Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Vocabulary Cards

I tried something new yesterday and I am glad to say it worked well and I will certainly use this strategy again!  I had my students create vocabulary cards.  I gave each student a piece of white copy paper and assigned them a vocabulary word.  The student folded the paper in half "hot dog style" and on the outside wrote the vocabulary word and drew an illustration that would help them remember the meaning of the word. I explained to the the students that in order for the pictures to help them, that the picture needed to be creative and colorful.  The more creative and colorful the pictures are, the more likely the students will be to remember the words and their meanings.


After the students created their picture they switched papers with a partner.  The next step was for the students to write a definition of the word in their own words.  I stressed to the students that writing the definition in their own words was vital, again this was to aid them in learning and remembering the words.  The students then wrote a sentence using the word in the correct context.

Today,  the students participated in a gallery walk, in which they used three column notes to create a study guide for their vocabulary quiz and to better understand the vocabulary as we study it in our current text.  For the three column notes the students had to list the word in the first column, a definition in their own words in the second column, and then a picture to help them remember and connect with the word in the third column.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Using analogies to promote critical thinking

Over the summer I had the opportunity to attend the AVID Summer Institute.  It was by far the best and most beneficial professional development workshop I have ever attended.  With that being said, I have tried to implement some of the strategies that I learned at the Summer Institute.  One of the strategies that I really liked and knew that I could use immediately is called "Synectic Analogous".  The basic premise of this idea is to have students create analogies.  I tried this activity in class yesterday.  It was amazing how quickly I could distinguish my literal thinkers from my "outside of the box" thinkers.  Anyway here's the basic gist of how to use this activity.

  1. Give your students four random categories.  (I used type of food, type of clothing, type of electronic, and type of furniture.)  
  2. Have the students list one answer for each of the four categories.  (I had the students work in groups of 3-4 and gave them less than five minutes to complete this portion of the assignment.)
  3. Explain to the students that they must compare the items they listed to the main character in the text.  (We were reading "My Favorite Chaperone" by Jean Davies Okimoto.)
  4. My students used the RACE strategy (R-restate the question, A- answer the question, C- cite textual evidence, E- explain the evidence) to complete step three.  
Sample Answer:

Maya, from "My Favorite Chaperone", is like a dining room table because everyone depends on her to support them.  Maya not only has to help her family by watching out for her brother she also has to translate for her father when Nurzhan, her brother, gets in a fight and when her mom's employers call.  Maya also must give up her love of gymnastics when her mother hurts her ankle.  During this time she has to go to school, do her mother's cleaning jobs, and cook dinner for the family.  These examples prove the extent to which Maya's family places things on her shoulders and depends on her to help carry the families burdens, just as each day we depend on a dining room table to hold whatever we may place upon it.



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gallery walks and musical partners

Some of my students are still struggling with writing level two and level three questions on their Cornell Notes.  I knew I had to help them get a better grasp of this skill and what better way to do this, but to show them the great examples their peers were writing.  I selected twelve examples and placed them around the hallways outside of my room.  By placing them in the hallway, I have more space for my students to move about.  I then numbered the students off one to twelve and sent them on their way.  At each stop along the gallery walk the students wrote the question and then answered it.  Not only did this activity provide them with models that they could use later, by answering the questions, they were applying and studying the content that they would have a quiz on.  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!!!!  I was able to skill two birds with one very small, simple stone.

After the students completed the gallery walk we went back to the classroom and the students shared their answers through a strategy I like to call musical partners.  With this strategy I play a song and the students have to find a partner before the music stops.  Once the music stops and they have a partner, they discussed the answers they recorded during the gallery walk.  When the music starts again, they find a new partner and we begin the process again.  The students love the music and the opportunity to move and talk.  This strategy is simple to plan and takes very little class time.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Graffiti, Characterization, and Best Practices

If I have learned anything about middle school students in my time in the classroom I have learned this, middle schoolers are social and need to talk, they are active and need to move and they need variety in manageable chunks.  Today, the mini-lesson I taught centered around the four types of characters (round, flat, static, and dynamic).  After explaining what a round character is, I had the students turn and talk to their table group about a character from their favorite book, movie, or TV show.  The students had to give the character's name and explain to their peers how they knew this character was a round character.  After everyone had discussed their selections, they went to the board and simply wrote the character's name.  Next, I explained what a flat character is and showed the students a cartoon clip as an example.  I chose to use the teacher from Charlie Brown.  I then moved on to dynamic characters.  After the explanation, I repeated the strategy previously used.  The students discussed dynamic characters and recorded their thoughts.  To complete the lesson I explained the characteristics of a static character and showed them a clip from The Lion King as an example.   By having the students discuss, go to the board to record their answers, and by switching from the creation of their own examples to the sharing of my examples I broke the lesson into chunks that offered the students variety.

Below is a link to the Google presentation that I used.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The best part of my job!

Today, I took my students to the media center for orientation and to check out books.  I know this sounds boring and routine to most, but to me these are my favorite days.  Why you might ask?  On these days I get to have conversations with my students and help them develop a love of reading.  As I was trying to help my students select books today, one of my students wanted to know how I knew so much about where books were in our media center, who wrote the books, and what the books were about.  My simple reply, "It's my job!"  I believe that in order to be an effective middle level language arts teachers that I must be an avid reader of young adult literature.  When I am able to put a book in a student's hands I make a personal connection with that student and I move that student one step closer to developing a lifelong love of reading.

In case you need a starting point on your own journey of being a lifelong reader and developing lifelong readers, I would suggest the following young adult novels.

Gated by Amy Christine Parker
The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki
Girl Stolen by April Henry
Battle of Jericho by Sharon Draper
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Variant by Robison Wells
Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy
Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman

Monday, August 24, 2015

Snowball fights

Over the weekend my students had homework.  Yeah, I know I am the "mean teacher" that gave homework on the weekend and worst of all it was after the first week of school.  For homework my students had to write one level three question based on their notes.  As the students came in today each student wrote their level three question on a sheet of paper and balled the paper up to make a "snowball".  I then gave the students the guidelines for the "Snowball fight".  The guidelines were as follows:

  1. Do not aim for anyone's head.
  2. You do not need to see how hard you can throw.
  3. You do not throw until the music starts.
  4. As soon as the music stops you need to stop throwing, find a "snowball" and quietly report to your seat.
Watching the sheer delight on my student's faces was the highlight of my day.  They were amazed that I was allowing them to throw things in class!  At the conclusion of the "Snowball fight" the students then took turns reading the question written on their paper aloud.  As the each student read the question the other students had to decide if the question was a level three question (Based on Costa's Levels of Thinking) or not.  I had the students indicate their thoughts about the question by giving it a thumbs up if it were a level three question and a thumbs down if it were not.  

If I were to do this activity again, I would have my students respond in a different way.  I would have them hold up one finger (Because I teach middle schoolers, I would direct them on which finger is appropriate to use.) if they felt the question was a level one question, two fingers if they thought the question was a level two question and three fingers if the question was a level three question.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

We survived week one!

Boy am I tired and this was a three day work week!  Getting back into the swing of things is always tiring, but I have loved getting to meet my new students this week.  I spent a lot of time this week on getting my students used to routines and procedures that we would use all year.  I didn't spend time with the minor details, such as when to sharpen your pencil or how to label your papers.  To me these things are not very significant.  I know many teachers are particular about these minute details, but I am more concerned with procedures that will have a lasting effect on their learning.  Cornell notes and Costa's levels of questioning filled our class time this week because I know in the long run that these things will benefit them more!

So here's to a good weekend of relaxing, reading, spending time with my family, and oh, yeah planning for next week.