. Before redecorating my classroom, I used my school's die cut machine to cut out paper fish and shells.  I gathered some left over brown construction paper and assembled a sandcastle. I also brought in my amazing beach chair (I can't say that I didn't sit in it throughout the last week of school to type final reports).
On the second to last Friday right after the final bell, I took down my bulletin boards, other decorations and anchor charts. That took some time, but I just piled it all on my desk. Then, I was able to staple the table cloths, tape the fish and seaweed and hang the blow up fish from the ceiling.  CLASSROOM TRANSFORMED, in under 20 minutes and for less than $20.00!

Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year reading
My classroom could not look like this for two weeks!
Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year reading
Instead we had fun learning at the beach! 

Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year reading
If you are looking to do your own classroom transformation, or if you have a beach theme week and you are looking for activities to do with your classroom, below are my lesson outlines:
I work with struggling readers and writers in grades 1-4, so these activities were differentiated to meet the complexity of the group.

On Monday, we read passages from We discussed the text using the beach balls from the dollar store, which I wrote general comprehension/discussion questions on. These questions could be used for any text, so I'll definitely be saving them for next year. These beach balls encouraged good discussion and great laughs!

Fiction Questions

Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year reading
  • Who was a character in the story?
  • What important events happened in the story?
  • When and where did the story take place?
  • What was the problem in the story?
  • How was the problem solved?
  • Would you recommend this story to a friend? Why?

Nonfiction Questions

  • What did you already know about this topic, that helped you understand this text better?
  • What is a new vocabulary word you learned? What does it mean? How do you know?
  • Does this text have text features? Name one (or two).
  • What is the main idea?
  • What are three facts you learned?
  • What are you still wondering about?

On Tuesday, we got in some opinion writing. I asked students if they would rather play in the water or on the beach.  They had to support their opinion with two-three reasons. Then they shared their opinions with the group.  With my older students, I sketched a quick graph of their choices, and when writing their final piece, they had to say if they agreed or disagreed with the majority. You can grab this activity by clicking HERE.

Tranform your classroom to engage your students and motivate end of the year readingOn Wednesday, my littles were all about the beach! We built sand castles with the brown cups from
Party City.  I wrote sight words on the cups, and they tried to build the biggest sand castle by reading all the words correctly.  They also practiced writing rhyming CVC words in sand.  As part of our daily routine, my students write in rice tubs, so this sand was just the switch up they needed.
My 2nd-4th grade students were all about the sea! They conducted mini research about a sea animal of their choice. They used National Geographic Kids to find out more about their animal. I found this idea on Pinterest, here.

On Thursday, we kicked up our feet, I turned on some sounds of the beach, and we READ! Throughout the week before, I searched Reading A-Z for any book that was related to water, beach, summer, ocean, pirates, etc. The previous school I worked at had a subscription to Reading A-Z, but my current school does not (this year!), so I signed up for the FREE two week trial. You do get a limited number of downloads, but it is a pretty significant number.  I printed off every "beachy" book I could find within my students' reading levels. A laid the books out and just let my students read at the beach. It is very possible that this was their favorite day of the week.  They were even exchanging books, and independently sharing why they liked the book they were giving to their friend! WHAT? Who are these kids?

Friday was our field day, so I didn't need to plan this day. But, if you are looking for more ideas to help you plan a beach themed week, I have linked to my beachy Pinterest board HERE. It is already filled with some beachy ideas and I am always pinning more.

So again, why did I decide to redecorate my room with only a few days left? 
It was a way to reinvigorate and motivate the kiddos to keep working through the last days of school. Each day they took a ride on ChristensenAIR, complete with flight attendant speech - they loved it!  Then they ASKED to read! Believe it or not, with just three half days left, they asked if they were coming to the beach this week. 
So, yes, it was motivating for the kids, but selfishly I got to pack exactly the way I wanted/needed to. I'm a little ashamed to admit that my husband and I moved 3 times in just about three years before we bought out first house. In all those moves, I learned a few things. The biggest was pack what you don't need first. Well in my classroom, I need the pens, post-its, scissors, etc. I don't NEED my bulletin board and anchor charts. So with the limited time I have to actually pack stuff up, they just needed to go. Rather than chaotically shove things in cabinets or closets - I neatly rolled my anchor charts - I put smaller posters in labeled folders - I even found new homes for other supplies in my room that will allow me to get RID of my teacher desk in the fall and make room for more student spaces!
If you ask me if I would do this again, my answer would be "ABSOLUTELY!"
When I asked my students if I should plan something like this again for next year, they said...
It was so much fun!
I loved the airplane ride.
We just got to relax and read, it was the BEST!
Mrs. Christensen put fish in the sky.
She let us read whatever we wanted. 
Please do this again next year! 
Now if that isn't the type of reaction every teacher wants their students to have, especially during the last week of the year, I don't know what is. Doing a classroom transformation was not only easy, it was incredible motivating for my students. I will definitely be looking for ways to incorporate this kind of engagement throughout the year! If you have any questions, please reach out, I would love to collaborate with you.

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