fun

Reading Workout with Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs

Inspired by the always innovative Sarah Brown Wessling, I adapted an activity she shared this past December that she calls Reading Workouts for independent reading time.  I made a few modifcations to account for a shorter literacy block of time and the needs of my 8th grade learners, but here is my version that was a great success this past Friday.

My 4th period (the class I take to lunch) was the only class that completed this activity as a warm-up because we had extra class time, and I didn’t want to jump into the activity with only 15 minutes before our scheduled lunch time.  If time had permitted, I would have done the “warm-up/stretch” with all classes; this was a great way to get them thinking before reading time.

For all other classes, we began with a quick review of concepts we had worked on the previous day:

We then began the first formal part of our workout!  Our focus was on reading; I told students to NOT take notes at this point or to annotate, but they could use the “baby” size sticky notes to quickly flag passages of interest.  I provided baskets of the sticky notes needed for the day at every table to save time and provide ease of access to the materials.

We then moved to the second part of our workout.  Students could choose any partner they wanted; it did not have to be someone from their book club.  We lined up 2×2 outside the room and began our walking reps.  One partner led the conversation for the first rep/lap; the second partner led on the second rep/lap.  This “walk and talk” part of the workout is another idea I’ve adapted previously from Wessling.  For our reading workout, we did a modified/shorter version to fit the reading workout structure.

We then moved to the next part of our reading workout:

We then ended/cooled down with this graffiti wall/parking lot activity for our books:

This work was a great formative assessment to see how well (or not so well) students were understanding themes and issues in their books as well as the concepts/terms  of theme and issues themselves.  I created the gallery of book graffiti walls/parking lots with chart paper and signage I crafted in Word.  You can see the gallery and student work samples in the slideshow below.  We’ll get into the parking lots/graffiti walls for a gallery walk activity later this week and then continue adding our thinking about themes and issues as we get deeper into our books this month.

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You can see, hear, and learn more about the design of this activity in the video I made after school this past Friday.  I love this learning structure and plan to use it again later this year!  A big thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling for always generously sharing her ideas for the rest of us to use as they are or to adapt for our learners!  In my next post, I’ll share how we are moving forward with our book club thinking work this week, including choices for gentle note-taking strategies as we read.

I Scream, You Scream, The Students All Scream for Gimkit!

Have you tried the hottest learning tool in the edtech universe, Gimkit?  Fellow Language Arts teacher Jeanne Rountree first put this technology on my radar during preplanning in August, but I didn’t actually try it with my students until November.  According to Gimkit’s creator, high school student Josh Feinsilber, Gimkit is:

“…a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy to win.  Students answer questions on their own device at their own pace. Throughout a Kit, each student will get exposure to the questions multiple times to ensure mastery.  I built Gimkit to be the game I wanted to play in class! While working on Gimkit I developed a passion for making learning memorable. I graduated in June, 2019 and kept working on Gimkit because of the positive impact I know it can have for teachers and students.”

In addition to generating an insane amount of energy and excitement about learning, Gimkit has these additional awesome features:

I like that Gimkit can be used in many ways in the classroom for a live learning activity or as a homework/independent learning assignment; I think it would be fun to use the assignment features on a station rotation day.  In addition, Gimkit features a help center for educators.

I tried Gimkit as a way of creating a fun and engaging review of some of the short stories we had read in early November.  I thought my students were going to lose their minds (in a good way) when I announced we were playing a review game for those stories in Gimkit and that we would be in team mode.

 

While the game was tremendous fun, the data from the game also helped me to see gaps in understanding that we could tackle the following day in class.

I was so impressed by the student response to the game that I purchase a year’s subscription to get the extra features and unlimited kits.   It takes a LOT these days for any technology to impress me, so for me to invest in a professional subscription says volumes.

Last week, we spent several days doing a variety of learning activities on tone (blog post coming soon on that topic).  I created a kit on tone with a variety of difficulty in the questions, and students very much enjoyed the holiday theme and music that are available this month in live games.

 

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to try the free version yourself.  Here are some awesome blog posts and online reviews that will also give you ideas on how and why to use Gimkit!

Getting Ready for a Short Story with Pre-Reading Learning Stations

As you know, I love trying new learning activities and strategies.  I’m teaching a formal short story unit this year for the first time in years, and I wanted to do something fun and meaningful to kick off our first whole class story study.  This summer I purchased this bundle of awesome activities from “Write on with Ms. G” on Teachers Pay Teachers, and decided to modify the template for the “Pre Reading Learning Stations for ANY Novel: Engage students before reading!” for our first mentor text, “Raymond’s Run.”

The original plan calls for the stations to be completed as timed rotations, and I think high school students, especially those in an accelerated section of Language Arts, could  complete the stations in a 60 time period; if you are on a block schedule with a longer class session of 70-90 minutes, you could definitely complete the pre-reading stations in one class session.  I tried this method with my 1st period class and even provided a structured work session at each station giving them 3-4 minutes for quiet thinking/jot your notes time and 3/4 minutes of conversation time.  However, I could see my 8th graders needed more time to process the the task presented at each station, so I made some modifications:

  1. Modification 1:  Modify station notes to be more structured for 8th graders.  I took the thinking prompts from the station task card and added language to their note-taking tickets to help them think and write down their ideas for each question prompt.

2. Modification 2:  Break station work into two class periods.  For the remaining three classes, students began at their assigned table area and then visited the  remaining five stations in any order.  Day 1 was devoted to them doing their quiet silent thinking and notetaking.

As it turned out, we actually needed 1.5 to 2 days of class time to do the quiet thinking and notetaking work.  Students who finished early could work on Membean, an awesome vocabulary resource provided by our district, or they could read their library books.  When students finished all six stations on Day 2, they had the chance to take a sticky note and indicate their top three stations they felt represented their strongest work and that they would feel comfortable discussing in a small group and sharing out with the whole class.  I used this information to form Table Talk groups for each station on the following day.

We used the first half of class on Day 3 to do our Table Talks; group assignments by table/station were posted on a Google Slide as students arrived.  Depending on the class, I used either a “3-2-1” reflection structure or each person was asked to share his/her responses and then choose their “best thinking” they wanted to share aloud to the entire class.  While these reflection structures sound simple, they are big steps forward early in the year for 8th graders, especially for those not used to interacting in small groups or speaking in front of their peers even from a seated table area.  I did appoint “table captains” to kick off discussions in the small group share as well as the whole group share to help facilitate table talk in a timely way.  I am happy to report all classes did a terrific job with their discussion and sharing tasks!

The pre-reading stations included:

  • Station 1:  Anticipation Guide Statements and Discussion
  • Station 2:  Inferring Character Traits Based on Two Passages from the Story
  • Station 3:  Inferring Setting
  • Station 4:  Excerpt Analysis
  • Station 5:  Making Predictions Based on the Story Title and a Photo
  • Station 6:  Identifying Similes and Their Importance to the Story

 

Though the stations took more time than I planned (the story of my life!), I think pre-reading stations are a worthwhile investment at the beginning of a unit, for an extended study of a text, or with a challenging text.  What kinds of pre-reading activities do you like to do with students to get them ready for a short story or novel?

Playlists with Stations Are Music to My Ears—Best Ever First Days of School FTW!

In my last post, I shared a preview of my playlists with stations first days activity.  We used the first three days of class to engage in a variety of literacy learning tasks to engage students in classroom community building, engage in some reading and writing, and knock out some beginning of the year tech tasks.   I am happy to share that the playlist oriented activity was a huge success—students were engaged right off the bat, and they did a fabulous job working through the stations at their own pace during our first three days of class August 7-9.

Just to recap from the last post (you can also get a video tour of the stations in that post), here are my stations on the playlist:

  • Station 1: “One Word” language and art activity
  • Station 2: Brainstorming positive behaviors to help us learn and brainstorming behaviors to avoid that get in the way of learning. (free signs via TPT)
  • Station 3: All About You as a Reader/Writer Survey (Google Form)
  • Station 4: Critical Reading and Constructed Response in Canvas (see below)
  • Station 5: Silent Conversation Response Activity on What Makes a Great Book or Read
  • Station 6: Sign up for NoRedInk
  • Station 7: Syllabus Station
  • Station 8: Writing Skills Wishlist
  • Station 9: Partner Work Brainstorming Ways to Care for Our Classroom Materials and Workspace
  • Station 10: Putting the U in Language Arts Survey: (purchased on TPT here as part of a bundled purchase plus a free version)

A few reflections that I’d like to share about my first ever go at using the playlist strategy:

  • Using the playlist strategy with stations really upped the accountability piece for students, and it provided me ten different opportunities for quick formative assessments in different areas with my students.  I cannot stress how insightful this was for me, and how much the playlist aspect helped keep students on track with very little direction from me.
  • Active learning experiences and structures as well as station work in a variety of formats are staples of classroom for my 8th graders.  Using the playlist with stations helped establish the tone and expectations I wanted for the beginning of the year.
  • Observing students in action was instrumental in giving me a sense of students as learners—who works well independently, who might need just a bit of coaching, who works well with partners, how well students can follow written instructions, and how well students manage their learning time.
  • The check in with the playlist helped me learn names much more quickly the first few days!

I was very fortunate that my tech-oriented stations worked well since our hardware and software applications were ready to go for Day 1 along with student log-ins.  I must give props to our media specialist Tracey Kell, school technology specialist Terrie Hudson, and our district tech gods/goddesses for all their work over the summer and behind the scenes prior to pre-planning that helped us be tech-ready—with hardware, student log-ins, and software apps via our Launchpoint portal– on Day 1.  I am also pleased that the time I put into designing the stations and getting everything set up paid off because students were able to navigate the stations very easily and with minimal assistance from me.

The first days of the school year are the best I’ve had in many years—maybe ever!  My 8th graders are going to be a terrific group to teach and learn with this year, but I do feel the playlist with stations helped establish the right notes on those first days.  I am grateful for our assistant principal Libbie Armstrong for showing and modeling this strategy with teachers during pre-planning, and I know many of my fellow teachers across multiple grade levels and subject areas utilized the strategy with great success as well.

A Playful and Powerful Twist on Stations: Playlists

Today was our first day of preplanning, and we engaged in three breakout meetings to tackle beginning of the year topics.  Our administration divided faculty and staff into three groups, and we completed three rotations of 45 minute session.  The first session I attended was led by Assistant Principal Libbie Armstrong ; she introduced a teaching and learning strategy, playlists, as a medium for us to cover and address the following topics on procedural expectations:

  • Lockers
  • Cell Phones
  • Backpacks
  • Agendas
  • Hallways/Bathrooms
  • Grading
  • PLCs
  • Teacher Handbook

What are playlists?  Caitlin Tucker says:

The playlist concept stems from the Individual Rotation Model in which each student works from an individual playlist of activities. I’ve used playlists for formal writing, grammar, and projects. The goal of the playlist model is to allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning.

Playlists may include both face to face as well as digital learning activities and opportunities to respond.

We began by reading over the instructions and then picking a “learning path” as an entry point.  Even though they were numbered, we could actually do them in any order as long as worked through them and then did the appropriate checkpoint with Ms. Armstrong.  Our tasks were both individual and collaborative, and every teacher was highly engaged.  We recorded responses on chart paper, at table group areas, and on our individual response sheets.

After Tweeting about the activity this morning, fellow educator Brittany Griffin shared this guide she created on playlists!  Additional resources to browse:

We all left the session extremely jazzed about this approach and were sharing ideas about different ways we could use this strategy in our different subject areas.  I’m so excited to design my own for my 8th graders later this month.  Have you used playlists?  If so, what tips and best practices can you share?

Hat tip to my AP Libbie Armstrong for teaching this awesome strategy plus helping us tackle a wide range of important topics in a fun and engaging way!