Theme with Text Cousins

Each year poses its own unique set of challenges, changes, and surprises.  This is one of the reasons I love teaching so much!  We get the opportunity to try again, change, and grow with each new year.
Last year I had the amazing opportunity to invite Tanny McGregor, author of Comprehension Connections, into my first grade classroom to model a lesson on theme. As we planned for this current year, my teammate and I were excited to add this lesson into our curriculum calendar.  And I wrote about what we planned to do for the Growing Readers and Writers Blog Hop. But...as we all know too well...planning and actually teaching are two very different things.

One great way to use mentor texts is for comparison. Check out this post to see how "text cousins" can demonstrate theme.

Our goal was to teach our first graders how to uncover the theme across several texts.  We have devoted a lot of time this year to deep thinking, so we hoped that this would build off what they could already do.  We would use three texts each day throughout the week.  This would provide them with multiple opportunities for practice with theme or author's message.

We started off the week with the introduction of the word theme and a discussion about all the other words that can sometimes be used for the same concept: author's message, central message, main point, main idea, author's point, etc.  Then we dug right into what our students already knew.  And what they discovered is that they have been studying theme all year.

Throughout the year we read all the Otis books, Tacky books, and Tippy-Toe Chick Go.  So this is where we started: with texts that have already been read, examined, and discussed.  This proved to be a great decision because our time was not spent on the reading of the texts but on the bridging of three texts and their themes that had been previously discussed throughout the year.  We brought these three texts out again and asked our students to brainstorm what connections or possible themes that these three books have in common.

One great way to use mentor texts is for comparison. Check out this post to see how "text cousins" can demonstrate theme.

Wow!  We wrote down all their ideas.  This was one tip that Tanny was sure to model for us.  There does not have to be one correct theme but possible theme ideas.  And she was right!  They came up with some great ideas.

One great way to use mentor texts is for comparison. Check out this post to see how "text cousins" can demonstrate theme.

And so our lesson continued each day with three different texts: a poem, pictures from a story, and a book.

They used those three different texts to come up with possible common themes.

WOW!  What we found was that the lesson proved to have the right amount of challenge for them. At times they wanted to revert back to surface level.

For example, we used the texts This Way, Ruby, a poem The Secret Song, and Sidewalk Flowers.  One of our classes wanted to point out that there was a bird in all three texts or that there were flowers in all three.  These were connections that but they were not digging deeper into the theme or message of the text.

At the end of the week, my teammate took one of the themes for each set of text cousins and had it framed.  She explained that the theme or message is so important and special that it needs to be framed.  I LOVE this idea because it is another visual for our first graders to understand the importance of deep thinking when reading.

One great way to use mentor texts is for comparison. Check out this post to see how "text cousins" can demonstrate theme.One great way to use mentor texts is for comparison. Check out this post to see how "text cousins" can demonstrate theme.


I look forward to using these lesson again next year and seeing where it takes us.  What texts would you use to do this teach theme?





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Making Decoding Strategies Automatic: 3 Easy Steps


Hello, Everyone.  This is Cathy from Cathy Collier's The W.I.S.E. Owl.  I am a reading specialist in a K-2 school.  I do both pull-out interventions and coaching, but have a soft spot for my pull-out kids. Two of my students this year are first grade students diagnosed with a "learning disability." (My undergraduate degree is in special education, so you know I love them.) They are the highlight of my day...and I won't deny I'd love to teach them all day!


When we started in late fall, these two were on a Level B and as of March they were moving into a Level D.  THEN, we hit a wall.  The D to E wall.  E seems to be the time when students are faced with lots of long vowel words, blends and digraphs, and word endings.  Here's what I know:  they can decode almost any word, IF I ask them questions and guide them.

For example, If they come to the word "gate."

     Me:  What do you know?        
Justin:  There is an "e" on the end?
     Me:  What does that mean?      
Justin:  The "e" makes the "a" says it's name.
     Me:  So, what is the word?      
Justin:  /g/ /a-a-a-a/ /t/,  gate.
     Me:  Great job!

What can I do?

My greatest challenge is getting the students to have their own internal dialog when using decoding strategies.  After a conversation with my Assistant Principal, we decided to try and practice the automaticity of the decoding strategies.  What does that mean?  I want them to come to an unknown word and think strategy first.  I have always "taught" and "practiced" the strategies, but I'm taking it one step farther.


1.  Play "Slap Jack"

I created a strip of the 3 strategies they seemed to need the most.  I chose 1 known and 2 unknown strategies.  We had been using CVC Sliders to practice our "slide and sound" with cvc words.   They have gotten pretty consistent with that strategy, so that became their "known" strategy.  The second strategy was the silent e "making the vowel say it's name (most of the time)."  We have talked about this strategy, but they needed concentrated practice with it.  The final strategy was "chop the endings."  We covered up or "chopped off" the endings to look at the base word for decoding.  To begin, I wrote 5 words for each strategy on an index card and when I flashed the card, they had to "slap the strategy" they would use to decode the word.  THEY DID NOT DECODE THE WORD.  This wasn't a decoding lesson, it was a strategy lesson.  We played this game for a week.  I let them sit side-by-side and slap the strategy together, but by the end of the week it was a race.  I wanted the strategy to be automatic.  The video below is Justin identifying the strategy for me.  (He said he didn't want to slap it, if it wasn't a game.  He thought he looked silly doing it alone.)
I hate that the video doesn't show all the strategies, but you get the idea.  By the end of the week, he was pointing to the strategy and saying the name of it.  That's what I want:  automaticity.

2.  Sort 

Part 1, we sorted with the cards from the week before.  I gave them the cards to sort under the strategy mat.  Yes, I should have made the cards smaller.  Lucky for you, I made small cards for you at the end of the post.  They would sort the cards as quickly as they could, then they would "prove" the cards belonged in that column.  They are still not reading the cards, they are just choosing a strategy.  Part 2, was a sort sheet.  This was an independent activity at the end of the week, but the students were still asked to "prove" the word belonged.  I also wanted to send a sample of a competed sort home to their parents.

3.  Read.

Finally, we read sentences I constructed with multiple strategies in each sentence.  As they came to an underlined word, they touched the strategy on the mat and then decoded the word.  They did a great job.  My favorite moment was when looking at the word "running" Justin said, "After I chop the ending, I can see a word to "slide and sound."  WOW...that's a moment, if you ask me.

Get your FREEBIE!

I made a FREEBIE set for this idea.  CLICK HERE or click the image below for the FREEBIE!



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Using Google Slides To Share Research

Last month I shared with you some of my favorite resources for researching with beginning readers. This month, I want to share with you how my students shared the information they learned from a recent research project we did in class.

This year's kindergarten class seems to be particularly interested in animals, even more so than classes in years past.  They cannot get enough of nonfiction books about animals.  When we began our 2 week animal unit, I knew I wanted to do something a little more with their research, so I decided to try Google Slides.

Our district uses Google accounts for all staff and students grades K-12, but as I learned, K students have never used these accounts.  Once all the accounts were set up and students completed their research, our fun began!

Because I have student teacher, I had the opportunity to work with students in groups of 4 in the computer lab while she taught the rest of the class.  If I was by myself, this would have been done during center time with me working with 2-3 students in the classroom on our classroom computers while centers were happening.  I know there is also an iPad app, but my students' logins were more complicated on there as they would have had to type their full e-mail address as opposed to just a part using a computer.

We first learned to login to our new accounts.  This was less challenging than I thought it would be! Students then chose their slide template and began to put their information in.  We did not change slide setups or anything; this was a very basic, first time project!



Once students typed all their information into their slides, we started to use Google Images to find pictures for each slide.  I didn't worry much about copyright as they were only going to share with their families and the class.  The kids learned how to copy pictures from Google Images and paste them into their slide shows. Below is a video of a kiddo narrating her work as she tries to copy and paste on her own after a little mini lesson.  Please excuse the vertical video and the kiddo's voice in the background who is also working on his project!  The last thing they did was choose transitions for each slide.  




After completing their slideshows, they shared them with my Google account so we could easily project them in the room.  Once projected, students read their slides to the class.



The kids loved listening to one another share what they learned with a thunderous round of applause after each presentation.  Slideshows were also shared with the child's family.  I would absolutely do this project again after seeing how much they got into it!




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Engaging Readers with Graffiti Walls

Graffiti walls are an effective way to boost reading engagement in your classroom.

Our literacy team took a new direction this year with our school-wide reading incentive program. We wanted to establish a literacy-rich environment where all students were given the opportunity to participate in literacy celebrations.

We did away with required nightly reading minutes, signed reading logs, and rewards given only to students who completed the reading challenge. Instead, we focused on creating opportunities for students to enjoy authentic reading, writing, and discussions.

We planned several school-wide activities throughout the year to promote literacy: Flashlight Fridays, book swaps, mystery readers, and graffiti walls.

For today's post, let's take a look at our school-wide graffiti walls. We chose this activity based on an idea presented in Donalyn Miller's book, Reading in the Wild.

Here are the steps we took to implement our graffiti walls:

Step One: Prepare the Canvas 

Provide a space for students to write about their reading.  Simply hang a sheet of butcher paper on an open wall.

Graffiti walls are an effective way to boost reading engagement in your classroom.
A snapshot of a blank graffiti wall.

We hung paper throughout the building so that every grade level had a space for writing. We chose black paper and students used colored chalk and chalk markers to write. I would recommend the chalk markers, since they won't smear.

Step Two: Invite Participation

Encourage students to choose lines from a book that have special meaning to them. Students may want to quote something funny, highlight the big idea, or share an important lesson from their reading.  
Graffiti walls are an effective way to boost reading engagement in your classroom.
This graffiti wall is hanging in our fourth and fifth grade wing.

We wrote one quote on each wall as an example. In the upper grades, classroom teachers explained to students that they could share words or lines from books that were meaningful to them. In the younger grades teachers suggested that students write about a favorite character or part of the story.

Step Three: Revisit the Wall

Provide time to discuss the quotes and writing on the wall. 

Graffiti walls are an effective way to boost reading engagement in your classroom.
This student chose a quote that spoke to her about perseverance.

As quotes started to appear on the walls, we took time to recognize the contributions that were made. Students engaged in meaningful conversations and started choosing new books to read based on the graffiti wall discussions. 

Have you tried using graffiti walls? We would love to hear from you! Please share your comments below or post a picture of your graffiti wall on our Facebook page.  

Thanks for reading!






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Graphic Novels

I first stumbled across Marcia Williams about 8 years ago when I was asked to teach myths and legends to my year 3 class (7-8 year olds). I had such a range of abilities in my class that I was at a loss for ways to help them all access this unit of work at a level appropriate for them. Then someone pointed me in the direction of the Greek Myths retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams.



This was just what I needed and now her collection of books retelling many great and classic stories in a child (and adult!) friendly way are a firm favourite in my classroom. I'm here today to tell you why and how I love using comic strips and graphic novels with my little learners.


 1. My favourite first activity to carry out with my class is to cover the captions and read the text using the pictures only. It is great to have pairs or small groups working on this activity and then share versions, comparing and contrasting – did we all tell the same story? Why did we have different versions? How did you interpret this picture? There is so much inference to be taught and using pictures to teach this is always a great way to make this tricky skill a little easier. We get to practise some super speaking and listening skills at the same time!






2.  They are such a brilliant first introduction to some tricker and more classic texts for children! Wherever possible, I like to pre-teach texts with those who are struggling a bit more in my class. Using graphic novels and highly illustrated texts like these means I can familiarise my less confident learners with the text before introducing it to the rest of the class.    These are more accessible versions of the story and build confidence so that when we come to whole class teaching, often with a different version of the story, the ones who usually struggle can be the text experts for a while! 



3. While we're thinking about differentiation for less able readers, these texts can also be used to challenge your more able. This style of writing means every word has to be chosen carefully and you will often find more adventurous word choices in the text. If you're delving into author choice of language, graphic novels can be a good starting point. They are also perfect for those with English as an additional language because of the images in place to support language development.



4. Motivation! If you have a class of reluctant readers then graphic novels and comic strips are highly visual, often funny and therefore very engaging for boys and girls alike. These could be that way you have been looking for to hook those few reluctant readers you have into reading and you never know - they may want to go on to read even more Shakespeare or Dickens in the future!


5. Alongside all the great reading skills you can teach you class with these books - inference, comparing and contrasting different versions of a story, author choice, language and layout and opinion to name a few, you can also have children produce some brilliant writing! I have had children work collaboratively to plan and create their own versions of stories we have read in class in the style of Marcia Williams. Stripping a story down and choosing words very carefully can be a great challenge for some children who usually write pages - this style of writing is definitely more about quality over quantity and this is something some of my learners definitely still need to work on!

If you aren't familiar with these books by Marcia Williams, I would definitely encourage you to check them out.

Do you have a favourite comic or graphic novel you use in class? What success have you had using them? I'd love to hear from you so do leave a comment below.

Thanks for stopping by today!


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Making writing stick!

Writing in Kindergarten can be such a daunting task at times.  So many kids have never been exposed to writing before.  Sometimes they don't even know how to hold a pencil!

In order to teach Kinders how to write a complete sentence, they also need to understand what a complete sentence is.  So often, students at this age speak in single words or phrases.  In my writing center, I combine these two skills and embed my sight word lessons into it at the same time!

While planning the order in which I teach sight words, I always try to make sure that we can use them to build sentences.  For example, the first sight words that I teach are "I" and "see."  This way we can use our new sight words to write a sentence, "I see ___."

Here is my list of the sight words that I use and the sentences that we create with them!


So on Monday, I introduce our new sight words.  We even practice reading a few sentences with these sight words in them.

On Wednesday, we do a shared writing. I give each student a word card to help them with building our sentences.  I have several word cards with different themes that are stuck in a folder with Velcro.  This way students can manipulate them when we get to center time.  Once each student gets a card, I have them take turns using the word in a complete sentence using our new sight words.  I write them down as they tell me.  We discuss spacing, capital letters, periods, etc, all while writing the sentences.  Once every student has a had a turn, we practice reading everything that we have written.



On Friday, each student writes their own sentence using our sight words and a word card that they have chosen.  They illustrate their picture and then we put them together into a class book.  Our book goes in our library so that our kids can read their own writing during library time!

The following week, during writing center, our students will practice building their sentences with word cards, writing them, and illustrating them!  They have gotten so good at sight words and writing with this center!







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