Interactive Notebooks, Plot Structure

6 Easy Ways to Help Your Students Understand Plot Structure

6 Easy Ways to Help Your Students Understand Plot Structure

Fiction (and all of its sub genres) are my favorites to teach. I love seeing my students connect and grow with the characters as they face and overcome challenges together. I love watching them learn tough lessons and gain new perspectives. And I love helping them understand how the plot develops and sucks them into the book.

Having a complete understanding of plot structure helps readers analyze, discuss, and appreciate fiction texts. Here are four simple ways to help your students master identifying the plot’s main events, sequencing main events in the story, and understanding how events influence future events and help develop the plot.

 

The shape of the plot structure mental model-min

THINK ABOUT THE SHAPE OF YOUR MENTAL MODEL

Stop using the witch’s hat! Mental models are great for helping students understand and remember important skills and topics, but they can do harm if they send the wrong message. The symmetrical witch’s hat and/or roller coaster shape gives students the wrong picture for how the plot develops throughout the story. The climax is almost never in the middle. Rather, the author spends a great deal of time developing rich characters and building their problem(s) with mounting tension, leading to the inevitable moment when the tension breaks and a resolution is born. Shaping the mental model correctly helps students understand how the main events work together to develop the plot.

 

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USE INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS

Engaging the students in creating their own interactive mini-anchor chart strengthens their understanding and increases the likelihood that they will remember the lesson. Another reason I love using interactive notebooks for reading strategies and skills is that this resource is always at their fingertips.

Using interactive notebooks to practice and reinforce the skills and strategies you teach during reading workshop and/or shared reading gives the students a central place to store valuable materials and work. When a student is confused by a skill, he/she has multiple sources of information at his/her fingertips to refresh his/her memory. Sometimes looking back at a previous activity clarifies the topic better than an anchor chart.

 

TEACH YOUR STUDENTS TO ANTICIPATE THE STRUCTURE OF THE TEXT

Kids like to know what to expect.  This preference transfers easily to their reading and is the simplest way to reinforce the parts of the plot structure while preparing the students for their reading.

After you teach the plot structure and that (most) fiction texts follow this same structure, you can begin teaching the students to mentally prepare to read this genre.  Before we read anything in our classroom, we preview the text and predict the genre.  Once we identify that the text is a fiction story, we “prepare a space in our brains” for the story.  I ask the students what kinds of things they can expect to find when reading the story.  I usually hear a few pieces of the plot shouted out and use those pieces to lead them to the plot structure.  We then physically move our hands in front of our brains to form the (realistic) shape of the plot structure.  This helps the students prepare to analyze how the author develops the story.

 

Sequencing in Plot Structure Lesson Plans-min

SEQUENCING – GO BEYOND PUTTING THE EVENTS IN ORDER

Sequencing the plot’s main events should be the first step in our sequencing lessons. We then need to help our students dig deeper into the text and analyze how the events influence future events and help develop the plot.

My favorite way to introduce the concept that the plot’s main events influence each other is by removing an event from a sequencing graphic organizer and asking, “How would the story be different if this event never happened?” This gets the kids thinking and discussing how that event led to the problem, resolution, lesson, etc. Once students grasp the basic understanding of why particular events are important to the story, you can have analytical discussions of how the events work together to develop the plot structure of the story.

PRACTICE DURING INDEPENDENT READING & BOOK CLUBS

Students can practice identifying main plot points from the books they read during independent reading with coded post-it notes. They can then discuss the significance of these events and how they help shape the story with their book club, book buddy, or the class after independent reading is over.

You can teach them to code the post-it notes themselves or print precoded ones. (Ex: C – character, S – setting, RA – main event in the rising action, P/C – problem/conflict, CL – climax, FA – main event in the falling action, R – resolutions, CN – conclusion) See how to print on post-it notes in this video from We Are Teachers.

 

CONNECT IT TO WRITING

Help students develop a deeper understanding of plot structure by having them write their own fiction stories. You can even have them use the same graphic organizer that you used while teaching plot structure during reading as their planning sheet.

 

You can get my complete plot structure lesson plans here.

These lesson plans will help you teach your students to identify the plot’s main events, sequence main events in the story, and understand how events influence future events and help develop the plot.

You can find the interactive notebook pages shown here.

All interactive notebook pages can be sold by individual skill/strategy or as a part of the bundles.

 

6 Easy Ways to Help Your Students Understand Plot Structure

Interactive Notebooks

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebooks

These 6 tips will help you use interactive notebooks as a powerful teaching tool and keep you sane in the process.

 

ESTABLISH A ROUTINE

Without a good routine, all the chatting, cutting, coloring, and gluing can make you come unglued.  Take some time to think about how you want things to run.

  • Where do you want materials to be stored?  How do you want students to access them?
  • How/when do you want to give directions?
  • When do you want students to begin cutting?  Do you want them to wait until you are finished talking? Or, are you alright with them cutting while they listen to you?
  • How/when will the students take care of their trash?
  • What will students do if they finish early and have extra wait time?  Do you want them to help others catch up?

Once you decide how you want to run your lessons, make sure you teach these procedures and routines to the students.  When kids know what to anticipate, things run smoothly.

HAVE A PLAN

Interactive notebooks can be used in many fabulous ways, so you really need to think about the resource and how it can be used to help your students understand or practice a concept. Is it a good introduction with a definition of the skill/strategy?  Can it be used as an activity to reinforce what your students are learning?  Should it be used as an exit ticket or reflection after a lesson is taught?  How you decide to use the interactive notebook is what makes it a powerful teaching tool. Below are some of my favorite ways to use them to in reading workshop.

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Mini Anchor Charts

Engaging students in creating interactive mini anchor charts helps them zero in on the key ideas of the skills and strategies. I love having mini anchor charts in their interactive notebooks because it serves as a reference for them throughout the year.

 

 

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Short Texts with Questions or Graphic Organizers

You can do this with any short passage you are using in class. I don’t do this with every passage we read, or even every skill. I pick and choose what I think would be most beneficial for the kids to keep at their finger tips. I find it especially helpful in modeling how to use text evidence to support their answers.

 

 

example graphic organizers-min

Practicing Skills/Strategies in Authentic Text

Have students practice the skills and strategies taught during your mini lessons while they read independently. Including a graphic organizer that you’ve used during instruction in your interactive notebook provides practice and gives students a reference for the skill/strategy. Recording their thinking in a graphic organizer while reading a text of their choice helps students understand how to employ these skills and strategies in their regular reading.

 

 

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Sorting Activities

Sorts are great for helping students understand academic vocabulary. Have them practice identifying and distinguishing between categories such as first vs. third person point of view or fact vs. opinion.

 

MAKE SURE IT’S USEFUL

Keep the cute to crap ratio in mind at all times. A quality interactive notebook is a valuable tool in the classroom and shouldn’t become an art project that doesn’t add to your students’ understanding or full of cutesy, pointless clip art that has nothing to do with the targeted skill or. An interactive notebook page needs to do one of the following for it to be worth the time:

  • The page itself is an activity that requires your students to use the targeted skill/strategy to complete it.
  • The student fills in minimal blanks to create a small anchor chart for the skill/strategy that can be referenced later.
  • The page serves as a tool for introducing or reinforcing a lesson that you are teaching.

Don’t waste your time with a resource if it doesn’t serve one of those purposes.  Instead, find something that fits your purpose, engages your students, and adds to the lesson.

 

DON’T WRITE A NOVEL

If students are just copying what you write the entire time, they are not fully engaged in the discussion about the skill/strategy.  They may not be paying attention at all.  Think about how much you want your students to write ahead of time.  You know your students and you know what is appropriate for their level(s).  Keep in mind that what is appropriate for some may not be appropriate for others and modify as needed.  Interactive notebooks are easy to modify ahead of time by writing, outlining, or cutting a few things before passing it out.

 

KEEP IT ORGANIZED

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Years ago, one of my incredible teammates showed me an amazing, yet simple trick for keeping interactive notebook materials organized.  I was having an issue with students losing small pieces that they didn’t have time to glue down (or that they weren’t supposed to cut yet – see tip #1), so she introduced me to the “parking lot.”  It’s simple enough to have the kids create when they are setting up their interactive notebooks and it has saved me time and time again.  All it takes is a regular envelope and a glue stick!  Just glue the back of an envelope to the inside cover of the notebook.  Make sure the kids don’t seal the envelope.  This way all the items that have been cut, but don’t have a home yet can be safely stored in this little pocket.

USE IT AS A REFERENCE!

An interactive notebook is as useful as you allow it to be.  If you are allowing time to create them, consider allowing time to reference them.  Students get excited when they can use a tool that they created to find an answer.  Plus, the more times they see it, the more likely they will remember it.  My students love using the glossary in our poetry notebooks and the charts in our reading notebooks to help them answer questions during reading workshop.  They know that if I see them take out their notebooks after I ask a question I will allow enough wait time for them to find the answer on their own.  I love seeing students light up when they find their own answers!

Other great times to allow students to reference their notebooks are during review games at the end of a unit, group projects, or independent reading.  I have reading response menus for my students to use during independent reading, so I like for them to brush up on the skill/strategy of their response choice before writing their responses.  I find that they interact with the text on a deeper level and I get much more thorough responses this way.

Like the reading interactive notebook pages shown in the pictures? You can find the entire Reading Interactive Notebook by clicking here!

You can also find interactive notebook pages for specific skills & strategies here.

 

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Interactive Notebook

Test Prep

Sweet Testing Treats & Motivation

Sweet Testing Treats and Motivation

You and your crew have worked to the bone preparing for the BIG TEST. You may be a little crankier and your hair is a little grayer, but it’s worth it because your students are a lot more prepared. They are ready for this test. Now, it’s time to give them that little bit of extra motivation to do their best.

A couple of weeks out, I like to get the parents involved by asking them to send in a small support poster for their child. I send a letter with all the specifics to make sure that the posters do not contain anything that would break testing regulations. They are basically there to act as silent little cheerleaders for the students. These posters live on the wall outside of my classroom to remind the students of the love and encouragement from their families every day.

Sweet Testing Treats and Motivation

I also like to give out little treats with motivational notes the day before the test. They always light up when they come in the room and see this little gift on their desks. So stinkin’ cute. Grab a free copy of these Testing Motivational Notes here.

OR, if you’re wanting something a little cuter and are willing to spend money on them, I highly recommend these very fairly priced Motivational Testing Tags from Southern Style Teacher. Aren’t they adorable?

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DON’T FORGET ABOUT YOURSELF! You deserve a little treat too! And you definitely need some motivation to get through testing day, because it’s a looong one. Pacing back and forth is excruciatingly boring, but I’ve found the day slightly more tolerable by treating myself to a few favorite snacks (or allowing myself to indulge in the treats given to me by one of my teacher besties). Packing a few snacks and drinks for yourself helps you stay awake throughout the administration of the test. If you’re chewing, you’re not sleeping. 😉

My Test Day Treats

Standardized tests aren’t fun, but life is what we make it. So, let’s try our best to make this year’s testing season the most successful one we’ve ever had. If you missed my previous posts in this test prep series, be sure to check them out with the links below.

If you have any questions or additional advice, drop a comment below. If you know any teachers who are new(er) to preparing for and administering a standardized test, be sure to share this blog series with them. You can link them to it or share it on social media using the buttons below.

Check Out the Rest of the Test Prep Blog Series Posts:

1. How to Navigate Test Prep Like a Pro

2. 7 Fun Ideas to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

3. Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

4. 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

5. Testing Treats and Motivation

Test Prep

6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

6 Amazing Books to Help Your Students Conquer Test Anxiety

Our students feel the pressure. There are many things I love about teaching but watching eight and nine-year olds trying to cope with test anxiety is definitely not one of them. I try to talk them through it and tell them that this one test does not define them, but I know many of them are still petrified of THE TEST. (And if I’m being honest, so am I.)

Read alouds go a long way with helping students calm their fears. I usually read a book, or two, or three, and then hold a discussion about test day. We brainstorm the things that we can do leading up to the test to prepare, the things we need to remember on test day, the things we are afraid of, and the reasons we know we will be successful. After brainstorming, I give everyone this response sheet and have them write their personal reminders, reasons, and fears.

You’re probably wondering why in the world I would tell them to write their fears. Isn’t that what we’re trying to get over? Well, this actually turns into the kids’ favorite part. After they complete their response sheets, I tell them to cut off the bottom part about their fears. Then I tell them to destroy it. Some look at me a little funny. Some get started ripping and crumpling right away. Either way, each student destroys his/her fears before throwing them in the trash can.

Anti Test Anxiety example

Then I have them cut off the reasons they will succeed. We turn this into a long paper chain of strength that we hang above the whiteboard. We are in this together. I tell my students to make sure that they don’t list any of our actual strategies or hints so I can keep it up during the test. That way when they start feeling a little anxious on test day, they can look up and know that they are not alone. If you do this too, take a pic and tag me on Instagram @cultivatingcriticalreaders or email me. I’d love to see pictures of your chains of strength!

The bit about what to remember on test day gets sent home to share with parents and the preparation part is taped to their desks. Grab your copy here. It is free for a limited time only!

Now, on to the books. Here are some of my favorites:

Testing Miss Malarkey

Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler

This one is probably my favorite. Written from a student’s perspective as THE TEST comes and goes, it shows the students that their lives won’t be altered by the test. It provides much needed comedic relief by joking about all the things that we adults say and do around test day. I seriously laugh out loud every time I read it.

The Good EggThe Good Egg by Jory John

Stressing constantly and stretching yourself too thin leads to cracking. This adorable book is perfect for helping students understand that they don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time and teaching them the importance of taking care of themselves.

 

The Anti-Test Anxiety SocietyThe Anti-Test Anxiety Society by Julia Cook

I love this book because BB’s negative feelings about tests are so relatable to the students. BB’s teacher suggest that she join the Anti-Test Anxiety Society and teaches her (and your students) 12 important test taking strategies.

The Girl Who Never Made MistakesThe Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett

This book is perfect for helping them understand that everyone makes mistakes and that it is ok.

The Big TestThe Big Test by Julie Danneberg

Follow Mrs. Hartwell’s class from First Day Jitters as they prepare to take THE BIG TEST. Mrs. Hartwell teaches them some important things about how to take the test, most important of which is to relax.

 

Salt in His ShoesSalt in His Shoes by Deloris Jordan

This story about Michael Jordan, written by his mother, teaches your students the same lessons she taught him about determination, patience, and hard work. This was the book I the week before I administered my first state test. I had all the kids take off their shoes and sprinkled a little bit of salt in them. Oh my goodness, they all walked out of the room that day a little taller.

 

Check Out the Rest of the Test Prep Blog Series Posts:

1. How to Navigate Test Prep Like a Pro

2. 7 Fun Ideas to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

3. Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

4. 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

5. Testing Treats and Motivation

6 Amazing Test Prep Books

Test Prep

Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test

“They know how to do that! They did so well in class… I don’t understand how they missed this one!”

We’ve all said it while pouring over benchmark data or last year’s scores. That sinking feeling of bewilderment at our students’ inability to perform on a specific test question is all too familiar. We know we taught it to them, and we saw them successful with it in the classroom and just for the life of us can’t comprehend how they could have missed it.

Part of this is simply understanding the language of the test. Academic vocabulary is huge. A student who understands the development of the plot in a passage can still miss a plot question on test day if he/she isn’t familiar with tier II and III vocabulary such as contribute, develop, conflict, or rising action. We need to make sure we are repeatedly exposing our students to academic vocabulary and teaching them use it in context during discussions.

Start With a Word Wall

Word walls aren’t just for little kids and sight words. They are great for showing academic and tier II vocabulary words as they are introduced throughout the year. It keeps the words fresh in the students’ minds, serves as an excellent reference, and empowers the students to use them on their own.

Tips:

  • If you teach multiple subject areas, you can color code your word wall to categorize the vocabulary words.
  • Adding a short definition (or even a graphic) to the words helps learners remember their definitions.

word wall

Have Fun With It!

Turn vocabulary review into a station game! I love this board game from Upper Elementary Bliss because of the variety in ways that it has the students reviewing their vocabulary words. Using the word in a sentence, giving examples & synonyms, asking questions about the word, and connecting it to related words learned in class, in addition to simply giving the definition solidifies a much rounder understanding of the word. You can easily to adapt this game to your grade level and state standards by choosing the specific vocabulary words that you want your students to practice. (It comes with a set of 69 vocabulary words.)Vocabulary Game

 

Remember that word wall? Print off an extra set of the words from this game on cardstock and you are all set with the words to hang up!

Use Stem Questions Throughout the Year 

If you really want the students to understand the language of the test you need to be using it throughout the year. Not just the vocabulary, but the phrasing as well. Word your questions like the test to help them understand what the question is asking. You can’t explain it to them on test day, but you sure as heck can now.

Teach Them Strategies

Understanding the language of the test isn’t just limited to the words. It’s about understanding the way the test is set up and how to tackle it. Equip your students with the strategies they need in order to be successful test takers. Your students will feel most confident when they have a plan. Grab my free test taking strategies poster here.

Test Taking Strategies Poster

You bust your gut teaching these kids all year. Make sure all of the heart and soul that you and your students pout into their education shows off on test day by helping them understand the language of the test.

Have other academic vocabulary ideas? I’d love to know them! Comment below.

Tomorrow: 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

Check Out the Rest of the Test Prep Blog Series Posts:

1. How to Navigate Test Prep Like a Pro

2. 7 Fun Ideas to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

3. Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

4. 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

5. Testing Treats and Motivation

Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test

Test Prep

7 Fun Ways to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

7 Fun Ways to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

There’s no rule that says test prep has to be boring. I know it is tempting to just use the same old passages and worksheet that we’ve used year in and year out because they’ve worked for us and frankly, because it’s easy for us to prepare. I get it and I’ve been there. But the monotonous review of passage after passage or worksheet after worksheet left me feeling a little dead on the inside, and my students felt it too. That’s never good.

So, spice it up a little. There are so many ways to change up this boring routine to engage your students that require little to no effort, and you and your students deserve a little excitement during the day. After all, the more engaged they are, the better the review. Plus, there’s the added benefit that you won’t be bored to tears all day either. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Jazz Up Those Reading Passages

If you’re a reading teacher, there’s a good chance that your district requires you to use some reading passages in your test prep unit. Don’t worry, you can still make them engaging and fun.

Gallery Walk 

This one is so easy y’all. After you select a passage, decide which questions you want to focus on. Write those questions on separate sentence strips, pieces of chart paper, or construction paper and put them up around the room. Print out a copy of the passage for the number of questions you are using and display them next to each question. Then have your students move in groups discussing and answering their questions on the wall. When I do the gallery walk, I leave the questions open-ended and then go over them as multiple-choice questions. I feel like this gets them really thinking and prevents lazy guessing. I like to use post-its with an extra post-it on top to cover the answer, so each group gets a fresh start with each question. Once everyone has had a chance to answer the questions have them return to their seats and go over each one as a class. I really like this because it gets the students talking about the text evidence they used to justify their answers.

gallery walk test prep

Turn It into a Game 

This takes zero extra effort. Break your class into about 4 or 5 heterogeneous teams. If you already have group seating, this is already done for you. Have each team choose a name or assign them. Then, as you work through the passage as a class, have the teams confer about each question. When the team comes to a consensus on the correct answer, they shout their team name. Call on the first team to shout their name to answer and justify with text evidence and an explanation. Assign each question 100 points and award them to the teams as you work. At the end, the team with the highest amount of points wins. Even if they aren’t given an actual prize, the game makes the day so much more fun for them.

Using classroom buzzers can add to the novelty and fun of this game, but calling out team names works just as well and doesn’t break the bank.

Use Hands-On Answer Cards

As you work through the questions, each student shares his/her answer immediately by holding up a multiple choice answer card. When the lesson is over, each student holds onto his/her index cards to use the next time you want to do a passage this way. This not only engages every student, it also serves as a great informal assessment tool.

Here is a FREE copy of my multiple choice answer cards.

multiple choice answer cards

Don’t have time to print and copy the answer cards? No problem. Give the students each 2 index cards and tell them to cut them in half. Then the students write A, B, C, and D on the cards.

You can also use whiteboards for this purpose if you have enough.

Amp Up the Fun with Technology 

Technology is such a great tool for student engagement! Using it for games makes test prep so exciting for the kids. I mean, who doesn’t want to spend time during school hours playing a game?

Jeopardy

This is my favorite. I’m thinking you know how this game works, so I won’t waste your time explaining it to you. Instead, I’ll tell you what I love about it.  Jeopardy allows me and my students to review several different standards and offers a varying degree of rigor. It’s also crazy entertaining for the students. They get so excited about earning those dollar amounts and seeing their scores increase. I’ve actually had kids groan when class ended because they wanted to keep playing! Crazy, right?! Any time they’re that enthusiastic about something we’re doing in class is a HUGE win.

test prep jeopardy game

The example pictured above is a Jeopardy review game for the 3rd grade STAAR Reading Test and is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Kahoot!

Kahoot is so much fun to play. This one is easy and free to create and play but does require the students to have devices. (Just something to keep in mind and plan for.) I like Kahoot because I can create an interactive game with my own questions and answer choices, which means I’m targeting my specific students. It does, however, mean that I have to take the time to create my own questions and answer choices.

Get Creative with Your Task Cards

Task cards are a great resource year-round because you can use them is so many fun ways! That’s why I think they’re an excellent test prep tool in targeting a specific standard.

SCOOT Activity 

Place the task cards around the room or hallway and have your students “scoot” from one to the next. Simple, yet fun. They really enjoy being able to move around rather than sit at their desks all day.

Board Games with Task Cards 

Use a set of task cards with games like Connect 4, Jenga, and Candy Land. Set up the games around the room and have students play in groups. Game play stays the same, except that each student must complete a task card before he/she takes a turn. Super easy! Teaching with a Mountain View has a great post about it. Check it out here.

What Am I Leaving Out?

These aren’t the only ways to liven up test prep. How do you like to engage your students? We’re all in this together, remember? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Up Next: Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

 

Check Out the Rest of the Test Prep Blog Series Posts:

1. How to Navigate Test Prep Like a Pro

2. 7 Fun Ideas to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

3. Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

4. 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

5. Testing Treats and Motivation

TEST Prep Jeopardy

Test Prep

How to Navigate Test Prep Like a Pro

How to Navigate TEST PREP Like a Pro Facebook Share

TEST DAY is rapidly approaching. Your to-do list is a mile long, you’re feeling pressure from admin about getting your scores up, the kids are getting snippy with each other, you’re tutoring in and out of school, and don’t forget the daunting amount of parent contacts you need to make. Don’t even get me started on how much you are probably questioning and cursing the testing requirements. No wonder you just want to lay down on the floor in the middle of the hallway after school. Its exhausting. March Madness isn’t just a term for basketball; its what teachers go through every year during testing season.

Don’t get discouraged. You don’t have to be super woman, but you also don’t have to feel like the world is crashing down on you. Know that you are not alone. I don’t know a single teacher in a testing grade that doesn’t feel overwhelmed around testing season. We are in this together and we will get through it together.

I’ll be sharing a series of 5 posts all about test prep this week. We’ll discuss strategies to keep both you and your kids sane and share some activities to make review a little more fun. Be sure to click “follow” or enter your email in the sidebar to stay tuned and get fun test prep activities and ideas! First up: Getting Organized.

Getting Organized for the Test

When your information – and sometimes even your desk – is clear, so is your head. Organization empowers us to think through the data and our to-do lists calmly and confidently. So clear off that desk and set yourself up with a tidy work space that doesn’t make your head spin. We’ve got some work to do.

Get a Handle on Your Student Data

You’ve undoubtedly had some sort of benchmark by this point in the year, and you’ve probably talked about that data with your admin until you were blue in the face. You might even be a little annoyed at the thought of looking at it again. I’m sure you’ve already created an instructional plan for test prep review based on how your students scored overall on each standard. You already know what needs reviewing and what is going exceedingly well. I’m not going to focus on that and feel your eyes glaze over through the computer screen. Instead, I want to focus on looking at each individual student in your class and ensure that we meet their specific needs.

Here are some things I like to look for and think about:

  • Which students scored well below or above your expectations? Why do you think that happened? 
  • Has the student been brought to RtI? Do you need to schedule a follow up?
  • What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Would a student benefit from certain accommodations?
  • Does the student need tutoring or extra small group instruction?

I like to keep a student data sheet for each student that contains every bit of information about him/her that I collect throughout the year. I find that it’s helpful for parent contacts, and honestly, just to make sure I don’t let one “fall through the cracks.” Here is a free copy of the student data sheet I use if you’re interested. However you choose to store your data, keep it organized and easily accessible.

Student Data Sheet

The hard part is over. The rest is a breeze once you have your data organized.

Get Those Parent Contacts Over With!

After looking at your student data, determine which parents you need to call and prioritize. I always start by scheduling face to face conferences with parents of students who were unsuccessful on the benchmark. Then I work my way up. I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t have time for face to face conferences for every parent this time of year. If you’re one of those lucky teachers that has a full or half day out of the classroom built in for this purpose – kudos to you! My limited time requires me to determine which parents just need a phone call, or sometimes, not even that.

Keep the conversation positive. I don’t mean hide the student’s shortcomings, but it’s helpful to focus on the plan for moving forward and helping the student succeed.

Get Accommodations and Groupings Set

This is the point in the year when you need to double check that all necessary accommodations are documented and set for testing. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE ON THIS! You really don’t want to find yourself in a jam on this one a few weeks away from the test – or worse, on test day.

If you are given the ability to decide which students test in your classroom vs. your partner teacher’s classroom, start thinking about it now. I usually keep the students who struggle either academically or emotionally with me. I’ve always had strong partner teachers that I respect and trust; it’s not about that. I feel like it just gives them a little comfort and support to be with the teacher that prepared them for that test on test day.

If you have students who receive small group administration as a part of their accommodations, you will want to share information about your students with whoever oversees creating those groups. Is your student easily distracted? Does he or she tend to take a lot longer or work a lot faster than the other students that are being pulled out?

Take Note of Their Testing Behaviors

Observing your students’ testing behaviors during in class assessments can help you put an end to some bad habits and helps tremendously with creating a seating arrangement for test day that will maximize their performance. You may want to try out different environments for students who are prone to falling asleep during tests such as close to or far from the air conditioning unit. Who gets easily distracted? You don’t want themdesks sitting near the door. Is there anyone that will need to take frequent breaks? They belong by the door. You’ve undoubtedly worked hard all year at getting to know your students and creating responsive seating charts and groups. Keep this know-how in mind when creating your seating chart for test day as well.

Getting all of this organized ahead of time keeps you from feeling unraveled closer to the test. It’s a lot to do, but take it bit by bit and mark it off the to-do list. Trust me, “future you” will be so grateful you did it! Then you can focus on the fun stuff!

Don’t forget to click “follow” or enter your email in the sidebar to stay tuned and get fun test prep activities and ideas!

Check Out the Rest of the Test Prep Blog Series Posts:

2. 7 Fun Ideas to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

3. Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

4. 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

5. Testing Treats and Motivation

TEST Prep Series

Author's Purpose

Author’s Purpose Is NOT “As Easy As PIE”

moving beyond pie fb

I get it. We all want easy ways for our students to remember things, and PIE or (PIES) is a simple acronym for some common reasons that authors write a text. The problem is, author’s purpose is not “as easy as pie.” Those cute anchor charts are fine to use as an introduction if we go further with our instruction, exclude the word “easy,” and forgo the urge to list genres underneath these purposes. We can’t just slap up anchor charts and think our students are going to understand author’s purpose at all. We also can’t teach our students that you can determine an author’s purpose based on genre alone. It’s just not that simple.

All fiction texts were not written simply to entertain. Stories with strong themes such as fables and folktales are often written to teach or express a life lesson. Some fiction stories are designed to persuade us to think or care about something. The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss are great examples.

We also want our students to deepen their analysis of nonfiction texts. Rather than labeling all nonfiction as “to inform,” encourage them to ask, is the author describing? Comparing? Explaining? Showing the causes and effects of events?

Leading students to believe that we can easily categorize texts into three or four purposes causes a lack of depth in their analysis. I’m not saying that we can’t ever introduce PIE (or PIES) as common purposes, I just think we need to encourage our students to go beyond the surface.

So, how do we go about teaching author’s purpose?

We want our readers to determine the author’s main idea (or theme), examine the way he/she went about expressing and supporting that main idea, and analyze why he/she chose to write about it. One way to do this is to compare authors to architects. An architect builds a school for the purpose of educating students, a hospital for the purpose of healing the sick and wounded, and a house for the purpose of providing shelter and comfort for a family. These buildings are designed in very different ways because they all have different purposes. Authors do the same thing when they write. They are architects designing their stories and texts. They start with the purpose of the text and make choices about the genre, structure, text, word choice, and features to help him/her achieve that purpose. The anchor chart below is from my Interactive Reading Notebook.

Author's Purpose Mini Anchor Chart

You can then use this model to analyze and discuss the author’s purpose of a text, and how he/she “built it”. The example below is from an activity included in an interactive notebook for an article I found on Readworks.org. Both the anchor chart and the graphic organizer below can be found in my Interactive Reading Notebook.

Author's Purpose Interactive Notebook

Discussion is key. Hold class discussions over texts read together. Have small group discussions about the texts read in guided reading or book clubs. Use task cards or other short texts to have groups or partners discuss the author’s purpose.

Once students have a good understanding of author’s purpose, practice can be extended through reader’s response for independent reading or book clubs. The class could also create a “skyline” of texts using the graphic organizer buildings for author’s purpose.

Solidify their understanding of author’s purpose by connecting it to their writing. Have students complete a graphic organizer as a part of their prewriting that helps them identify their purpose and make choices about their writing based on that purpose.

By using complex examples and teaching your readers to think critically about the choices the author makes in order to achieve his/her purpose, you are teaching them to be analytical readers and empowering them to draw their own conclusions.

Author's Purpose Is NOT As Easy As PIE

 

Context Clues, Valentine's Day

5 Fun and Focused Activities for Valentine’s Day

I don’t know about you, but February always has me stressed. Pouring over benchmark scores and counting the number of weeks left before the state test has a way of doing that to me. On top of that, I am supposed to use class time for a party? Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved celebrating with my littles. However, anyone that knows me can attest to my disdain for wasted time in the classroom. That’s why I sneak in reading instruction and practice into every second of Valentine’s Day, including the party. The best part? The kids just see it all as a part of our Valentine’s Day celebration.

Here Are 5 Activities to Keep Valentine’s Day Fun and Focused:

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Valentine’s Themed BINGO

bingo

You can turn literally any BINGO game into a Valentine’s themed game by using Hershey’s Kisses or other candies as your “markers”. So, dust off that old reading strategy BINGO game you have in the cabinet and start playing. This makes for a great game during the party and has your students reviewing strategies and concepts. This Valentine’s Day Synonym and Antonym BINGO game can be purchased here.

 

Read and follow a procedural text to create a Valentine’s Day Craft!

Kids love origami and Pinterest is full of How-Tos for making Valentine’s Crafts, so you’ll have plenty of options for this. I found a procedural text for creating heart-shaped bookmarks online that I love by DIY Candy. I did need to do a bit of copying and pasting to create the format that I wanted to present to the students. Use the procedural text to gather your materials and make your own bookmarks/crafts, all the while discussing how each part of the procedural text helps you understand the procedure. The students end up with a super cute new craft and have fun reading along the way! The kids have so much fun creating their bookmarks that this could even be done as a party activity!

heart bookmark

 

Use a SCOOT Activity to Review

I am a sucker for using scoots to review! I love that it gets the kids up and moving, and they love it too! Turn this into Valentine’s Day fun by finding some cute Valentine’s themed task cards. There are plenty of moderately priced task cards on Teachers Pay Teachers. The Valentine’s Day Context Clues Task Cards pictured below can be purchased here.

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“We Love…” Writing

I love creating bulletin boards and displays with my students’ work, ideas, and creations. As a reading teacher, I go with the “We Love Books” theme. Students chose a book that they love and write about why they love it inside a heart. This can go as in-depth as you want. I like to have them include quotes, character descriptions, connections, and themes. Once they complete their writing, they are invited to add a heart background and decorations. These are then added to a display outside the classroom. The parents love seeing all the book recommendations when they come for the class Valentine’s party and it gives the kids great ideas for what to read next. This may be the easiest one to implement. All it takes is some construction paper, a pencil, and some markers/crayons. The Teacher Studio has also created a bulletin board set if you’d like to have it all ready to go for you.

we love books

 

Reader’s Theater

Reader’s theater is a great way to help students practice their reading fluency. Plus, parents love watching the performances during the party! You can write a reader’s theater script from any Valentine’s Day read aloud. One of my favorites for the younger grades is Arthur’s Valentine by Marc Brown. It’s a pretty easy one to create a script from as well.

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Uncategorized

Encourage Reading Over the Break with Book Talk Lunch Parties

You already set the foundation by sharing your passion for reading with your students throughout the year. Now you just need to add that extra little push to extend that passion through the holidays. A simple, stress-free way to do this is to hold “book talk lunch parties” when you come back in January. Eating lunch in the classroom with you is always exciting. Use that excitement to get your students pumped up about reading by creating a buzz about upcoming book talk parties. This gives kids an extra incentive and helps them see that reading and talking about text is rewarding and fun.

First, make sure they have access to quality texts over the break.

It can be a little bit scary to let your students bring home the books from your classroom library, but it is worth the risk. If this is something that you are uncomfortable with doing on a regular basis, try making an exception for winter break. You can keep track of which students have which books by having them fill out a check-out form. 

Consider including information about the local public library in your newsletter or send home a separate flyer about it.

Create  your book talk groups.

I suggest splitting your class into groups of four or five for these talks. That way you can each spend a good deal of time talking about your reading. However, if you have a large number of students, you may want to consider making larger groups to avoid spending every day eating lunch in the classroom rather than the lounge. Think about the amount of time you are willing to commit and adjust accordingly. Assign a day for each group to eat with you in the classroom when you come back to school in January. Be sure to mark down which students are invited to which day because the invites are sure to get lost over the break.

Invite your students!

This isn’t a bribe and students shouldn’t need to meet any requirements in order to join in the fun. Everyone wins when everyone is included. Students who did read over the break will get to share their opinions about what they read with their friends. Students who did not read will get to hear their excited peers share great books and may be inspired to read a few themselves. Click on the image to download your FREE invitations!

color lunch book talk invites

Make sure the students understand your expectations for the “book talk parties”.

Let the students know what you would like to talk about during these book talk parties when you invite them, but be sure to keep it light and fun. This can be as simple as saying, “I’m so excited to hear about your favorite parts of the story!” or, “I can’t wait to hear what types of connections you make to your reading!” The goal is to get the kids to understand the purpose of the “parties” without making it sound like work.

Host the book talk parties!

Now’s the fun part! Your students are already so excited to see you again and will be thrilled to eat with you. They will want to tell you about everything they did over the break, including their reading. Let them talk about their reading AND their lives. Add a little something special to the “party” by bringing cookies or another sweet treat.