Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Making Peer Editing Meaningful

I am still in full on writing gear over here, how about you? Last week I wrote about How to Help Students Revise in this post. I am very happy to report that revisions are going really well in our class, and we are getting much more natural at it. 

Editing is a whole different story though, so this week I am focusing on ways to make peer editing meaningful, because let's face it, there is one of us, and what seems like sixteen million of them and wanting help at the same time. 
 Here are a few suggestions for peer editing that have worked really well for me over the years.

Set Clear Expectations

I devote a whole writing block to just setting up the expectations of what peer editing is. This is a tough one for kids, and adults for that matter, to wrap their heads around. No one wants to be told that their writing isn't perfect. By setting up clear expectations and a purpose from the beginning you keep everyone on the same page. 

I always tell my students that we are working together to make our writing better, not that it needs to be fixed. 

Model, Model, Model

A large chunk of that first day of peer editing is me modeling how I would like to see it done. I am fortunate enough to have an aid in my room during writing, so she and I model it up with our own writing, then we model some more with student writing. 

Assign Partners Based on Ability

I am pretty rigid when it comes to partners for editing. I don't want my highest writers to get frustrated by trying to get their writing edited by someone who is still working on writing complete sentences, and the other way around. By ability grouping, I know that partners are on roughly the same playing field and will be able to learn from one another. 

Now you might be asking yourself how those lowest babies can edit when they are struggling to write a sentence, and this is my response to that. They get their ability based partner, but they also get a peer coach to work with the set of partners. My peer coaches are my kindest, most patient, students. They aren't always the highest writers, but I believe that this process is just as important to them to help them become those highest writers. 

Now That We Know How....

Break Out Those Highlighters

Sometimes it can be hard to see what has been edited, so I have students highlight their edits. This serves two purposes. The first being that they can be easily seen when going back for the next draft. The second being that when I am walking around the room it is readily apparent who is working and who isn't.

Special Pens

I love me some Flair Pens, and my students are always asking to use them. I usually decline their offer as they are my favorites and I don't want to share, but for editing they are welcome to them. We have a whole jar of these suckers. They kind of serve the same purpose as the highlighters, because they are easy to see among all the pencil, but it is good to mix it up.

Start Small

The first time I have my students peer edit all they looked for was capitalization. After doing that for a while we added in punctuation, and at this point we are doing those plus spelling and asking questions about the piece. 
By starting small students feel successful, and that makes them come back for more!

Have a Checklist for Students to Complete

The checklist above is the one I use with my students. You can grab a copy of it here if you think it will work for you, but even if it doesn't, I would recommend coming up with something. A checklist helps to guide students with their partners, because goodness knows no matter how many times we have done something someone always asks me what's next, and I just don't have time for that!

I hope that this post has been helpful! I would love to hear from you in the comments on what other writing struggles you are having. You never know, I might have a tip or two to share in the future! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Increasing Engagement During Read Alouds

Welcome back for another round of Bright Ideas from some seriously amazing bloggers! This month I have a simple idea that can have a high impact on your classroom.
We all have them, some like me are them, those kids that can't sit still and are always wiggling. I was one of those kids, and I am still one of those adults. I loved to be read to, but I could not for the life of stay still. I see this in my students today too. Instead of getting frustrated with them, we have embraced it, and I use it as a way to show me who is engaged in the readying, and who needs a little redirection help.
We all start facing forward. This is our traditional direction for a read aloud on the carpet. I personally have spots for my students that we rotate every so often, but however you do it in your classroom works just fine. Sometimes the reader sits, but this time the reader is standing.
Then, as I read I walk to different positions. The students' job is to follow the reader with their whole body, not just their eyes. I do this every couple of pages, so the motion is pretty consistent.
Moving around serves two purposes. 
#1 it gives my active kids a chance to move, which they love. 
#2 It gives me an immediate visual of who is with me, and who is not, which I love. 
Just by watching when I start walking to see who isn't simultaneously turning with me I know who I've lost. They can try to fake it by watching the other students, but they are always just a half second behind which is a dead giveaway. 

Simple right? I hope that this is something that you can find useful for your classroom. 

Overall, I think this is a really positive activity that could hold some real power at stressful times of the year. I think we will probably do it occasionally, especially right before our big testing season!
If you liked this post, please consider following me with Bloglovin', on Facebook, or on Teachers Pay Teachers for more great ideas! 

For more amazing ideas, from fantastic bloggers check out the linky below. Items are listed by topic and grade level to make your search a little easier!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seven Super Strategies for Geometry

Geometry is one of those units in math that when planning for I think, oh yeah, we've got this. Then we get into the unit and sure enough, students get it. Then we take the assessment and whomp, whomp, they didn't get it. At least that is how it worked out for me this year. 

I am not going to wallow in it, instead I sat down and made a game plan! I hope that I can help out someone else BEFORE they get the whomp, whomps with these Seven Super Strategies for Teaching Geometry. 
Geometry is all about vocabulary. This is where I start, spend time, and end. It is more than just memorizing definitions though, students have to be able to use the vocabulary when describing figures, and that is where it gets tricky! So, here's the plan:

1. Bring in a Story to Hook Them

My favorite story for the geometry unit is Grandfather Tang's Story. The story is told using tangrams throughout. I love to read this story with the book under the document camera. This way we can stop and analyze each of the shapes for line and angles as we go. 

2. Keep it Going With Some Tech

My students L.O.V.E. StudyJams, so I use that to my advantage. We are really struggling with angles this year, and they just happen to have a Step by Step on classifying angles, so that is definitely high on our list!

3. Kinesthetic Movements

To review the vocabulary of lines and angles we use our bodies to model each. I think it is really important for each student, or group of students, to come up with their own movement and then share it with the class. This way there are multiple options, and students have something personal to them. I of course check the movements that each student uses for accuracy. 

4. Chants

I am all about little chants that get stuck in your head. We use the ones above for angles. We say them three times each in a different voice each time. They get stuck in your brain, to the point of annoyance, but I will never get tired of hearing a kid say, "Little and cute, acute!" while running across the playground at recess.

5. Use Your Classroom as a Search Zone

Have students go around your classroom and search for objects that show parallel lines, perpendicular lines, and angles to take a picture of and label. Bonus points if you use an app like Skitch to label the photograph!

6. Geoboards

Break out those geoboards and see how many shapes you can make! 
Pro tip-call them geobands, not rubber bands, and give very specific directions about how geobands are only allowed on geoboards. They do not go on the floor, in your mouth, and they certainly do not go flying across the room!
I love to have my students create their own shapes using the geobands and then trade with a partner to see how they can classify the shapes created. 
For example, in the picture above can you find at least:
-four sets of parallel lines
-a square
-a rectangle
-three right triangles
-a trapezoid
-eleven right angles
-three acute angles
-two obtuse angles

7. Lots of Authentic Practice!

For practice with this newly reviewed material I will be using this Big Ten: Geometry. It offers ten vocabulary heavy activities for students to complete independently, in partners, in stations, or led by a teacher in small group. 
When using this with my students I am able to find the trends of where we are missing key information then scaffold students to success!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Helping Students Revise Their Writing

With the writing test only a little over a month away, we are really in the thick of things in our classroom. We have been working all year to make sure our writing is the best it can be, but still my students cling to their first drafts as if they are their most prized possession. 

If you work with students, or adults for that matter, on their writing you know that beginning writers think their first draft should be bronzed. Those first thoughts scribbled down on paper could not possibly be any better than how they were originally penned. The idea that they still need work is faint inducing, and is the worst punishment that a teacher could possibly dole out to their class. 

I am here to tell you my friends that this is a never ending struggle. By this point in the year you would think that I have said, "When you think you are done, the writing has just begun," at least a million times, but we are losing something in translation. 

With that in mind, here are a few tips for helping students to revise their writing without causing a mental breakdown on their part, or yours.  
Working with students to revise their writing is all about starting out small. What can they do that will improve their writing the most? I like to introduce each revising task with a little activity and then move onto their own writing. When students see that others also need to same things, they are more accepting of changing their own writing.

Let's get right down to it shall we?

Combining Sentences

Sentence variety adds spice to your writing. If you write in all simple sentences, your writing will seem short and choppy. No one wants to read short and choppy sentences outside of beginning reader, and even then they grow bored with it quickly. A quick activity that allows students to practice combining sentences is having them match up simple sentences then combine them with a partner. 
I dicut shapes (these just happen to be pumpkins, but you could do any shape) then cut them into halves.  On each half I write a related simple sentence, and pass out one half shape to each student.
Students then travel the room looking for a partner that has the other simple sentence related to their topic.
Once they have found each other, they work together to combine the two simple sentences. Once students have proved that they know how to combine sentences together I have them complete some station work like these Owl Compound Sentences.

Then students are ready to dive into their own writing to look for sentences that they can combine to provide sentence variety. I usually issue this task as a challenge of sorts. "I challenge you to find two sets of simple sentences that you can combine into compound sentences." This challenge gets students in the right frame of mind to seek out simple sentences, and many will do much more than two.

Show Not Tell

We are always telling our students to show me, don't tell me in their writing, but this is a skill that needs to be practiced often. There are many ways to practice showing with their writing, but this simple one is my favorite! 
On index cards I write incredibly boring, very simple telling sentences. I pass out a card to each student and have them write what that would look like, sound like, and feel like on the same side as the sentence.
When students have brainstormed a few items then they flip the cards over and write a showing paragraph. We also use this as a bit of a game and read the new showing paragraphs to the class. Then the class guesses what the original sentence was.

Then of course I challenge my students to find one sentence in their piece of writing that they can turn into a showing paragraph.

Removing Unnecessary Sentences

This one may be the toughest for students, but it is also potentially the most important. There is no room in writing for extraneous sentences. Every single one of them needs to count.
I usually model this by writing a story with lots of extra sentences. Then as we read the story we decide on what needs to stay and what needs to go. This is really easy for students to do with someone else's writing, but becomes infinitely harder in their own. This is why in the beginning I challenge them to remove just one sentence. Removing just one sentence can be the hardest challenge of them all.

Changing Overused Words

Especially when writing for a test prompt, I consider test writing a whole different genre, it is all too easy to use certain words from the prompt, or others, too many times. To combat this I have my students type their writing into a word cloud app. On the computer I use Wordle or ABCYa's Word Cloud for Kids which also has an app for the Ipad. 
The way a word cloud works is that the more often you use a word the bigger it becomes in the word cloud. I used the copy for one of my previous posts on Reading Conferences to create this word cloud. The graphic instantly shows me the words that I used most often, and while I may expect to see reading and conferences prominently displayed I should be able to find synonyms to replace some other commonly used words such as students, get, and something.

After creating their word clouds, I have students choose at least one word to replace in their writing. This does not mean one word once, but instead replace that one word every time you see it.

This activity can be quite time consuming if you don't ordinarily type your writing, but it is one that leaves a big impact on your writers.

I hope that at least one of these strategies will help you and your students to be successful writers this year. Be sure to check back in for more ideas on how to improve writing workshop in your classroom!

For more practice, and to keep students looking for more ways to revise their writing I love to use this Revising TicTacToe. It gives them options, and keeps them accountable!

To receive updates on current posts about things we are doing in our classroom please consider following this blog on Bloglovin'!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Deep In the Heart of Texas Blog Hop

Welcome to the "Deep in the Heart of Texas" blog hop!  Over 40 Texas teacher bloggers have joined together to share what we love about our state as well as ideas and freebies that we love.  You will also have the opportunity to enter to win TpT products and/or TpT gift certificates by entering using the rafflecopters included in each post.  Down at the bottom, you will see all of the blogs participating in the hop.  Just click and you will be taken to their posts.  We hope you love what you find.  Happy Valentine's Day!

For those of you that are here for the first time, I am Alyssa, and I am a fourth grade teacher in a suburban district outside of Austin. I live in Austin and love everything about the city, except the traffic, definitely not the traffic. I have been teaching for six years now, all in fourth grade, and love all things writing, science, reading, Texas history, and am trying to love math. 
Living in Austin, one of the things I like most is that there is always something going on. It is the self proclaimed live music capitol, and it is always easy to find music. I love anything outside, and fortunately we have really mild winters that allow me to be outside a lot. 
One of my favorite spots in Mount Bonnel, which is the highest point in Austin and has gorgeous views! The picture above is of my sister and I at the top. 
This time of year we are gearing up for pretty hardcore test prep, so one of my favorite activities is Stinky Feet! It is a review game that can be played using any topic and any questions. 

You can read all about how I use it in my classroom here.
I love, love, love this freebie on Measurement Around Texas, because it is so versatile! I use it in social studies during our measurement unit as a way of incorporating math. My students always find the facts fascinating too! 
Once I have all of the donations, I will create the rafflecopters/images and send the html out to everyone to paste here.

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Click on the buttons below to visit some other awesome Texas bloggers!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Addition and Subtraction

We are officially in review mode to start preparing for our state tests. This means that we are spiraling everything we have learned in math, while still introducing the rest of the material of course, in every way that we can. Here are six of my favorites!

1. Act It Out

 My students find it challenging to identify when they are supposed to add, and when they should subtract, so we act it out. The more cheesy and over the top the better!

2. StudyJams!

 Our class loves StudyJams! We are each individually completing this Addition and Subtraction of Decimals this week.

3. Bring on the Literature!

My favorite book to use with this unit is Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst. Throughout the story Alexander is given and then spends money. As I read I have students work through how much money he has on whiteboards. 

4. Give it a Shout Out! 

I am all about chants that get stuck in your head, because I would be willing to bet that if it is stuck in my head, it is stuck in my students' heads too! We say this little chant as a call and response where I say, "Rule 1," and they respond with, "Line 'em up!" and so forth. We love to say them in a variety of voices to really get it stuck in there! You can click on the image below to download your own copy. 

5. Interactive Number Line

We have this baby taped to our floor and use it often, especially when working with decimals. I like to hold my small group in a little circle around it. We place sticky notes in order to denote the scale of the line based on the problem we are solving. 

6. Big Ten: Addition and Subtraction

I love using these in our room as stations, in small group, as quick knowledge checks, or any other thing I think of on a whim. They contain ten different ways of practicing the same standard, and give you a good idea of any gaps that students may have.
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