Tuesday, September 3, 2013

First Day (in pictures) & Sept CURRENTLY

Wewt! I survived my first day of school with enough energy to BLOG about it on the same night :) I had the nervous energy going last night. Wow. I was fine all day yesterday until about 7:30 last night and then I was buzzing like a bee trying to keep myself busy because I was suddenly very nervous!  I didn't know what to expect today--we knew we had higher numbers than we were likely going to see due to our neighboring school reopening but no one could predict who would (or wouldn't) show up in our classrooms.

Today was, by far, one of the best first days I've ever had. Except for a little snafu at lunch where the previous lunch was running over, everything went very well. Even dismissal was awesome for the first day. I got a lot of hugs from former kids who thought I wasn't going to be back and ended my day with two compliments from two amazing families. I am a very lucky lady.

We had an amazing and busy day in fourth grade!

We did a little math screener this morning that I got years ago from a colleague. It helps me to see where the kids are when they come to me. This is a screener that tests 1st-3rd grade skills so its perfect for early 4th graders to assess where they are coming in at.

To break up the procedures and rules teaching, we did the Summer to Tweet about craftifity I got from Amy Lemons last year. The kids love to color the bird!

Calendar Math courtesy of Stephanie! ♥ this!

I had the kiddos do a writing prompt after lunch, simply asking them to tell me whatever they thought I needed to know about them. I purposely left it open-ended because some of the more needy kids will be very honest and tell you that they have had some behavior issues but it also tells me a LOT about them by the way they write about themselves. (And we have our work cut out for us with writing...whew!)

We ended our day with some goal-setting. We made Peek-Face portraits. (I do not remember where I got this last year!) So cute and its amazing to see the kind of goals my kids set (and how many of them just don't know how to do that, which is sad).

All in all, a productive and successful day. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me in terms of getting these kids up to par with 4th grade Common Core standards but I'm up to the challenge and I know they will be too. I have a few chatters but nothing I can't handle. Only 23 kiddos which is AMAZING (I haven't had a class this small in YEARS). I had 37 originally, then they added a class and a bunch of kids didn't show (which I assume went to the reopened school). I am not complaining through! 23 is a great number. My colleague has 21...only 3 girls! I felt bad for those little girls! I'm not sure how that happened. 
And finally....I'm linking up way late but here's my Currently for September!
 Listening - The hubby is watching TV in the room next to my office and it is serving as my background music ;)

Loving -- I LOVE having this small class and I hope that it stays this small. It is awesome!

Thinking -- I am procrastinating looking through all of my papers from today...and I need to get through them so I'm not dealing with them still tomorrow! :)

Wanting -- Oh man would I give anything for a fruity cocktail and some curly fries. Evil and not diet friendly at all but it would be SO worth it. Might have to indulge tomorrow. It's margarita night at the best Mexican place in town :)

Needing -- a mani/pedi! 'Nuff said!

For Me -- I need to get myself back on a schedule with my weight loss. I haven't lost weight (and have gained some back) since May and I need to get back on a schedule now that I'm back at school. I also need to take advantage of my double special on Wednesdays and get all caught up on grading/planning so that I'm not working on weekends. Those days need to be reserved for my family. Finally I need to drink more water. I'm a Diet Coke girl through and through but at work I need to be better at drinking water. 

The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tips and Tricks on Writing Assignments {Guest Post}

Tips and Tricks on Writing Assignments

            Aside from Mathematics, writing is one of the students’ most dreaded academic-related activities. Apart from the tedious process of researching and note taking, writing assignments must be done in a manner that will reflect a student’s understanding about certain topics and its ability to convey such understanding to the readers.

While not everyone may be a born writer or has the luxury of spending too much time on a writing task alone, here are some guidelines that will help when writing your assignment.

Gather all relevant data and information. It should constantly be stressed that research is very important before doing your assignment. Use all the tools and resources available in the library or online and highlight the information you’re going to need.

Make an Outline. As a blueprint of your assignment, an outline should include the main points of discussion. Having an outline will help organize your ideas and how to write it, conduct literature searches and helps divide the word count for every section.

Create an Introduction. An introduction should contain 1-2 paragraphs with a brief background about what will be discussed and the objectives of writing the assignment. The thesis statement may also be incorporated in the introduction.

Ensure continuity of ideas. When writing your assignment, make sure that the idea conveyed in your first paragraph will be related to your succeeding paragraphs to enable your readers to follow your train of thought. Use transition words wherein the last sentences or ideas written will act as a “bridge” as you move on the next paragraph conveying a different subject. And as a general rule, stick to one main idea per paragraph to avoid confusion among readers.

Use examples. Use examples to better explain your topic and to enable readers to have a clear understanding of what you are talking about. More so, your assignment should reflect on how well you are able to understand your topic based from multiple sources by applying the concepts learned in practical applications.

Maximize tables and figures. While it may not reduce the number of words you’re only allowed to use, tables, figures or any form of illustration can be useful and effective in conveying information and date to your readers. For instance, if you have to present the 2013 Obesity Rate in the United States, graphs or tables may be a better way of showing it, to be supplemented with 2-3 sentences describing the illustration. Keep in mind that every illustration used should also be labeled for reader’s reference.

Stick with the word count. 1,000-word assignment may be dragging to read while shorter ones may not be able to exemplify the idea you would want to convey to your readers. If the word count indicates 450-500 words, then your assignment should be within the limit prescribed.

Cite your sources. Plagiarism is prevalent these days, hence considered as a major offense in most schools and universities around the world. Make attributions when borrowing an idea or illustration or making a direct quotation from a person. All the information and materials you’ve used should be included in your bibliography list. And in making citations, there are numerous styles that can be used so use a specific referencing style according to what was prescribed by your instructor.

Make a Conclusion. Your conclusion should state again the aim of the assignment, a brief summary of the main points discussed and final sentence which can be a challenge or question or something to think about for your readers. Conclusion should be strong and compact in order to leave in impact to your readers.  

Lois Weldon works at dissertation writing services Uk.bestdissertation.com. She moved from Liverpool to London with her family. Loves writing helpful articles for students. She is a great Star Wars fan.
The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, August 16, 2013

Classroom Exercises to keep Students Calm and Focused {Guest Post}

Classroom Exercises:  Keep Your Students Calm And Focused

While the classroom is designed to be a comfortable environment for students to learn and advance in their education, it is often that teachers have a difficult time maintaining their students’ full attention, especially with younger children. While we might like to think that kids are able to stay calm and focused throughout the school day, the reality is that many students just have too much energy to really stay focused on their education.

That’s why some teachers have started doing basic calming exercises with their students right in the classroom. These breaks from the normal lesson plan can help students focus and be more disciplined in their studies.

While all students may not need the exercises, almost every child in your classroom can benefit in some way from regular calming exercises. 


You won’t be conducting full yoga sessions in your classroom, but a few minutes of exercise that incorporates the basics of yoga can help kids feel more relaxed and ready to learn. For example, you can include some of the fundamental stretches and poses found in yoga with deep breathing techniques.

You can even break up these different exercises throughout the day. For example, stretching exercises may be beneficial for students in the morning, since they can help increase blood flow, while deep breathing exercises may be more beneficial after lunch or in the afternoon, when children have just eaten or come in from the playground.

Yoga exercises are also ideal for older children and teens who can really gain something from the relaxation and focus-boosting benefits of yoga. 


Basic Calisthenics

While many schools have physical education programs, a lot of kids don’t get the regular exercise that they need on a daily basis. You can’t really provide that in a classroom environment, but you can help kids release some of their energy so they can be better prepared to learn in class by using basic calisthenics.

Because of the size of most standard classrooms, you don’t have to necessarily incorporate the standard calisthenics in your class. Instead, try replacing jumping jacks by having your students jump in place while they reach for the ceiling.

Small kids will love the activity, and they can get out a lot of energy in just a minute or two, so the exercise doesn’t eat up all of your class time.

Drawing or Writing Exercises

When you have kids in a classroom that just won’t focus or calm down to get to work, it might be counterintuitive to allow them to do something on their own. After all, they’re going to continue talking or messing around, right?

In actuality, many kids will calm down fairly quickly when asked to work on their own. Something as simple as as telling a child to draw every shape they know on a piece of paper can help them calm down and get into the right mindset for learning.

Best of all, an exercise, like a shape-drawing exercise, only takes a few minutes of class time. Drawing has other benefits for children as well. 

Kids get a lot of stimuli in and out of school. It’s no surprise that they often come to class bouncing off the walls and would rather run around, talk and giggle, rather than learn about history, math or any other subject you may be teaching.

By using these exercises, you can help kids of all ages calm down so they can learn efficiently-- they’ll likely enjoy the break from their monotonous schedule of lessons too!

Virginia Cunningham is a health writer and mom of three living in Southern California. She also works with Northwest to educate other parents about their family’s overall health. With three kids of her own, she is always finding new ways that will keep her kids from bouncing off the walls, such as yoga and gardening.
The Caffeinated Teacher

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 8


 Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here.

 Chapter 8: Learning Through Assessment
 In this final chapter, the authors take a look at how we can use formative as well as summative assessments throughout each vocabulary cycle to help us to guide our vocabulary instruction just like we would with any other type of lesson we are using. Data drives instruction.

How do you plan for vocabulary assessment? The authors provide four important guidelines (as cited by Bean and Swan Dagen, 2006).
1. Think about the goals and purposes of the assessment
2. Use authentic measures of vocabulary progress
3. Plan to assess for depth of understanding
4. Be aware of comprehension connections

The authors provide an awesome Vocabulary Cycle Plan on pages 124-125 for using assessments throughout the vocabulary cycle. The best part is, they break it up for a 5 day vocabulary cycle and a 10 day vocabulary cycle. 
I really appreciate the two versions of this plan because we have vocabulary that we are required to teach within our Reading Street curriculum. Some of it is fluff that could be let go without hurting anything but the vast majority of the words actually fit into the realm of the kinds of words you would want to use in a vocabulary cycle--words that are useful in life and across curriculum domains.

Formative Assessments
There are many types of formative assessments that can be use throughout the vocabulary cycle to help teachers keep tabs (daily) on student progress with the current words.
Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down -- use while introducing words and studying synonyms and antonyms

Observations -- observation is a useful strategy when students are engaged in Counting Dude, Bragging Dude; Scramble; Vocabulary Rap; Line It Up; Crystal Ball Words; Word Charades; Chain Link and during review

Analyzing Student Work -- reviewing vocabulary journals; vocabulary rings; word illustrations, word colors, powerpoint portrayals

Questioning -- Useful with all activities and with whiteboards

Student Generated Questions --  during board games, review games and celebrations

Summative Vocabulary Assessment
The authors mirror their cloze activity that they use at the start of each vocabulary cycle to make their summative assessments. These assessments are designed to mimic the type of vocabulary work students will see on standardized tests. The teacher creates a passage about the learning that has taken place during the week, using the vocabulary words from the vocabulary cycle. Students read through the passage and use their vocabulary knowledge and context clues to fill in the passage with the correct vocabulary words.

Eventually, if appropriate, the students can create their own vocabulary assessment with a passage (often written as a letter to the teacher) using the words from that vocabulary cycle to show that they know the words and how to use them.

I LOVE this idea because the weekly test we are required to do with Reading Street has vocabulary questions in isolation and my students always do very poorly on those. I'm interested to see how this would work if they had this passage-style vocabulary assessment first so that they could see the words in a better, more familiar context. I can't wait to experiment with this and see if it makes a difference in the vocabulary achievement of my class.

Finally the authors provide a chart of vocabulary progress...one filled in with a rubric-style key and the other blank for filling in students' names. This provides an easy way for teachers (especially those who are just beginning to use vocabulary in this way) to help track where their students are with their vocabulary use and knowledge.

 Believe it or not, this is the end of the book study! I am SO SO glad that I decided to read this book this summer. I have such big plans for using these strategies in my class for 2013-2014. In fact, using the strategies from Word Nerds is one of my goals for 2013-2014 for my yearly evaluation. I am PUMPED to get my first couple of vocabulary cycles planned so that I can think about how this is going to actually look in my classroom. I can't wait! Thanks for joining me on this amazing journey!
The Caffeinated Teacher

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 7

 Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here

Chapter 7: Spreading Vocabulary Wings

Every chapter of this book makes me fall farther and farther in love with it! I really want to meet these authors and tell them how amazingly fabulous they are! This chapter begins with a look at Morphology in Vocabulary instruction wherein students are learning prefixes, suffixes and the roots of words. This is really an important skill anyway but if you are someone like me who teaches language learners, it's importance triples as these children are learning English and have to be able to break words down in order to really understand them and make meaning.

One activity that the authors do is called Crystal Ball Words. You begin with one word, break it down into its root, suffix and prefix, define each peace (thereby giving the students the opportunity to really show that they know what un- means for example) and then create other words that use each part. In their example, the word is Transportation. So you've got three affixes 1. trans, 2. port, 3. ation and the students define each of them and then come up with other words that use that same affix. Genius!
This is great! I will be adding this one to our vocabulary work each week because I think it really helps students when they can make connections between words. Last year with my split, I had such a hard time trying to balance word work (that included morphology study) into our day because of teaching the dual curriculum. I am determined not to ever let that one go again...because after seeing this particular strategy, I am in love with it. It's easy to implement and I can see it becoming somewhat of a game for the students to try to have the most words, etc.

Another activity they introduce uses inference skills (which is HUGE in Common Core) along with the vocabulary. The students have a chart and pull clues from the text they are reading, talk about what they already know about the information in the clues and then infer using the vocabulary they have been learning. 
The examples of the dialogue this students share with each other is amazing. It's so easy to go "yeah, right, MY kids would never be able to do that" but then I remind myself that these classes are kiddos just like the students I serve. So yeah, it's possible once they are truly immersed in this type of learning environment. I'm going to have to be careful because I may want to just work on vocabulary all day!

A final activity provided in this book is predominantly designed to be oral vocabulary development. The teachers created sentences on index cards in "pirate speak" and the students' job was to change the pirate speak into "Rascal Talk" using their vocabulary words to make a 7-Up Sentence.
I think this activity would be hilarious to do in class. What kids don't want to speak like a pirate? Even if its only reading the information off a card?? I could actually see myself using this as a Fab Friday activity because *I* would know it was really educational but I think the kids would see it as more fun than work. 
Overall, this book is the best educational reference purchase I have made all year, hands down. The trouble will be figuring out just how to fit these fun activities into my classroom! I am working hard on a plan of sorts to ensure that I can fit in all of the activities throughout each month because the sheer number of words that students end up learning, simply through the use of all of these words in the activities is amazing. I can imagine how well the students would do on a test if they had all of this word knowledge because they could more easily decode words they didn't know and likely figure out the meaning.

The Caffeinated Teacher

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Planning and Organizing

Like most teachers, I absolutely love being organized. Sometimes it might not look like it from the piles and piles I end up having on my desk at home and sometimes even at school (yikes!) but I try my best to keep everything clean and neat. It makes for a happier teacher and ultimately, a happier classroom. Kiddos can learn SO MUCH BETTER in a clean, well organized environment that they know how to navigate without a lot of teacher direction.

One of the biggest ways that I stay organized is with my planning system. I like to plan ahead when it is possible. At least with somewhat of a general outline. I rarely ever stick to the outline I make but it gives me somewhat of a starting point over the summer as I begin to prepare for the big units that I need to teach that year. Here are the components I tend to use to help me stay organized:

1) A Year-Long Plan

Here's a peek at this coming year's Year-Plan.

Since I've never had 3rd grade and I will also be in a new building, I simply went onto my district's curriculum server and pulled the major units that we have during the year in writing, science and social studies. I also mapped out a plan for our reading stories--those I suspect will change once I learn how my new school does them (some take two weeks per story and some, like my old school, do a story per week). Math is basically a lesson per day but they are also making some changes to that for this upcoming year so I didn't go too far ahead. I just know I should be planning to do our first big assessment by the end of September. (Language Arts isn't filled in yet because I have to go back and look at the skills for each week and decide what to focus on since Reading Street has SO MUCH.)

I never, EVER print that plan. It just stays on my computer for me to refer to as necessary. Often I don't even look at it again after the first couple of weeks of school (which is why I don't bother to print it). Maybe that seems like it's a big waste of time then but it truly just helps me to mentally know where I need to get to and I plan like this before school begins so I can tweak as needed to ensure I can spread out the essential units. If I notice I'm short on space on this plan, I can move things around a bit.

2) Lesson Plan Book
Like many teacher bloggers this past spring, I jumped on the Erin Condren bandwagon and splurged on one of her planners. It helped that several people had posted about them, shared videos of the features of the planner and pointed out the video Erin herself has on her website. Its a steep price for a lesson planner but once I watched those videos, I knew I had to have one.
 Mine is only personalized with my name and school year because when I ordered it,
I had no idea what school I would be at. I had to order it in May to take advantage
of the teacher appreciation sale! 

 You had me at hello tabs.

 LOVE the two page spread for the monthly notes. We tend to have sooooo many things going on month-to-month that it is nice to be able to jot them all down here and always have them. I keep a paper planner as well but that is mostly for notes for home life. I love that I can keep a calendar right in my plan book and have everything literally at my fingertips.

 This isn't a ton of space....but it will serve it's purpose for what I will use it for. I LOVE the design, the different colors and the horizontal style by day. Plus that handy little bookmark is moveable so I can always flip to the correct week. 

Now, I KNOW that this planner style will not be big enough for the detailed plans I like to keep for my small groups in reading (and sometimes math). That's totally fine, however, because I could NEVER give up on my super favorite planbookedu.com!! Before school started last year, I gave a super detailed tutorial of how I use this website (find it here). I ♥ PlanbookEDU. So much that I even blog for them monthly. I super ♥ them!

 This is what I see when I log in. The coolest part about this website is that it saves my planbooks until *I* delete them. So the top is last year's and the bottom is this coming year's. LOVE. Last year, because I had a split, I actually started with more than one planner (which you'll see in my tutorial above) but I combined them into one big ole planbook in October and deleted the spares. I absolutely love that I can go back and find an activity that I did last year if I want to do it again. (Best of all, because I have a premium account -- worth the $!!!, just sayin'! -- I can add attachments and therefore, from year to year I can actually just move the lesson over if I am going to replicate the exact lesson. It's sooo awesome.)

This is this year's planbook (so far). I know this will change because I don't know how things are set up at my new school....but my plan is to keep most of my lessons in my super fun Erin planner and keep my detailed workshop plans on the site and then print them if I need to do so. 

Why would I do this? Because I tend to be someone who keeps IN-SANELY detailed plans for my reading and math workshops and this way I can keep them in a binder for ease of use for myself during my small groups if I want, or simply keep them on the server and share them with my principal via email if she asks to see them. Shorthand notes about the lesson (such as the skill or strategy) will go into the spiral planner but  my detailed notes will be housed online so that I have them if I want/need to print them.

3) Checklists!

I am a checklist queen. (At least I should be.) I have used all kinds of systems in the past. I've made my own checklists with the kiddos' names, with the students' numbers, etc. I use them for EVERYTHING. Checking homework, reading logs, behavior sheets being returned, field trip slips, etc. The problem is, I am always LOSING my checklists! That's not cool. (As organized as I am, I tend to lose paper right in front of my face, which is a story for another post!) Do you know what really sold me on this planner? THE CHECKLISTS! I ordered the 28 extra pages for $10 more. Worth every penny. I have checklists to last me all year now and they will stay right in my planner so I don't have to worry about losing them because they are housed right with everything else that I may need at my fingertips.

Erin is my hero simply for these checklist pages! ♥

So that is how I keep myself organized during the year (or at least try to! haha). It's all about the proper techniques that work for you. I have used binders, online only plans and more. I am really excited about this system, however, because the Erin planner has so much important stuff (seating plans, etc) that I normally don't have enough space for in my binder planners and it's neat, not super huge and let's face it, is pretty to look at!

How do you organize your plans?
The Caffeinated Teacher

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 6 {+ College Job Update}

 Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here.
 Chapter 6: Celebrating to Validate

I am so, so glad that I decided to read this book this summer! Now that I have my grade level for next year, the wheels are spinning in my mind as to how I can best implement these strategies. The good news is that our reading series has a lot of vocabulary type of stuff in it and the words are actually pretty decent in terms of vocabulary words. They are words that fit the criteria that authors have suggested in this book so I'm excited to at least have a launching point for this coming year.
This chapter is all about helping the children celebrate their vocabulary learning and progress. I am in total love with this. Too often, I think that the "fun stuff" has to be pushed back because of Test Prep or other "more worthy" learning opportunities. However, this process as described by the authors validates for the students that  their work with the vocabulary words is important, meaningful and not just "one more thing we do". I think that is powerful in and of itself. Validating the students' hard work with a celebration is time well spent in my mind.
These celebrations happen before any formal summative assessments for vocabulary. This provides not only a celebration and validation event but also provides the students one more chance to use the vocabulary they have been studying before putting it to use in context. Fabulous!
Block Party
I have to say this one is my super most favoritest ever (yes I am an English teacher and I just wrote that terrible sentence with the worst grammar ever *wink*). It's SO cool how the students practice the words.
In the Block Party the students are wearing their lanyards with their words on them. The teacher has two students come up and model how this party works. The students introduce themselves as their word and provide a definition, meaning or other use of the word on their card. LOVE! For example a student might say, "Hi! My name is [vocabulary word] and I am an antonym for [word]."  After modeling how it works, the teacher has a student come up and begin to "invite" other students up, by inviting their synonyms or antonyms. Once the whole class has been invited, the students begin to mingle and use their vocabulary knowledge to chat with their friends because they are pretending to be their word.
I love this on SO MANY LEVELS!! It is great practice for the students to use their vocabulary IN CONTEXT as well as reinforce the correct usage of the words. This one is definitely going to happen in my room this year.
 There are several other ideas for parties to validate the learning process throughout each vocabulary cycle. The party activity changes but the basic premise stays exactly the same. The students are practicing their words in context for review and reinforcement before a vocabulary assessment. It is a genius way to help the students to really put to use what they have learned throughout the cycle.
* * * * *
I didn't want to make a separate post to update about this but I wanted to include it since several people have commented asking me about it. I ultimately was not selected for the college professorship. I think that a lot of my coworkers and friends here at home thought I would be really upset about it. I'm actually 100% fine with it. There were cons to the position of course (namely moving 9 hours away from The Husband and The Littles for most of the school year) and as the days slipped by without a phone call offering me the position, I came to realize something. I got all of the validation that I needed that I am doing what God wants me to do simply by going through the process of the interviews. It's kind of funny that these interviews were less intimidating than interviewing for my own district where I have worked for 7 years. 
I was up at my cabin from last Friday after my interview until yesterday morning (had to come home because The Youngest had her expander put in at the dentist). I just bought a car from my sister-in-law and had to meet my hubby at his work to get the title signed and such. Seeing him after 5 days apart, everything clicked for me. I knew then that I was meant to stay home and continue my work here...because I would miss his handsome face if I was in West Virginia without him.
So yeah, the job would have been wicked sweet....but I am just as happy to stay here at home. I have a classroom to look forward to decorating this fall and that is all I can really ask for.
I do very much appreciate everyone's positive thoughts and those who peeked in to see what was happening with it. It's awesome to have such nice people (even if we've never met!) to share things like this with so thank you for that. :) 
The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, July 12, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 5

 Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here

Chapter Five: Active Vocabulary Practice
This chapter is all about  ways to put vocabulary practice to practical use in the classroom! This is definitely a chapter that one must read in order to get anything out of it. A summary/synopsis just isn't going to cut it if you really want to get something out of it. Alas, I'll do my best to provide some helpful info.

Whole Group Practice Opportunities
By working together as a whole class to practice vocabulary, it creates a sense of community and team building amongst the students. Specifically, students become excited about the words they are learning and they want to share them with the other children who are learning them as well.

There are many activities listed for whole group practice:
1) Scramble - the teacher says scramble and students gather in a huddle based upon their word and its synonyms/antonyms.
2) Counting Dude, Bragging Dude - In a pair, students recite a 7-up sentence using their word. The counter counts to make sure they have at least 7 words and that the sentence sounds right. If it does, the Bragger can do a short victory cheer.
3) Word Charades - Students act out the words trying to get their classmates to guess what their word is
4) Vocabulary Rap - Rap with synonyms and antonyms using the starter, "When I say _____, you say _____"
5) Chain Link - A student explains the meaning of their word and other students try to make a connection to it. If they do, the students hook elbows and then another student tries to make a connection to one of the words in the chain until everyone is linked.

Small Group or Independent Practice Opportunities
Just as with the whole group, students working in small groups (or even on their own) to practice vocabulary learn from each other and reinforce the sense of community by working as a team. 

Here are some independent or small group practice ideas:
1) Vocabulary Board Games - Using board game templates, students land on a word and give the definition, a 7-up sentence, a synonym or an antonym for the word
2) Vocabulary Rings - Using index cards, students include word, illustration and definition on the card. These can be practiced anytime independently, in pairs or used for lining up (ie. if you have a word that means ______ line up"
3) Word Colors - Using index cards, students write the word on their card and then color around the word with one color. They must justify their color choice on the back of the card
4) Word Illustrations - Combine the word and a picture into a drawing to help retain meaning
5) PowerPoint Portrayals  - Using PowerPoint (or other media software), students create visuals for their word. They carefully select text, objects and sounds to help portray their word.

I really, really enjoyed this chapter! I love all of the specific examples of ways to get the students to practice, use and learn vocabulary. Better yet, many of them are really fun and I know my students this year would have enjoyed them immensely. I am going to make a rotation for my class so that we are using all of these strategies throughout the year to keep it interesting, engaging and fun for the kids so they don't get bored doing the same activity all of the time. I think the Vocabulary Rings is something I will use weekly because I love the idea of the kids having their own bank of vocabulary words (makes me think of the Ring of Knowledge that I'm so fond of with DDI). I can also see Counting Dude, Bragging Dude and the Vocabulary Rap being a weekly part of my vocabulary instruction.  
Stay tuned for Chapter 6 next week! 
The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, July 5, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 4

 Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here

Chapter Four: Squeezing the Juicy Words--Adding Synonyms and Antonyms

In this chapter, we are given an in-depth look at why using synonyms and antonyms (or examples and non-examples as it were) are important for helping our students to build vocabulary. Sometimes giving a synonym for a word is all you need to provide in order for kids' light bulbs to go on and then make the connection and understand the word you're trying to teach them. 

Reference Materials for Vocabulary "Research"
The authors share that they often came up with the synonyms and antonyms to display and one day Leslie was having trouble with her technology. One student suggested that they (the kids) just find their own words. Voila! Suddenly every child in the class was engaged in active vocabulary research using dictionaries, thesauruses and other materials to help them find words. The beauty of how this came out is that a) it was thought up by a student and b) the kids get so excited by the research that they just form their own groups and get to work.  I absolutely love this idea. Having the kids do the research makes it more meaningful for them because they are actively seeking ways to engage with the words, learn the words and words that aren't synonyms or antonyms too. I love the examples of the student talk. At first glance it may make you think "yeah, right, my class can't do that!" but they can. This book really speaks to me because I service the same exact clientele that they do--urban kiddos without a lot of background in words. 
Additionally they return to the modified Frayer model and show some student work of how the kids are putting their research to use on their vocabulary journal. (Click here to get a copy of the vocabulary journal I shared for with Chapter 3.) The authors do point out that they have some preselected synonyms and antonyms in case the student have trouble finding them or get stuck. 

Velcro and Juicy Words
As students begin to dig into reference materials to find their words, the authors ask them to be sure to find "velcro words" or words that will really stick in their brains. As the students become more adept at finding words on their own, they are much more likely to branch out and try other words. Additionally the students become "Juicy Word Hunters". As they feel more confident with their word knowledge, they will purposely begin to search for the juiciest synonyms and antonyms for their selected vocabulary words. I really love how engaged the students seem to be in this section. Don't we all want students who purposely find ways to use the new vocabulary they have been taught in class?? The examples of the students trying to use "peripatetic" is amazing. I can only hope for a class of vocabulary gurus like that!

Code-Switching is defined as the art of knowing when and how to use certain kinds of talk. Most adults are fairly good at code-switching. How you speak in a professional setting is often very different from how you would speak to friends over burgers and brats in the backyard. In order for our students to not sound like "jerks" or stuck up know-it-alls, we have to teach them the art of code-switching. YES please use these vocabulary words liberally at school in our classroom. YES please use these words when you are talking to the adults you encounter at school! NO you do not have to use these words when you are on the playground or at the park after school! The authors caution that we don't want our kids to be ridiculed for being show-offs as they use their expanding vocabulary. In order to help the students know that its okay to share these words with their parents, but maybe not over the burgers and brats in the backyard, the teachers send home a brief note listing the words currently being studied in school. This allows the kids to have a safe place outside of school to use their expanding vocabulary (at home with their parents) without setting themselves up for ridicule by wanting to share their words when it might not be the most appropriate (on a playdate). Code-Switching is definitely an art that students need to be taught and helped to hone. I find this to be very true in writing as well. My students often write exactly the way they talk and while that is often perfectly acceptable if they are writing a personal narrative, if they are doing research or some other form of more "formal" writing, they have to know how to code-switch. They have to know when it is okay to use their slang and when they need to use proper grammar and sentence structures. Its sad to think of any kid being made fun of because they are using their "big words" but sadly we all can probably think of an example. My own brother decided to act "dumb" in school because he didn't like being made fun of when he was put in an advanced class for math. Had he been taught how to embrace his knowledge without sacrificing his friendships, he may well be in a very different place in his adult life than he currently is.

The authors assert that it is important to focus on examples and non-examples of words as students are studying words within the vocabulary cycle. This is because the non-examples help students realize what the word doesn't mean  so they actually are able to build better conceptual understanding of the words. By using examples or synonyms and non-examples or antonyms, students are learning multiple words rather than just one word at a time and are able to further develop their word schemas by finding patterns between word associations, thus building an even bigger bank of words to transfer into writing.

Beyond the Synonyms and Antonyms
Students begin to explore synonyms and antonyms or examples and non-examples by searching for words that could mean the same (or opposite) of the chosen word. One example from the text shows how 3rd grade students were trying to find an antonym or non-example for the word population. Initially the students thought of "alone" or "solitary" but after more researching, they decided upon the word "extinct" because it means "no population". 
Students are encouraged to use their vocabulary journals to reinforce the definitions for the words they are studying. The teacher can introduce antonyms or allow students to search for them. What ultimate goal is that students are truly learning the meaning of the vocabulary words by learning other words that mean the same or provide an example of the word's meaning and by learning the opposite or a non-example to help them solidify what words can be used to describe the concept.
I really like this part of the vocabulary cycle. How much easier would it be to justify the time these lessons take up if ultimately students are learning 25 words rather than just 5 because they are learning synonyms and antonyms as well. I can already envision the "juicy words" my kiddos would have sprinkled into their writing assignments having gone through these vocabulary cycles. 

Vocabulary Lanyards
Each student in the class wears a lanyard containing either a vocabulary word, or a synonym or antonym of a vocabulary word. To start with these might be words only from the current vocabulary cycle but as time goes on, the students will also have words from previous cycles to help reinforce the words. The teachers use the words for transitions and other activities. To have children line up they might say "If your word means {definition}, please line up." Students may also be asked to use their words in a sentence before they enter or leave the classroom. The word cards are changed daily and sometimes in the middle of the day to reinforce the concept that the students are responsible for knowing all of the words in the vocabulary cycle, rather than just the word they happen to be wearing at that moment. 
Younger students wear their lanyards to all areas of the school except to recess. The older students are given the option to not wear their lanyard outside of the classroom to help preserve their dignity as they might feel embarrassed wearing a word around their neck throughout the school. 
I love the idea of using the lanyards to help reinforce the vocabulary instruction. I know I am guilty of using the vocabulary words for that week and then on to the next because there is always so much else that needs to be done. By having the students wear the lanyards, there are many transition activities that can be utilized that will reinforce the words as well as keep all of the words active throughout the year, even when one particular vocabulary cycle has finished.  

I hope you enjoyed my reflections on Chapter 4! Join me next week for an in-depth look at Chapter 5.
The Caffeinated Teacher

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Word Nerds Book Study: Chapter 3 {& Freebie!}

 As you read this, I am likely sitting in my car, headed to West Virginia to see The Oldest's college and get her registered for her first day as a college freshman in August! (How in the world did that happen??) So as I wonder, quite frequently I am sure, "Are we there yet?" (because we're DRIVING for 9 hours!), enjoy this post about our summer book study!

Once again I am linking up with Sabra from Teaching with a Touch of Twang for our summer book study of Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary. Don't forget you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse and there is this handy little study guide you can use as well. 

I will offer some summary and overview of each chapter and put my thoughts and reflections in blue italics so you will know what is coming directly from me. To find all of my posts for the book study, click here.
 Chapter Three: Making Introductions
Chapter two really left me hankering for more information about the vocabulary routine set up by the authors. Almost makes me wish school was back in session so I could get going on this (almost...but not quite).

In Chapter Three, we get a real look at how the authors set up, introduce and begin their vocabulary instruction in their classrooms. They offer two different scenarios, for K-3 in the Primary realm and 4-5 in the intermediate (I would argue that 3rd could fall into either category--where I am, it is mostly considered to be intermediate). The routines are very similar, just adapted a bit for the younger students.
Primary Vocabulary
1. Prediction - Students gather together in a common space and engage in a cloze activity put together in a pocket chart. The teacher engages students in a lesson to predict which words fit with the sentences on the chart. The teacher says "My turn (word), your turn_____" and the students fill in the same word. Then they break down the syllables (very important I think, because many kids still don't "get" syllables), before students predict the meaning of the word. You can get as in depth as you like here, even going into the part of speech that the word is before giving a kid-friendly definition for the word.
2. Trying the Words -- Once the students have gone through the prediction activity, they can complete the cloze activity. You can add in total response techniques here as a student makes a guess as to which word belongs in the sentence--students can agree or disagree with a thumbs up or down and sideways if they aren't sure if it is correct. The teacher doesn't simply say "yes you are right" or "not that's not right" but rather asks the students to point out context clues that helped them decide if that word is the right fit. Additionally the teacher teaches the students to try the word out in EACH sentence before making a final decision in order to decide which word is really the best fit for each sentence.  I love that the teacher has them look at all of the possibilities before they make a final determination because so often on tests the kids are given two words that are so close and both could be accurate depending upon the context but only one is really the correct answer. It's important to teach the kids how true this is for vocabulary too. I emphasize this during our weekly reading practice that even if we know answer A fits, we still have to read B-D just to make sure. It makes perfect sense to do that with vocabulary too.
3. Primary Vocabulary Journals -- A two pocket folder with brads that contains a bunch of modified Frayer vocabulary model sheets. This is gone through with the students so that they are putting down the right information for the words. Students are directed to use a "7-Up Sentence" (a sentence with at least 7 words) for each word to ensure they are hitting as many parts of speech as they can to describe the word. At the beginning of the year, the teacher guides everything including the picture but as students gain confidence and skill with the routine, they can create their own graphic. Love the idea of a 7-Up sentence. Many of my ELL kids this past year (4th/5th graders) wanted to give me 2-3 word very basic sentences. I'm going to steal this idea.
Intermediate Vocabulary
1. Sentence Prediction -- This is very similar to the Primary cloze activity except the kids don't see the word cards, instead they use their vocabulary schema to predict the words that might fit in there. LOVE THIS IDEA for big kids! It really makes use of all of the previous vocabulary they have encountered.
2. Word Prediction --  Next you pull out the actual vocabulary word cards and go through a similar process as in the Primary lesson where the students try to decide which word fits in the sentence. The teacher NEVER gives the correct answer during this portion of the lesson but rather allows the children to explore the words by trying out their meanings and how they fit in the context of the sentence. LOVE!
3. Trying Out the Words -- This is the time when the children actively try to figure out which words belongs in each sentence. Using test-taking strategies like Process of Elimination, the students decide where the word fits best. They even turn it into a game by saying "Ding, ding, ding!" if they think the word fits and "waa, waa, waa" if its wrong. What kid wouldn't love playing a game like that??
4. Vocabulary Journals --  Again this is very similar to the primary version although the kids are able to come up with their own sentences if they feel ready. They are also welcome to use the sentence from the cloze activity.  If I was doing this with intermediate kids, I would likely have them use the cloze sentence and try to come up with another sentence on their own, at least at the beginning of the year. This would ensure they had a sentence that was accurate and provide them with some background to help them create the new sentence. Perhaps by mid-year this step wouldn't be needed but I can think of several kiddos in my classes over the past couple of years that would have likely benefited from having both sentences.

Investments in Vocabulary
While the authors are quick to point out that this process is time consuming, they also advocate for its use. So much happens during a word study lesson! The students are studying affixes, parts of speech and making connections between words. That instructional time is really giving you a bang for your buck. Kids get used to the routine really quickly so what might take 30 minutes at the beginning of the year will take only 10-15 as the year progresses as the kids are used to playing with words.    
If I hadn't been sold already (and I was), I definitely would be now as we got a glimpse of how the routine looks in both of these teachers' classrooms. I love the idea of the cloze activity because students generally like them and what's best, the kids are really leading the learning because they are using what they already know about words. The teacher is more or less acting as a "Vanna White" and moving the cards around as kids are making their guesses and predictions. So much of the learning is active as the kids love to guess and adding the game show sound effects is sure to excite even the most reluctant of learners.

Here's a copy of a modified Frayer model for use as your Vocabulary Journal! I added the part of speech to the  definition section and for sentence, I made it a 7-Up sentence!

Stay tuned for my thoughts and reflections on Chapter 4 next week!
The Caffeinated Teacher