November 23, 2014

20 Reading Skills to Teach with The Name Jar

Guest post by Shawna Devoe

My name is Shawna and I am the author of The Picture Book Teacher’s Edition blog. I believe that every book offers opportunities to compare, connect, infer, question, and visualize. I know that teachers are extremely busy and stressed trying to get everything done, planned and prepped. Sometimes it only takes one idea, or example to spark a great lesson. I write book reviews and reading strategy notes to help the busy teacher plan a great lesson for whatever picture book they are reading.

The Name Jar 
by Yangsook Choi
The Name Jar is about Unhei, a nervous little girl who is starting a new school in America. When she tells the kids on the bus what her name is and those kids cannot say her name, she decides that she does not want to tell her class what her Korean name is. Unhei wants to change her name to an American name.

Her class decides that they want to help figure out an American name so make a name jar, putting in all different kinds of names for her to choose from. In the end, will Unhei pick an American name, or will she keep her Korean name? Use the below reading skills, strategies and ideas to help create a meaningful lesson to go along with this wonderful story of fitting in and just being yourself.

Readers React with Strong Thoughts
I teach my students that readers often have strong reactions to things that happen or might happen in a story, and we call these "strong thoughts." For example, a reader might actually find himself or herself talking to a character because of something they are doing or saying, i.e. "I wouldn't do that, you are going to get into trouble." Or it might be a moment  when the reader thinks, "I knew that was going to happen." In the case of The Name Jar, I have specifically picked out a moment in the story that could produce a strong thought. The students will think about what was said and tell Unhei what they think. To make easier to use  this activity, I created a Strong Thought Freebie for you to download. Just click the image below to find it on TpT.

The Name Jar Reading Strategy Notes
You can use The Name Jar as a mentor text when teaching over a dozen different reading strategies or skills, including point of view, character analysis, story elements, and summarizing. I've jotted down my notes about questions and possible topics to discuss for 20 reading strategies. You wouldn't want to teach them all of course, but these notes may help you find a way to use The Name Jar with a strategy you will be teaching soon.  

Reading level: 2.9
Theme/subject: pride, self-esteem
Genre: realistic fiction

Suggested Vocabulary/phrases: grooves and ridges, blush, smiled broadly, identity, pouch

Reading Skills and Strategies: 
  1. Asking questions - {possible questions before} I wonder what he story is going to be about? I wonder what a name jar is? I wonder what the girl is doing on the front cover? {possible questions during} I wonder why Unhei and her family had to move? I wonder if Unhei will make friends at her new school? I wonder if she will be teased because of her name? I wonder what Unhei will pick for her new name? I wonder what Joey is doing at the Korean market? {possible questions after} I wonder if Unhei will give Korean names to the kids in the class? **Remember to have your students answer/reflect their questions. 
  2. Author's point of view – Third person. Be sure to find 3 pieces of evidence to support this. (he, she, her)  
  3. Author's purpose – entertain {evidence} the story has characters, a setting and a problem and solution. 
  4. Beginning, middle, and end - {most important event from beginning} the kids on the bus could not pronounce Unhei’s name correctly. {most important event from middle} Unhei was trying to figure out what American name she should choose. {most important event from end} Unhei decided to keep her Korean name. 
  5. Cause and effect – Why was Unhei nervous and scared? Because it was her first day of school at her new school. Why did Unhei picture her grandmother’s smile when she looked at the little wooden block? Because her grandmother gave it to her before they left Korea. Why did Unhei blush on the bus? Because the kids couldn’t pronounce her name. Why did Unhei not tell her classmates her name? Because she wanted to pick a new American name and she hadn’t chosen one yet. Why was there a jar with names in it on her desk? Because her classmates were trying to help her pick a new name. Why was Joey at Mr. Kim’s market? Because he was ordering his own name stamp. Why did Joey take the name jar? Because he wanted Unhei to keep her own name. 
  6. Character analysis - Describe Unhei. Describe Joey. {looks like, feelings, thoughts, character}
  7. Character changes – In the beginning, Unhei was shy and unsure about her name but by the end she decided to keep her Korean name. 
  8. Compare & contrast – Compare and contrast Unhei and Joey.  
  9. Connections - {possible text-to-self connections} Being new to a school. Having someone tease you because of your name. Having a difficult name to pronounce. Wanting to change your name. Having a friend that likes you just for you. {possible text-to-text connections} Father’s Rubber Shoes by Yumi Heo. In both of these books the families move from Korea to America. Will I have a Friend? by Mariam Cohen. In both these books the main character is worried about starting a new school. 
  10. Fact & opinion – {facts} Unhei and her family moved from Korea to America. Unhei’s grandmother gave her a name stamp. Unhei wanted to pick an American name. Unhei saw Joey in Mr. Kim’s market. {opinions} Kimchi is delicious. The kids on the bus were being mean to Unhei. Madison was the best name Unhei read from the jar. Unhei was really upset that the name jar was missing. Unhei was excited to have a friend visit her at home. 
  11. Main idea & details - {main idea} The story is mostly about Unhei wanting to choose an American name. {details} The kids on the bus made fun of Unhei’s name. Unhei was anxious about meeting new kids at her new school. The kids in Unhei’s class started a name jar to help her pick an American name. 
  12. Plot - The turning point or climax in the story was when the name jar got lost and Unhei found a piece of paper on her desk.
  13. Predict – What do you think the story is going to be about? What do you think a name jar is? What name do you think Unhei will choose? What do you think Joey is doing at Mr. Kim’s market? 
  14. Problem & Solution - {problem} The problem is Unhei doesn’t want to use her Korean name in America. {solution} The students in Unhei’s class start a name jar so that Unhei has names to choose from.  
  15. Sequencing – Unhei was nervous and excited to start her new school. The kids on the bus made fun of Unhei’s name. Unhei decided to not introduce herself to her class till she picked an American name. Unhei told her mom she wanted an American name. Unhei and her mom went to Mr. Kim’s market. The kids in Unhei’s class started a name jar. Unhei showed Joey her name stamp. Unhei got a letter from her grandmother. Unhei saw Joey at Mr. Kim’s market. The name jar was lost. Unhei introduced herself to her class using her Korean name. Joey came to Unhei’s house. Joey showed Unhei his Korean name stamp. 
  16. Story Elements - List title, author, characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, or problem & solution.
  17. Strong Thought – In the story Rosie says that they didn’t get to choose their names when they were born and all the kids thought about this. After hearing this, what would you say to Unhei about her Korean name? (Click to download my Strong Thought Freebie).

  18. Summarize - {someone} Unhei {wanted} wanted an American name {but} but was having a hard time thinking of one {so} so the kids in her class made a name jar to help her find a name. {then} Then came the day for Unhei to choose an American name and she {finally} finally decided to keep her Korean name. 
  19. Theme – It is always better to be yourself. 
  20. Visualize – Unhei wanted to choose an American name. What if you were allowed to choose your own name, visualize what that name would be and why that name would be better than the one you have.

Shawna Devoe is the author of The Picture Book Teacher’s Edition. You may also find her on Facebook and Pinterest. She has reviewed over 140 books on her blog and provides teaching notes for all of them! You can use the searchable links in the sidebar of her blog to find a complete listing of those titles. 

November 13, 2014

20 Tips for Motivating Gifted Kids to THINK!

Advice from Real Teachers Series

Chances are good that you have at least a few gifted children in your classroom, even if they aren't formally identified as being gifted. These students can be a joy to work with, but it does take a special teacher to know how to motivate them to set high goals for themselves and being willing to take on challenges.

Today's Question
Taylor is a fan of the Teaching Resources Facebook page who asked, "I'm working with a great group of gifted students. The only problem is that some of them don't like to have to think because they're used to everything being so easy. How do I motivate my top students to want to push to the next level? How do I get them to want to dig deep and not just to be masters of the surface level?"

Encouraging a Growth Mindset
Dozens of teachers shared their expertise in responding to Taylor's question, and many of them referred to Carol Dweck's work on encouraging students to develop a "growth mindset" where they accept challenges and see the value in tackling difficult work. Dweck wrote, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and it's a life-changing resource. If you aren't familiar with her work, watch this fascinating YouTube video that gives a great overview of some of the most relevant information for teachers. If it interests you, purchase the book to learn more.

Top 20 Suggestions for Motivating Gifted Kids to Think
Here are 20 of the best suggestions for motivating gifted kids to stretch themselves and reach their true potential. If you would like to read them all, click over to my Facebook page where you'll find them.
  1. Steve Miller - Raise the rigor and your expectations. Failure IS an option in the real world. This means YOU have to be more rigorous in designing, prepping and executing difficult concepts. Your kids will step it up only when YOU "teach it up." The first grades will be a wake-up call. Reel 'em in and teach!  That's what all of us were called to do!
  2. Matt Squires -They're used to being praised on their intelligence, not their effort. They do not have 'growth mindsets.' (Watch this YouTube this from Carol Dweck- it's incredible stuff). Make a huge effort to reward and praise their effort , not their intelligence and natural talent.
  3. MeLinda Gray -The main thing to focus on is what they are interested in. Are they gifted in your content area?  If they have are identified gifted you need to know in which subject areas. Then, remember it is not giving them extra work, but giving them challenging work that is on a different level than the regular ed students, if you have any regular ed kids.  After that, find out what they are interested in and try to design lessons, reading, etc, around those interests.  Using webquests online can be a huge help in language arts, plus they love using the internet.  It is a lot of extra prep, but they will really start responding and it will be so worth it.
  4. Mary Breveleri - Asking for evidence to back up an answer can get them to think deeper.  What did you read or see that makes you say that?  Deeper questions will result in deeper answers. Surface questions will result in surface answers. :)
  5. Sarah Smith - I had the same problem with my high math group. I would have the class solve a problem and choose 3-4 students with different answers or methods of solving the problem and have each student explain their solution and how they got there. I would then have the rest of the class debate on who was correct and why. It really made the students think about their own thinking (if that makes sense).
  6. Mary Moncus - We do team competitions.  My gifted kids are very competitive and working in small groups they can help and motivate each other.
  7. Pam Dobrowski - I have to give them graphic organizers that prompt their thinking otherwise they won't give me what I know they can do. I teach second grade.
  8. Cathleen Triplett - Project Based Learning:  Have them brainstorm problems in the community and research and solve them. They could create a website to show what they've learned and educate others.
  9. Morgan Callahan - Try the book Your Fantastic Elastic Brain! Great for teaching kids how we can expand our minds.
  10. Zanda Clearbrook - You could try a flipped classroom, or at least incorporate some aspects of it. Give them the information up front, and they come back and do some kind of research/project that shows their understanding of it. Layered Curriculum could also be a choice to use, but that takes a bit to set up the first time.
  11. Michelle Watt - The important thing to remember about gifted students is to challenge them to go deeper not broader. Also, reward the process rather than the right answer. Research fixed vs growth mindset. They have likely been rewarded for always getting the correct answer rather than their thinking process.
  12. Lorri Hurst - Use guided inquiry to push them outside of their comfort zone.  I do this with my AP students all the time.  When they ask me a question I ask one in return.  Ask questions to guide them to the place they need to be. You may have to explain this to your principal and even send a letter of the change in expectations.  Make sure you explain your goal is to produce the Best Most Productive student you can.....thinkers not memorizers!
  13. Connie Copenhaver - The passion and drive GT students need are firm, fair, expectations from a teacher who embraces growth mindset and gives challenge, rigor, enthusiasm, to academic choices to student-driven projects.  Allow the GT students to soar and be guided by you.  Give room to grow within your lesson standards.  Do not fear the what ifs...allow students to truly enjoy and engage in self-selected projects within a good question as stated in genius hour standards. You will see such joy of learning like never before!  It will transfer into all areas in your classes.  Good  luck!
  14. Kathryn Rasinya-White - Give them CHOICE! Find out what interests them and let them explore that topic using a multidisciplinary approach.
  15. Kathleen Curran - Read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. By focusing on a growth mindset it may get them working more. They're used to being praised for how smart they are, not how hard they work. Works for low students as well
  16. Granny Bee - Genius & Passion Projects. STEM & STEAM. Anything where they get some choice and they have to set goals. Odyssey of the Mind. I tell my smart ones if they don't challenge themselves they are going to get lazy. Rabbit & the hare? The slow and steady ones will pass them up.
  17. Stephanie O'Moghrain - Genius Hour!!!  Google it, and spend about 6 hours absorbing all the info.
  18. Patricia Sardina - Try to change their mindset. If they've always been told that they're gifted failing might make them feel awful! The frustration would be just the beginning... Instead of everyone telling them how smart they are, go for, "You can learn anything." This implies a process; trying, and failing and trying again until you've got it right. If they believe that being challenged will help them learn more and keep them at the top they will go for it! Make it a game if you can: "let's see how many new words you can learn this week" or "What do you think is the best way to do this?" Good luck!
  19. Pe Howell - Give them some challenges. Can you assign a project on a topic of their choice that utilizes some of the skills you want them to enhance?
  20. Reuben Hks - Try using Kaplan's icons of depth and complexity. Here is a link to some information about them from, which is also a great website for GATE ideas. 
Do you have any of your own strategies to share? If so, please post it in a comment below. If not, which strategies in this post interest you? 

If you would like to submit a teacher question of your own, be sure to watch for the Question Connection announcement every Wednesday at 8:30 pm EST on the Teaching Resources Facebook page. Even if you don't have a question, please follow me on Facebook and offer your advice when you see the questions come through! Working together, we can accomplish more!

November 6, 2014

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Strategies and free seasonal printables to encourage students to add detail to their sentences.
How do you encourage your students to write longer, more interesting sentences? You know what will happen if you simply them to write longer sentences...  they'll just add more words to the end, resulting in long, rambling run-ons!

After struggling with this problem myself, I developed a three-step process to help my students turn boring sentences into super sentences. I began by teaching them the difference between fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. Then we practiced revising and expanding basic sentences to make them more interesting. After I modeled the activity and they practiced it in a whole group setting, they played a game called Sentence Go Round in their cooperative learning teams. The difference in their writing was dramatic! Before long, they were adding more detail to their sentences without creating run-ons in the process.

Step One - Mini-Lesson on Sentences, Fragments, and Run-ons
Begin by explaining that complete sentences can be short or long, but they must have two basic parts, a subject and a predicate. The subject tells who or what the sentence is about, and the predicate is the action part of the sentence, or the part that tells what the subject is doing. If it's missing one of those parts, it's a fragment. If it has a whole string of sentences that run on and on without proper punctuation, it's a run-on sentence.
Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Corkboard Connections blog post with sentence-writing lesson and free seasonal sentences to expand task cards.
Next display a series of phrases or sentences and ask your students to decide if each on is a fragment, a complete sentence, or a run-on. Try these:
  • Rabbits hop. (Your students will say it's a fragment since it's so short, but it's actually a complete sentence.)
  • The big brown fluffy rabbit in the garden. (Looks like a sentence, but it's missing a predicate.)
  • Rabbits love to eat carrots and one hopped into our garden and I thought it was cute even though it was eating the carrots. (A run-on of course ... kids don't usually have trouble spotting these, but you might want to have them find all the subjects and predicates to make your point.)
  • The hungry rabbit hopped into the garden because he wanted to eat a carrot. (Even though this one is long, it's not a run-on because it only had one subject and one predicate.)

Step Two - Mini-Lesson on Revising and Expanding Sentences
After your students can distinguish between fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences, it's time for them to practice their sentence-writing skills by learning how to revise and expand basic sentences. This activity should be modeled in a whole group or guided literacy group first, and older children can do the activity later in cooperative learning teams. To start the activity, you need a set of task cards with basic sentences that lack detail. I used an example from the Fall Sentences to Expand freebie for this lesson, but you can also use one from any of the below. Look for the link to each item below its cover image, or click over to the Writing Sentences section of my TpT store where you'll find them all.

Summer                  Fall                     Winter               Spring

Whole Class Modeling:
  1. Start by selecting a basic sentence from the one of the freebies above. Let's use "She picked apples." Write the sentence on the board or show it to the class using a document camera.
  2. Explain that "She picked apples" is boring, but if we ask ourselves questions about it, we can add details that answer the question and make it more interesting. For example, if we ask "Who picked apples?" we can name someone specific. Demonstrate how to make the change as shown below.
  3. It's still a boring sentence, so let's ask, "How many?" and say that Mary picked a dozen apples.
  4. Go through the same process, each time repeating the revised sentence and asking another question. After 4 rounds of changes, it might look like the one in step 4 below.

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Corkboard Connections blog post with writing lesson and free seasonal sentences to expand task cards.
Whole Class Interactive Lesson:
  1. Next, repeat the process and actively involve your students. Ask one student to randomly select a sentence card and write it on the board.
  2. Then ask all students to think about a question they could ask and how they could revise the sentence to add one detail. It can be more than one word, but it shouldn't be more than a short phrase that answers that question. If all students have individual dry erase boards or chalkboards, ask them to write down their revisions and show them to you.
  3. Call on one student to come forward and display his or her revised sentence.
  4. Repeat the process three or four more times until you've created a sentence that's detailed and interesting, but not a run-on.
Modification Idea: If you notice that some students are creating run-on sentences, ask everyone to pair with a partner before sharing with the class to make sure all sentences are complete sentences.

Step Three - Cooperative Learning or Small Group Activity
The first two steps are the perfect segue into Sentence Go Round, an activity for cooperative learning teams or small groups to practice expanding sentences. The product below includes sample sentences for the teacher to display, as well as printables for students and a sorting activity to practice identifying fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. Sentence Go Round also includes activity directions and question cards to prompt students as they are creating their new sentences. A recording page is provided for students to write each basis sentence and the final expanded version. All of the student pages that are in color are also available in black and white.

Feel free to substitute the seasonal sentences in one of the freebies for the basic sentences in this pack. To learn more click this link to preview Sentence Go Round or preview it in my my TpT store. If you purchased this item before I revised it, you can download the revised version for free.

Teaching Kids to Write Super Sentences - Corkboard Connections blog post with free seasonal sentences to expand task cards to go with Sentence Go Round from Laura Candler.

I hope your students enjoy these lessons and Sentence Go Round as much as mine did, and that it results in them writing super sentences instead of boring ones! Don't forget to download the free seasonal sentences that I created to go with the ones in Sentence Go Round.

November 4, 2014

5 Ways to Engage Parents Using Google Drive

Guest post by April Smith

One of my goals at the beginning of this school year was parent engagement. In the past, our school has sent home between 3-5 flyers every week trying to get parents involved, with little success. I was frustrated with how much work I was putting into communicating with the parents, only to not hear anything back.

I needed something revolutionary to engage the parents. Many of our parents work long hours and often don't even see their kids in the evening to gather all of the flyers we're sending home. I needed a solution that was easier for them to access, and easier for me to prepare.

After attending a workshop on using Google Drive in the classroom, it dawned on me that I could use this completely free service to collaborate with parents in a way that was much more accessible than sending home a ton of paper with a forgetful 4th grader.

Benefits of Google Drive 
  • Parents don't have to pay for Microsoft Office in order to read what you send them digitally.
  • Parents use the same username and password they use for their Gmail account.
  • Google Drive can be downloaded on smart phones and tablets, so parents can access every document without having to own a computer or pay for internet at their house.
  • Google saves everything you're working on, so you won't have to start from scratch when your computer restarts for updates half way into creating your monthly newsletter.

5 Ways to Use Google Drive for Parent Engagement 

1. Collecting Contact Data - I used to spend a great deal of time trying to read parent handwriting as I typed up individual contact information into a spreadsheet. From your Google Drive, you can create a Google Form with as many questions as you'd like. I setup a computer station for parents to visit when they come in for Open House before school starts, and I post the form link on my class website for the parents who weren't able to make it. For parents who still haven't filled out the form, I print and send home a paper copy, then input the information it myself.
With a couple of clicks, you can set up your form to organize the data into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is stored in your Google Drive and is completely private unless you change the settings to share it. If you share students with other teachers, this is a great way to share contact information - just be view-able by you and the teacher you send it to! Check out this simple tutorial.

2. Sharing a Presentation - Easily upload your Back to School (or other) PowerPoint to your Google Drive or create one using Google Drive's Presentation app. Next, change the sharing settings so that anyone with a link can view it. You can then copy the link and e-mail it to your list of parent e-mails (that you collected from your Google form I hope), and also post it to your class website. If parents missed your live presentation, or want to refer back to it, they can access it at their convenience.

3. Sending a Class Newsletter - Your class newsletter can be created and sent to parents using Google Docs. Check out this great newsletter template that you can edit for your own class newsletter. Make sure you change it so that parents with the link can only view.

When you create your newsletter, you can add photos from your classroom to it and link to resources you want to share.

4. Communicating About Behavior - Every year I have a couple of students who end up needing parent communication about behavior on a daily basis. Instead of coloring in a smiley face every day or sending home multiple notes, why not share a Google Spreadsheet with their parents? Not only is this a wonderful resource for divorced parents and busy families, but it simplifies the process for you. You can add information to the spreadsheet directly from your own device (I use the Google Drive app on my I-pad). I can immediately add an anecdotal note about the student without having to dash across the classroom looking for a pen, or waiting until the end of the day when I've already forgotten what behaviors happened when.

I personally set up a Google Form that I can fill out quickly, with the particular problem behaviors for that student as check-boxes. I then share the spreadsheet where the data goes with the parents.

*Remember to change the share settings so that only the people you invite can view. This definitely shouldn't be live to the entire internet due to privacy issues. I never include the student's name just to be safe. I save the document and form as the student's class number (i.e. "Student 23") just in case.

5. Conference Sign-ups - This year I sent home paper forms for parents to sign up for a parent-teacher conference slot. They had the option to fill out the paper form with their top 3 choices, or log into the Google Doc to add their name to a guaranteed slot. The parents who turned in the paper form were given one of their appointments depending on the availability, but the parents filling it out online immediately knew when their conference slot was. I only received 4 paper forms, leaving a lot less work for me. I also had 100% attendance this year, which means the parents knew when their time slots were and there was no lost paper between me and their family.

Implementation Tips 

During Open House, Back to School, and even Parent-teacher Conferences, I personally show parents how to create an account and download the Google Drive app to their phone. For parents without e-mail addresses, I also help them sign up for Gmail, and download the app on their phone with notifications turned on. I was surprised to see how many of them were using Gmail and Google Drive for other things once I introduced it to them!

For those parents who do not have smart phones, devices, or computers, all of these files can be easily printed just like any other file on your computer. I've even had parents fill out a Google form using paper and pencil, then I filled it out digitally for them. You can also have a computer available in your classroom where parents can log in and participate.

Get started now at!

April is an upper grade teacher that loves creating fun and interesting activities for her students. She shares technology, Math, and Language Arts lessons on her website