Engage All Students in Writing with a Sound Bite

This past fall I had the privilege of attending a Reading and Writing through Inquiry workshop in Indonesia (love that traveling is a part of my job!). I first mentioned it in this post. One of the ideas our workshop leader presented to us involved sharing sound bites with students and having them write a story based on what they hear. I took so many notes during that weekend that there were a few learning engagements I completely forgot about. I am sure that has never happened to you…

Recently, I was asked to present at a conference my school was holding and I reviewed my notes from that workshop. This sound bite idea jumped out at me as this was a learning engagement I had yet to try.

I decided to give it a go and created sound bites in iMovie, using the sound effects the program offers. One sound bite was a mixture of jungle sounds, monkeys, rain, a waterfall, it ended with an alarm clock. When I played the sounds for my first grade class every single student was engaged. I have a few new students this semester and two of them speak very little English (aka, zero English). They were able to hear the sounds and draw pictures of what they heard. Then I helped them write a sentence or words that matched their pictures.

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Each story was different and showed student’s personalities. We did this engagement a second time and this time I connected it to our current unit. Which is learning about transportation systems. I used sounds of horses running, a helicopter, racing cars, walking, a train, etc (all found on iMovie and exported just with audio). Again, every single student was engaged.

Don’t you just love it when that happens?!

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Progressive Stories are as easy as 1,2,3!

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Last month I asked the lower elementary school if they would be interested in writing a story together in a way that is known to be called a “progressive” story.

Setting it up was simple. My first grade class started the story, we sent it to a second grade class, they sent it to our kindergarten, then it went to the other second grade class and finished with the other first grade classes. For those good with numbers, that is a story with five sections :) Altogether it took us one week to finish with each teacher taking one 45 minute block to write the story, and the using center time, free time, or another language arts block to draw the illustrations.

Each class drew three illustrations to go with their section of the story (next time we do it I may ask for 4 illustrations per section) I shared a few of them at the beginning of this post. The pictures were put together and a few students from each class narrated the story. This video is the final result:

As the classes work on their sections I heard from the teachers how excited their students were about this story. They were able to modify the activity based on each grade’s level and worked in what they were studying in language arts. From bold beginnings to adjectives to mighty middles and excellent endings, it is neat seeing the whole story put together.

Here it is in written form:

In a classic classroom on a cold day, there was a kind teacher named Miss White. Dress in white from head to toe, she also wore a magical pearl necklace. On this cold day it started to snow. At first the snow fell gently and then it fell faster and faster. Miss White looked out the window and saw the snow swirling. The wind began to whistle and blow. Suddenly, a snow monster appeared! (1W)

The massive snow monster looked around and saw Miss. White. He threw dirty snowballs to her class, and covered Miss White’s class window. Miss White’s students were so scared and hid under their desks. Miss White touched her magical pearl necklace and said, “White White Miss White, turn my students into superheroes.” All 20 students turned into strong superheroes. Then the superheroes opened the gigantic window and flew out quickly. (2H)

A good snow monster comes and  punches the bad snow monster! All the jungle animals come to help the kids fight the snow monster. There is a gorilla, a monkey, a giraffe, a T-Rex, a gecko, an alligator, a crocodile, a tiger, and a lion. The super hero kids see little eyes outside in the snow too.  They are angry, bad robbers! It is a trap! Then the snow monster eats all 20 of the superheroes! The jungle animals run and hide behind the mountain.  The bad snow monster kills the good snow monster! The bad snow monster and the robbers try to find the jungle animals. The jungle animals jump out and fight the bad snow monster and the robbers.  Oh no! How will the super kids get out of the bad monster’s tummy? (K)

One animal caught a robber and threw him and hit the snow monster, so it fell over. But the snow monster reappeared because it was indestructible.  The tiger and the lion rebuilt two new snow monsters from the body of the old good snow monster.  Then the two good snow monsters punched and kicked the bad monster and the robbers.  The super heroes punched the snow monster from inside his tummy.  The snow broke and the super heroes flew out.  Miss White had a book that told all the things that her magical necklace could do.  She looked up how to get rid of a snow monster. Miss White found that the only way to get rid of the monster was with fire.  The children said to the bad monster, “Miss White is going to put fire on you.”  The pearls shot fire at the monster, but it didn’t hurt anybody else.  The monster screamed because it was painful.  The fire police came and made a very humongous, humongous (the biggest in the world) campfire. (2F)

Ms. White touched her magical pearl necklace and said, “One of the jungle animals please trip the bad snow monster so he falls into the fire!”. Just then, two of the monkeys tied their tails together and ran in front of the snow monsters feet. They pulled their tails tight. The T-Rex stood near the fire and distracted the snow monster. The snow monster started to run towards the T-Rex. His feet tripped on the monkeys and he fell into the fire. He screamed as he melted away, “AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”. The fire police caught the robbers and took them to jail. The superheros were turned back to students when Ms. White rubbed her necklace again. They went back to doing their work. The jungle animals came out from the mountain cheering, “GOOD JOB, THANK YOU, YAAAAAAY!”. Before they left to go back to the jungle the animals gave the students a fun ride on their backs. Everyone said thank you to each other for helping.  (1P)

The first question my students asked when the story was complete? “When can we write another one?”

What are learning engagements you do to get your students excited about writing? We would love to hear your ideas, and it just so happens that we have a comment section!

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10 Books to Add to Your Class Library

I’ve been trying to find time to read more children’s book, which at times can be difficult, but it does make a huge difference when you’ve actually read the books that you are recommending and encouraging your students to read. These are some newer children’s book that I have in my classroom that I loved reading, and so did my students. These are books I would recommend for students in grades 4-6. Some of the content is a bit more mature and would be better for 5th grade and up. I won’t write super detailed synopsis reviews because you can find those on amazon and goodreads, but I’ll share how I recommend using them as a teacher!

Fantasy

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley-  My fifth grade class just finished this new book as our fantasy unit read aloud. There are great themes, metaphors, symbolism and figurative language in this story. The students loved this read aloud, and so will you, as you get sucked into the magic of believing in all that Circus Mirandus is about.

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Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan- This is a book I would recommend for your higher level readers. It is a historical fiction and fantasy book, and goes through different time periods, but weaves the stories all together through this one prophecy. If you have a student reading it, it would be good to check-in with them, and make sure they are understanding the plot and historical background.

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The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm-  This book integrates science so well into the story. Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist, has found a way to make himself young again, and transforms himself into a 13-year old boy. I used this book at the end of the year as a read aloud, which my students were enthusiastic about as well!

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Realistic Fiction

The Thing About Jelly Fish by Ali Benjamin- I just finished reading this book over my spring break, and I was lying next to my hotel pool in Thailand trying to not cry while I was finishing this book. This book also deals with some mature content. Suzy loses her best friend from a drowning and she deals with that grief and guilt she feels from treating her badly before she unexpectedly passes.

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Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt- If you need a new beginning of the year read-aloud and all of your students have already read Wonder, this is it. My students enjoyed this read aloud, which is about Ally, who has dyslexia, and struggles to do well in school and is also dealing with bullying. It has many similar themes as the book Wonder.

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Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan- This is another book I would recommend for the high readers in your class. The main character, Willow Chance, is a gifted child, and adopted. When she unexpectedly loses her adopted parents to a car crash, her world becomes drastically changed. She finds a new “family” as she deals with the grief and loss. She is a quirky character, that you really feel for, and root for. You won’t be disappointed.

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The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart – This is kind of like the kid’s version of The Fault in Our Stars, but with no big romantic storyline. The main character Mark gets cancer again and finds out he doesn’t have long to live.  Then, he decides to go on an unforgettable last adventure to Mt. Rainier with his dog as his sidekick. It’ll be a book that you and your students won’t be able to put down. It could also work as an end of the year read aloud.

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – I’m a huge fan of Katherine Applegate’s books like Home of the Brave and The One and Only Ivan. If you loved those books, you’ll like this one as well. This book is about a boy dealing with homelessness, so the topic is a bit more mature.

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Graphic Novel

El Deafo by CeCe Bell- This is a fun and fast read about a bunny who is deaf and needs to wear a hearing aid in school. The themes of fitting in and friendship will make it easy for students to relate to. My students couldn’t wait to borrow this book.

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Historical Fiction

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper- This is a moving story about an inquisitive and brave girl, Stella, who is living in the segregated south and witnesses the Ku Klux Klan in action. It would work great as a read aloud or if students read it independently, some preteaching on the historical time period would be helpful.

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What are some new books that you recommend for our classroom libraries? 

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Creating Landmarks out of Marshmallows

During our previous unit of inquiry my first graders discovered the world of maps. As part of their studies we learned about landforms and landmarks. In order to create a more hands on experience for them I decided to bring in marshmallows and toothpicks. I got this idea because it was the 100th day of school and my PYP coordinator told me that once she gave students 100 marshmallows and 100 toothpicks to create something… and I thought, why not landmarks?

Did I give them 100 marshmallows and 100 toothpicks? Uhh… no. But the fact that Korea now has affordable marshmallows available at Diaso (kind of like and up-scale dollar store), is incredible. Good job, Korea!

The students worked in pairs to create a landmark. They attempted to recreate the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, as well as make their own bridges, towers, and statues.

They loved every second of this learning engagement, even though I didn’t let them eat any of the marshmallows. (I am not a monster though, I let them eat some during snack.)

What are some of your favorite hands on learning engagements?

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“What can I do for my child at home?”

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The title of this post is the most frequent question I get from parents during parent/teacher conferences. It is the question I hear from almost every single parent who has a child learning English as their second, third, or fourth language.

For the past six years, my answer to that question has remained the same.

Read.

Read to your child, have your child read to you, have a baby-sitter read to your child, have your child read to a baby-sitter (or a sibling!), have your child read on their own. Read. Read. Read.

I have never done an official study on this, but I can tell you what I have seen happen in my classroom. This is my sixth year teaching in an international school setting and every year I have at least one or two students who start the year with no knowledge of the English language (this year I had four!). I also have students who speak very little English, or speak English as their second language. Most of my students fall into those three categories: No English, Some English, Multiple Languages. The beauty of international schools.

I have never had a child in my class who has not been able to learn to communicate in English by the end of the year through speaking, reading, and writing. But I have noticed that the students who grow the most in these skills, are students who read (and are read to) the most.

Reading builds vocabulary and permeates into every other subject.

Because I am in Korea and we lack a plethora of English books, especially at the beginner reader’s level, I introduce my students and their parents to http://www.kidsa-z.com. (I am grateful that this is a supplemental program my school invests in.)

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On the side… it is also important to note that being able to read doesn’t just mean you have the skills to sound out letters and blend them into a word. Reading is also about comprehension. It is essential to talk about what you read, and ask questions, and answer questions and all that jazz. When my students achieve a level of fluency where they have the skills of reading simple words and stories I  ask them what the book is about and encourage parents to get their child to talk about what they are reading at home.

If you have resources, such as websites, that work really well in your classroom or for your child at home, please share in the comments! We LOVE comments.

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*images courtesy http://www.pixabay.com

The Inquiry Cycle on Display

My new first grade teaching partner this year is going to teach me a lot of fun new things, I can already tell.

Here is a picture I took of her inquiry cycle board after our first six-week unit:

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Pretty amazing right? The students were able to see a visual fill up week by week as they journeyed through the inquiry cycle that is tuning in, finding out, sorting out, going further, making conclusions (reflection), and taking action.

I obviously had to create a board like this in my own room. Here is what it looks like after we  had our tuning in learning engagements for the first week of our Sharing the Planet unit with the central idea: Mini beasts play a role in our lives.

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While this is on the back wall of my room, my lines of inquiry, key concepts, etc. are displayed in front of the room:

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You’ll notice that under my central idea I have it translated into Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. I have students in my classroom who speak very little English, during this unit I had them guess what words they thought would be in our central idea, many of them said “mini beasts” and were very excited to hear what the central idea was, then when students heard it in their mother tongue they got even more excited.

The questions on post it notes are questions my students wrote when they came into our changed classroom atmosphere the first day of our unit. I love giving time for my students to ask questions!

How do you display your inquiry cycle in your PYP classroom? How do you have students ask and answer wondering questions?

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*Here is what my board looked like at the end of the unit!

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Building Community & Inferring

One of the many benefits in working in a big grade level team (13 fifth grade teachers) is that I’m always getting amazing new ideas for my classroom from my fellow colleagues. This year I put into place a new idea which I took from my colleague. One of my colleagues, Leigh, does this great inferring interactive bulletin board in her classroom. I saw this in her room and immediately asked her what it was all about.

She starts the year by decorating this board with different items and mementos that are important to her. She puts books, photos, awards, cards, notes that show who she is. Then she has students infer about what they learn about her. Then, weekly, different students take turns to post items on the board about themselves.

This is a great way to get students to infer and also to build community in the classroom. Here was my board that I created for the first week of school.

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Now that we have been in school for quite a few weeks, it’s been great seeing the board change as different students take over. During our community circle time in the morning, the students will share what they infer. The student will let us know if we are correct or not. It also allows us to ask some great questions and hear more from the lives of our students.

Do you have any great interactive bulletin board ideas that you do in your classroom? Please share with us! 

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