Monday, September 15, 2014

Teaching About Character Traits

This week, we began discussing character traits and how an author uses those descriptions to get you emotionally invested and interested in a book or story.  We did a few things that I found very successful, and wanted to share the ideas with you.  We did these lessons over the course of a week, so I am going to break down what happened each day, in case you want to recreate that timeline in your own room.

Day 1 -- Introduction to Character Traits

We gathered as a group to discuss what exactly character traits are.  Why does an author use them?  What purpose do they serve?  Together we created this anchor chart.  I made the chart while the kids took notes in their Reading Journals.







I asked them to then look at the specific "Ask Yourself" questions and we opened up our class novel (Gregor the Overlander) to the first chapter.  We have read this chapter a few times, and dug into it quite a bit, so they are rather familiar with it.  I read the first question aloud and then modeled a discussion with them, pointing to parts of the story where Gregor does things that would be specific to him.  I thought out loud about actions he took that tell us more about his character.  I then sent them off to do the same with a partner for the remaining questions.  I wanted them to specifically discuss the character of Gregor, so that we were all keeping within the same ideas for our modeled practice.

After they discussed in partners, we shared out a bit whole group.  This was all done orally.  Aside from the notetaking, no writing was done.

 Day 2 -- Digging into the book

Now that we have discussed what character traits are in general, I wanted to get a bit more specific.  I found a great list from Read, Write, Think of adjectives that can be used to describe the character traits of a specific person in a story.  I gave each student a list and then we looked at it to think about which ones could be used to describe Gregor (again, going back to the main character in our story so that we have some consistency.)

Since we use Thinking Maps, I asked the kids to help me create a bubble map to describe Gregor.  The first word they thought of was "responsible".  We added that to our bubble map (making an anchor chart as we went.)  Then I asked them HOW they knew Gregor was responsible.  One student pointed to a line on page 3 of the book.  We all turned there and read the line.  I then added that to the bottom of the bubble (see the anchor chart??)  Another kid chimed in saying that he also watched his sister, but that there was no direct quote that would work as it was sort of an inference at the time.  So we just paraphrased and wrote that in on the bubble map too.

We went on like this for a bit, until I felt that the kids had a good idea.  Then I sent them back to their seats to finish the bubble map.  They had to find 3 more character traits WITH EVIDENCE FROM THE TEXT to complete their bubble maps.  

Day 3 -- Inside and Outside Traits

Most of the students tended to focus on the PHYSICAL traits associated with our main character.  I mean, they are easy to focus on because they are so concrete.  But when writer's write, it is the PERSONALITY traits that really make you connect with a character.  So Day 3 was focused on telling the difference between the two different categories.

Looking at our character of Gregor, we talked about the "Outside Traits", those things that were physical, and then "Inside Traits", those things that were personality based.  We made a new list of all of those adjectives (from the previous day's character trait list) that could be used to characterize Gregor and then categorized them into Physical or Personality.

I then set the kids off to create two new bubble maps.  This time, one had to represent the physical outside traits only, with evidence from the text of course.  The second map had to represent the inside personality traits.  Again, the bubble maps needed to include EVIDENCE from the TEXT.

Day 4 -- Writing about Character Traits

Now that we looked at character traits from the author's perspective, we wrote about them as a reader.  I used this anchor chart and taught the kids to write a response (like they are going to have to do on the TEST.)  I gave them a simple frame (ala Paragraph of the Week) which they instantly recognized and were confident they could use.

Click here to get this generalized organizer
We talked about how the traits from the bubble maps would become the "trait #1" et al sentences, and the evidence would become the "evidence" sentences.  Then the kids set off to write.

Day 5 -- Revising and Extending

After the paragraphs were constructed, I realized that they were bare bones basic.  So this day was dedicated to a mini lesson on extending sentences.  We focused solely on the trait sentences, as those, across the board, were the most simple.  I gave them a few sentence starters that could extend their sentences with and the students were sent off to revise their paragraphs.





Now, we have some great final drafts, the kids are able to dig into the text to find evidence of character traits, AND they are that much more prepared for "the TEST."

What is something you do to teach Character Traits?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Answer Is....

During Math Rotations, my students move through a Problem Solving station.  While I have them working on their Two Ways of Problem Solving, I also wanted them to think about how math works just a bit.

So, while searching on Pinterest (of course!), I came across this pin and I just *knew* that I wanted to incorporate something like this in my room.  Here is my interpretation of what I saw.

On Monday, I place an answer onto the pocket chart.  I have been starting simple so far and have done "5 hats" and "9 dogs".  Well....let me rephrase that....I started with what I *thought* was simple ;)
To set up the board, I put the answer I am looking for at the top.  Each student has an index card with their classroom number written on it.  When they have finished writing the four different ways to come about that answer (using the four different operations), the students choose their "best" question, write it on the index card and turn it backwards on the pocket chart.  This way, I know they are done AND the rest of the kids can see their ideas.  Win-win!

I gave my students a recording sheet where they had to write one addition, one subtraction, one multiplication, and one division problem.

Now, in my mind, it was clear that they had to write a word problem.  How else would you get the answer "5 hats" if you didn't have some sort of word problem involving hats?

It wasn't so clear to my students. 

They were writing regular number sentences and then just writing hats on the end.

1 + 4 = 5 hats
5/1 = 5 hats
5 x 1 = 5 hats
6 - 1 = 5 hats

Yeah...not exactly what I was going for.

I decided that a mini-lesson on key words in word problems was necessary.  We filled in a little mini- anchor chart that they can keep in their math notebooks with words that they will see in word problems. (I found this cute anchor chart that I used in my room)  Then, we wrote a few together.  This actually made it click as to what I was looking for in The Answer Is....

The next week, when the answer was 9 dogs, more and more word problems with the key words were popping up.
So many more kids finished this week!
The depth of their problems was also much better on week two.  The kids tried to be a little more creative in their math to get to the answer.

So far, I am really enjoying having this as a part of the Problem Solving rotation.  It is getting the students thinking and really realizing that there are multiple ways to arrive at the same destination!

What is something you have added into your problem solving section of your math block this year?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Textual Support for Setting and Characters

We started in on the common core standard Literature 5.1 this week.  You know, the one that states, "Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text."  I wanted to share with you a small little thing we did to begin with this standard that my kids found relatively easy and painless.

We are reading Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins and the first chapter is pretty typical of a fictional narrative.  It sets up the characters and the setting fairly well.  So I had my students make a simple foldable out of a piece of blank paper, that was then cut into thirds.  The first flap was for setting, the second for characters, and the third for a summary of the story.

I then asked the students to tell me the setting of the story.  That was easy.  An apartment in New York.  Then I asked them HOW they knew that.  "It tells me in the story!" said one eager friend.  Several other friends nodded in agreement.  "But WHERE?"  I asked.  The students then started thumbing through the first chapter and finally all settled on a line on page
two which read, "It was the only air-conditioned room in the apartment."

I modeled for them how to write that on the foldable.  We wrote that they were in an apartment, and then the direct quote with page number annotation as evidence.

I then asked them to find where it said they were in New York.  Several students raised their hand and told me that it was when grandma was talking about Virginia and Gregor said she was now in New York.  I reminded them that, yes they were correct, but we need a direct quote from the story.  They searched and finally found it and I modeled writing it on the foldable.

We then talked about how time is also an element of setting.  When does this story take place?  By now, the students were immediately looking for references to summer.  There were quite a few but the one that we eventually chose was one from page 2 that also let us draw a conclusion that it was the beginning of summer.

Now that our setting was taken care of, the students met in partners to find as much evidence about one specific character as they could using direct quotes from the text.   So many wanted to just write what they knew from their own mind, but I kept having to direct them back to the text for textual evidence.

This is such a hard thing for them to do.   They *know* what the answer is, but finding evidence support is just another step that they are reluctant to take.

However, I think using this foldable really helped them.

The final step was writing a summary of the text.  I did not ask them to do direct textual support for this one, though in the future I will.  I think they were good just doing it for the setting and characters.

What is something you do to get the kids to give you textual evidence in their explanations of a text?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Previewing a Novel with Sticky Notes

To introduce the students to our new novel, AND to get them looking at the various text features found in fictional text, I did something a bit different than I had done before and I wanted to share it with you.

I told the students the name of our book, which happens to be Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins.  JUST based on the title, I wanted the students to draw a conclusion as to what the story would be about.  I didn't show them the book.  I didn't tell them anything else.  I just wanted them to use the title only.  I then gave them a sticky note and they each wrote their thoughts down.  They then shared with a partner what they thought, and we placed it on our anchor chart.

Next, I showed them the cover of the book. I placed in on my ELMO, as I didn't want them to see the back just yet.  I zoomed in, so they could really see the detail and then asked them to pair share some ideas about what the story could be about now that they knew the title and saw the cover art.  How did the two of them combine to give a more full picture of the story?  What genre does it all lead towards?  The kids wrote down their ideas, shared out, and then placed the sticky note on the chart.

Finally, I handed out the book.  (On a side note, have you ever noticed how INCREDIBLY excited the kids are when you give them an actual book???  The LOVE LOVE LOVE it!)

Anyway, back to the lesson.  :)

Once they had the book, I asked the students to read the back cover summary.  Based on that, and all the other things we have discussed thus far, NOW what did they think the story would be about?  Did their conclusions about the cover art and title hold true with the addition of the summary?  Again, they wrote those down and we discussed them as a class.  This time, the kids were lighting up with the realization that each of the pieces really helped to broaden their picture of what the story would be about.  They all came together to paint a picture of something very interesting that they couldn't wait to read.

Doing this exercise really helped the students to see that each part of the book is thought about and really forms a complete puzzle together.  Each of the three text features we looked at helped the author to sell the story before it was even read.

What is something you do to preview the story you are going to embark on in class? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Using the Standards to Get to Know My Class

My first few weeks have been filled with a lot of activities designed to get to know my students both as people AND as learners.  I have done some really simple things, like have the students fill out a quick survey for me to give me some insight into who they are as kids, but most of what I have done is rooted in the standards in some way.  You see, just because we are in the "honeymoon phase" doesn't mean the standards take a back seat in our learning.  So I wanted to share a few of the standards-based activities that we have been doing in our room that have helped the students to learn a bit more about each other, but also get a kick start on the huge amount of standards we need to learn this year.

If you read my blog at all, you know how much I love The Important Book .  I use is all.the.time.  It is just a great, great book that can be applied to so many different things.  So we started off the year reading this fast read and discussed what makes our own selves so important and unique.  The students began by creating a circle map of the most unique and mundane qualities they possessed.   Then, using a poetry frame, the students constructed simple sentences using those qualities. (you can pick up the poetry frame here.)  After a brief lesson on extended sentences (a nice 5th grade standard), we went back in and revised, looking for ways to extend our poem even more, while still keeping within the context of the book.  When it was all said and done, the final draft was mounted on a background of images and words from magazines that the students cut out and glued collage style.













This is an old pic, but you get the idea!
We also got into writing paragraphs with our good old Strengths and Weaknesses activity.  I had the students think about those things that they feel are strengths they have as a learner, and then those things that fall more on the weakness side.  Using our paragraph writing frames (Paragraph of the Week style!) each of the students constructed basic paragraphs with simple extended sentences and a clear, coherent topic sentence.  Once the writing process was done, I took each student's picture with the handle of the broom held above their heads, gave them some barbell shaped paper and they wrote their final draft.  I simply adore this one.  The kids LOVE it and it makes such a great display.  It is available in full detail in my Goals Pack here. (along with some other really fun goal setting activities!)

Another great activity actually came from my dear friend Jen at Runde's Room.  She posted (forever ago!) about doing a 100% Me activity and I knew it was for me.  The students write a poem in which they describe their character traits, giving each a percentage.  When all the traits are added up, they equal 100%!  The students needed to include at least two decimal percentages (since that is the standard we are beginning the year with.)   Then, the students created pie graphs to display their character traits, using the percentages to break up the circle.  This was a great visual representation of the poem and mixed a little math with writing!  You can pick up this gem in Jen's store for free here.

So there you have it!  Some fun, simple, STANDARDS BASED activities that you can use to get your students started on the right foot in your classroom.  What are some things that you have done in the past that hit the key standards you are trying to teach right off the bat?