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Teaching silent reading voices to struggling readers (or all readers!) is a powerful tool to increase reading comprehension and fluency. As your students approach the upper grades, most reading time is spent reading to self. We teachers always emphasize the importance of letting students choose their own books and read to self, but what happens when students struggle with this skill?
If your students struggle to read to self, they may not be reading with an interacting silent reading voice (also known as your inner reading voice). For the purpose of this blog, I use inner voices, but when teaching students, I use the kid-friendly term silent reading voices.
What are Silent Reading Voices?
The Interacting Voice
Students who have an interacting inner voice while they read are actively engaged with their text. They might, for example, create a movie in their mind as they read, ask questions, visualize the characters in their story, and even create voices for the characters. Another part of this interaction is that students begin to infer, they stop to summarize, they notice cool words and phrases, they imagine the setting, and they even feel like they are a part of the story.
Most struggling readers haven’t developed an interacting voice and are stuck in the distracting voice or the reciting inner voice as they silent read.
The Distracting Voice
Students who have a distracting inner voice are often not engaged or focused on story. They forgot what they just read, they keep reading the same page over and over, they think of something else instead of the story, they skim or skip sections, they lose their place while reading, and they sometimes avoid reading time by asking to use the restroom.
The Reciting Voice
Students who have a reciting inner voice are sitting and reading the words, but they do not have an inner voice (typically because they don’t know how). They hear a narrator reading the story in their mind, but they just hear the words. Often, as the story unfolds, all the characters sound alike.
Why Some Students Haven’t Yet Developed an Interacting Inner Voice
Some students who haven’t naturally developed an interacting inner voice haven’t been taught what it is and haven’t had enough time to practice it. Most students start their reading journey by first learning to read out loud in the lower grades. As they read out loud, their reading fluency and comprehension are orally discussed with a teacher, and it’s the teacher who monitors or adjusts the student’s comprehension. However, as students get older, they are required to spend more time reading silently (without being taught the skills to do so in many cases). In addition, some struggling readers are not getting a lot of time to practice read to self due to interventions that occur during that time in the ELA block. Most intervention periods are spent reading aloud with the struggling reader. Pull-outs, push-ins, and small group interventions are usually teacher-led. Whether it’s a small group or an individual intervention, most of these students are required to read aloud with the adult. The reason for that is so that the adult can monitor fluency and oral comprehension. While this type of intervention is important, we also need to make sure that our struggling readers have sufficient time to practice their silent reading.
Reading silently with comprehension is the goal of every teacher. However, if you think about it, reading silently is an extremely complex task.
To understand the complexity of reading silently, it’s important to understand that comprehension while reading silently requires an integration of numerous skills and processes. These include word decoding and recognition (self explanatory), whole-text print processing (think inner voice, fluency, and prosody), and applying before, during, and after comprehension strategies (everything from activating prior knowledge to synthesizing the text).
So here’s the thing…when a struggling reader is in our classroom, there is a myriad of things we do to provide interventions. We typically provide them with interventions that include word recognition and decoding strategies. We offer many opportunities to practice fluency. I have even meticulously taught students every reading comprehension strategy that they should use before they read, while they read, and after they read. None of this is wrong. These are all very important interventions (or just great teaching) that you really must continue for all readers.
However, after further research, I realized one important step I was missing – explicitly teaching students about their inner reading voice. Personally, I think this is one of the first things students should be taught before you even give them the opportunity to start reading silently. They need to understand that their brains have a job to do while they read silently.
Most struggling readers don’t understand that reading is an active process.
How to Explicitly Teach Students to Turn On Their Interacting Inner Voice
The key to explicitly teaching students about their interacting inner voice is awareness. Students need to know that their inner voice is within them, they just need to turn it on.
To teach students about their inner reading voice (or silent reading voice), I explicitly model what each voice looks like.
-For the distracting voice, I model the student who is looking around the room and who re-reads the same page over and over. I share aloud things that would be going through a distracted brain (like what I am eating for dinner tonight, how I am going to do at my baseball game, etc.). Tell them exactly where you zoned out and started thinking about your baseball game. I explicitly teach all of this to students so that they understand what a distracting voice looks and feels like.
-Once I feel that students understand what a distracting voice would feel like in their own head, I move on to reciting voice. For this, the student may appear to be reading and comprehending on the outside, but it’s whats going on inside their brain that you need to emphasize. Talk to students about the fact that you are just reading the words. You are not visualizing or stopping to have a conversation with the text.
*For the above two voices, you may want to emphasize that:
The inner voice inside the reader’s head has stopped or never started.
Only the reader’s voice is heard pronouncing the words.
The movie inside the reader’s head has stopped or never started.
The reader is no longer visualizing what’s happening.
The reader’s mind begins to wander.
The reader starts thinking about things that have nothing to do with the text.
The reader can’t remember what they read.
The reader can’t retell what they read.
The reader can’t remember the characters, even though they are reappearing throughout the text.
-Last, explicitly teach and model for students what the interacting voice looks and sounds like. Get a short passage out and read it for students. Stop at different parts and explain to them the movie you are making in your mind. Imagine what the setting might look like, start wondering things out loud so that they can hear you, notice cool words and phrases or figurative language at certain parts, give the characters voices, talk about what you think the character might be wearing, thinking, feeling, etc. Do all of this out loud, but explain to students that this is what happens quietly inside their brain.
For some students this may come automatically, but for many, this needs to be explicitly taught. As you release responsibility to your students, grab those struggling readers and let them silent read near you. Stop them at certain times and ask them what their inner voice was saying to them at that moment. You can even start small by focusing first on making the movie in their mind, then moving on to questioning, a character’s physical traits, a character’s personality traits, and then slowly work your way toward asking them about cool words and phrases and some of the higher-level thinking strategies like inferring and synthesizing.
Here are some questions you should ask your students to see if they have a working inner voice while they read silently:
What pictures do you see in your mind as you read?
What’s the setting of your story? Can you explain where your characters are at right now?
What’s the main characters name? What is he wearing right now?
How is the main character different from the other characters?
Do your characters talk differently? Do any of them have accents?
What questions do you have about what you just read?
What are you wondering right now?
What do you think is going to happen next?
Why do you think that just happened?
Can you tell me 5 things that just happened?
What do you think the characters are going to do next?
How will the characters solve their problem? What makes you think that?
Did you notice any cool words while you were reading?
The conversations you can have with your students to encourage their inner voice are endless.
Summarizing informational text has several uses for students. It teaches them to determine the most important ideas in a text, ignore unimportant information, and connect the main idea and key details of a text in a logical way. Summarizing also helps improve memory and comprehension of a text because students are required to focus on only the most important points.
What is a summary?
A text summary is a brief account or shortened version of the important parts of a text. In an informational text, the summary should only include the text’s main idea and key details in a student’s own words. Therefore, a summary will not include a student’s personal opinions or unimportant information.
The strategy below will help you simply and easily teach summarizing informational text.
How to Write Your Summary Paragraph:
T – Text Type: In this text, (article, newspaper, passage, etc.)
A – Author: the author (or use the author’s name)
A – Action: explains (or describes, argues, tells, teaches, etc.)
M – Main Idea: write the main idea of the text
I – Important or Key Details: add the important or key details that support the main idea
O – Organization: follow the organization of the text when writing your summary (include relevant transition words)
I included this free poster and a free graphic organizer for students to organize each part of the TAAMIO strategy that will make up their final summary.
In order to get students to successfully write each part of TAAMIO, there are a few things you should work on with students. I call this the planning stage of writing a summary. Use the graphic organizer included in this freebie to guide your students.
For the purpose of this blog post, I used a passage from my Summarizing Differentiated Passages and Questions found HERE. This passage is titled, Cashing in on Comic Books.
You can hand out a copy of the text to each student to work together with them whole group. Remember, these passages are differentiated, so you can even do this work in small groups ahead of time, then come back together to write the summary together as a class. Or, you can blow this text up to work together with your students using the shared reading strategy.
T, A, and A:
To begin with, the T, A, and A should be fairly simple and straightforward for students. They simply identify the text type, the author, and an action word to begin the first sentence of their summary. As students continue practicing this, they will begin to do it automatically.
In this text, the author explains…
Next, students will work to write the “meat” of the summary (the M, I, and the O).
Read on to see how I break down each step for students.
M: Main Idea
The next step is to determine the main idea. The main idea is what the text is mostly about. To write an effective summary, your students must be able to determine a main idea as a starting point (which is why I teach this skill before summarizing). You can check out my Main Idea and Key Details Differentiated Passages and Questions HERE.
If your students need additional help to determine the main idea, you can use the questions below to start a discussion with your students.
While reading the text, work together with your students to answer the questions below.
Look at this first paragraph of the text.
What topic is the author introducing or explaining?
What is the author saying about the topic?
Does the author explicitly state the main idea in the first sentence?
Does the author explicitly state the main idea in the last sentence?
Look at the last paragraph
Does the author explicitly state the main idea anywhere in this paragraph?
What is the author saying to summarize or conclude the text?
Find a common topic and write it down
What is a common topic discussed in each paragraph?
What is the author saying about that topic?
What is one sentence that describes what the author wants you to learn while reading about the topic?
These questions above will help guide your students to determine the main idea of the entire text.
In the passage, Cashing in on Comic Books, the main idea is that a comic book’s rarity, popularity, and condition are the main factors that determine its value.
Once students have determined the main idea, they now have the T, A, A, and M of TAAMIO. When they put these together, they have a great topic sentence of their summary paragraph as follows:
In the text, the author explains a comic book’s rarity, popularity, and condition are the main factors that determine its value.
I: Important or Key Details
The next step when teaching your students to write an informational text summary is teaching them about important or key details. This step is the I in TAAMIO.
What are key details?
Key details are any facts, examples, reasons, or information that support or explain a main idea.
It’s important that students understand that within a text, there will also be unimportant details. Many students tend to include unimportant details in a summary, so it is important that you teach the difference between key details and unimportant details. Once your students have a firm understanding of what key details are, teach them about unimportant details.
What are unimportant details?
Unimportant details are any details or ideas from the text that aren’t necessary to help a reader understand the main idea.
If students are struggling to determine key details vs. unimportant details, then have them answer this question:
“Does this detail help a reader understand the main idea?”
Let’s look at a paragraph from our original text to practice. Again, since this may be a tough concept for students to understand, you may want to do a shared reading. You can either blow the text up as a large poster or project it on your board.
Work together with students to identify the key details vs. unimportant details from the text. Highlight the key details in one color and the unimportant details in another color. For this text, key details are highlighted in green, and unimportant details are highlighted in blue.
MAIN IDEA: A comic book’s rarity, popularity, and condition are the main factors that determine its value.
As you are going through each sentence in this paragraph, keep repeating this question: Does this detail help a reader understand the main idea? While some students may understand this right away, others may need additional help and reinforcement. Remember, you must do this for the entire text. Start by doing one or two paragraphs with your students, then gradually release responsibility to them to finish the text.
As you go through the entire text, you should work with students to narrow down the important details that support the main idea. Before going to your graphic organizer to write the important details, you first must talk to your students about the points outlined below.
Don’t include your own opinions
Since summaries should only include the key details in a text, students should omit their own personal opinions or views about the text. Students can get practice with this in my Summarizing Informational Text Differentiated Passages and Questions HERE. In this resource, I provide students with the opportunity to read completed summaries and identify those that contain personal opinions. It’s important that you provide students with the opportunity to practice this skill so that they understand when they do it.
Use your own words
When students are summarizing, they should not copy the text. Instead, they need to paraphrase. In addition, they should try, when possible, to condense several key details into a single, concise sentence. Explain to students that they need to put each key detail in their own words and combine any key details that are related.
I recommend printing this paraphrasing organizer on the back of the TAAMIO graphic organizer. That way, students can flip back and forth to each page as they are putting together the pieces of their summary.
Below is an example from Cashing in on Comic Books.
Important details from the text:Even if a comic book is old and popular, it won’t be worth much if it isn’t in good condition. In order to keep it’s value, a comic book must not have any creases or tears. The pages should be free from scribbles, and the color should be vivid, not faded or yellowed.
Paraphrased: In order to be valuable, a comic book also has to be in good condition meaning it should be free from creases, scribbles, or tears and have vivid color.
*This paraphrased sentence is now ready to be used as an important or key detail in our final summary.
Continue to do this for the entire passage. You can break it down paragraph by paragraph for students so that they understand the concept.
After students have identified and paraphrased the important or key details that support the main idea, they now have the I completed in TAAMIO.
O: Follow the text structure
Students should understand that the text structure of a text will help them organize their summary. A summary should be organized using the same structure as the original piece. For example, if the text has a sequence text structure, the summary should state the main idea and present the key details in chronological order. Also, students should use transition words in their summaries that help readers understand how the events are connected or related.
Our original passage, Cashing in on Comic Books, uses a description text structure. Description passages often use examples or descriptive words to explain a topic, concept, or idea. Description passages often use transition words like: for example, another reason, also, etc. Students should use similar transition words as the original text to help connect the important details of their summary. You can see in the picture below that there is space on the graphic organizer for students to identify the text structure and to write any necessary transition words.
If your students need additional help practicing text structure, you can check out my Text Structure Differentiated Passages and Questions (coming soon…).
Put it all together
Now that students have completed each part of TAAMIO, they can write their summary.
Make sure you visually break down each step for students so they understand:
In this text (T), the author (A) explains (A) that a comic book’s rarity, population, and condition are the main factors that determine its value (M). For example (O), a rare Superman comic sold for $3.2 million because there are only 50-100 copes that exist (I). A comic might be popular if it introduces a new character, has a connection to a movie, or has drawings by a well-loved artist (I). In order to be valuable, a comic book also (O) has to be in good condition meaning it should be free from creases, scribbles, or tears and have vivid color (I).
While helping students put together all the steps to write their summary, make sure you emphasize what makes a good summary. You can refer to the anchor chart below to help teach this concept.
Once students feel comfortable and are ready to practice on their own, you can pass out the checklists for students to use to check their own summaries. These checklists are found in my freebie found here.
Now that students understand each step of writing an informational text summary, you have to let students practice this skill. The more students practice, the better they will get at writing informational text summaries.
Click HERE or the button below to check out my Summarizing Informational Text Differentiated Passages and Questions.
I’m here to share 9 tips to help students with hyperactivity, ADHD, or other attention needs in your classroom.
School can be a difficult place for students with hyperactivity, ADHD, or other attention needs. Their academic success depends heavily on their ability to pay attention and control behavior and impulses.
Children with attention needs or hyperactivity are in constant motion both physically and mentally. They often find it very difficult to complete or start long assignments due to the extended period of focus and sitting that is required of them. Remember, these behaviors are not a choice for the student. They are symptoms of a brain-based disorder. Simply telling these students to stop talking, sit still, or calm down, is not helpful, productive, or fair to the student. The student would love to simply follow your commands, but they can’t help themselves. Students with hyperactivity or attention needs sometimes lack impulse control and often struggle to focus and self-monitor. However, if you proactively implement a few simple strategies, you could see a major difference in these students’ achievement levels.
Tip #1: Don’t Make Assumptions
One of the biggest mistakes that I made early on as a teacher was making assumptions about students with hyperactivity, ADHD, or other attention needs. When I learned that one of my new students had particular attention needs, I immediately thought I knew the problem and started differentiating for the student. That strategy was very frustrating for both of us.
Over the years, I learned to closely observe my students to figure out what specific things were hard for him or her. For example, one student may have trouble starting a new task, another student might lack the attention to focus on any one task long enough to complete it, another student might have trouble multi-tasking, another student might struggle to remember what they need to do, some students may struggle with prioritizing and staying organized, etc. Each student is different and has different needs. Learn about your students, try different interventions, and use data to determine if the intervention is working.
Tip #2: Use High-Interest and/or Student-Selected Material During Reading/ELA
Reading tasks can be particularly tough for students with attention needs or hyperactivity. Reading involves sustained periods of attention and inactivity, both of which are especially difficult for learners with attention needs or hyperactivity. To overcome this, use only high-interest reading materials that students have selected for themselves. It can be comics, graphic novels, magazines, funny or interesting articles, etc. If you make the reading tasks enjoyable and short, attention and focus will stay high, and comprehension will improve.
To get the best high-interest reading material in front of your students, give each student a reading inventory to figure out what reading material they would like, their strengths, who they are as a reader, etc. I have one available for free HERE.
Once you figure out the students’ interests, you can obtain some of these reading materials on your own, encourage students to bring their own, reach out to parents, PTA, etc. for donations, or check out books from your local library in a pinch. Remember, the material doesn’t have to be a book. This is a good time to get creative and let them read something that doesn’t feel like an assignment.
Tip #3: Make Lists and Help Students Prioritize
This is self-explanatory. If your students easily forget things, become overwhelmed with multi-tasking, can’t keep track of assignments, or are having trouble prioritizing, come up with a system for them. Log all assignments in a planner or list and prioritize the assignments so they understand exactly what they should be doing in class and at home. You may even need to go a step further for students and write out the step-by-step process for completing one assignment. It’s very easy to sneak over to a student’s desk to write out three to four steps for them to follow after you have explained the assignment to the class.
Regularly check their list/planner to update and organize to-dos for them. Also, if needed, get parent signatures on student planners each day so that parents are informed and involved.
Below is an example of a list I used with my students. I laminated these lists so that students could re-use them each day. Depending on what your student feels comfortable with, you can either tape the list to the corner of their desk or let them put it inside their desk so that it’s a bit more discreet. You can click HERE to grab this free resource.
You can also hand them out to students for individual assignments. Some students may need step-by-step directions written out for individual assignments.
Tip #4: Use Incremental Goals (aka small wins)
Video games use this trick to get people hooked. A typical video game uses a feedback loop of action –> reward that keeps you coming back for more. It’s easy and pleasurable to get the reward, which is why your kids keep coming back to it. Use this same psychology with your next lesson, assignment, or project by creating small objectives that they can cross off as they complete them.
The human brain is wired to pursue rewarding behavior, but unfortunately, our brains take the path of least resistance to that rewarding feeling. Finishing a difficult project will activate the reward center of our brain. However, most people would rather settle for the easier options such as watching a TV show or browsing the internet because they provide the same rewarding feeling with less energy and stress. Sometimes, the only motivation to do a difficult task is when our stress hormones increase to panic levels. Using incremental goals will motivate your students to complete assignments for enjoyment and pleasure instead of just pure stress avoidance.
For example, if you assign fraction practice problems, you could create an achievement list with several objectives.
You could even take this information and make badges of the newly earned titles for students to keep, display, etc. This is a simple way to get students to feel like they are earning something. It gives purpose to the assignment and helps motivate them to achieve the goal.
Tip #5: Special Seating
I’ve found that my students with hyperactivity, ADHD, or attention needs do best when they have a special seat of their own. Many teachers use flexible seating which is also a wonderful way to meet particular students’ needs. You have to do what works best for you and your students.
I always offer my students with ADHD or attention needs other seating arrangements to see what they would like best. I never force them to sit by me or sit alone. However, I will say, that when students are given the opportunity to either sit by me or sit alone, they love it! It’s almost like extra-special treatment! When students sit alone by me, they get their own quiet area free of distractions from other students. Also, try to orient their seat away from windows, doors, and other students to eliminate visual distractions as well. This arrangement also helps because it allows you to easily check on the student to ensure they understand instructions and are able to start assignments on their own.
Tip #6: Allow Time for Movement
Students with hyperactivity, ADHD, or attention needs have to move, so let them. However, try to facilitate this movement, so it causes the least amount of distraction as possible. If the student must tap or click pencils, etc. try to find some type of fidget object (fidget toy, fidget bands, etc.) that they can use at their seat that makes no sound. Also, depending on your student’s needs, allow them dedicated time to get up from their seat, exit the classroom, and move. You can build brain breaks into your day, they can go on a quick walk to the drinking fountain, they can do jumping jacks in place, etc.
Tip #7: Redirect Attention-Seeking Behavior
To me, attention-seeking behavior indicates that a student needs help learning to get their needs met in a better way. I think it’s more appropriate to change the label to connection seeking behavior. Our students are really just seeking a connection with you and their classmates, and they are lacking the feeling of belonging or the significance that they need. In their mind, negative attention is better than no attention. So help them meet their needs in a constructive way.
When the child is acting out, validate their feelings and support them. Try to redirect the negative behavior with positive connection-building activities. When a student is acting out, call them up to the board and have them help you teach or explain a concept, answer a question, or help you with any other task. Remember not to lose your temper and react to these students. Giving them a job makes them feel significant and seen.
Tip #8: Build and Maintain Strong Routines
For students with hyperactivity or attention needs, it is critical to build strong routines. Students thrive on predictability and structure, and they thrive in an environment where expectations are known and reinforced. In this same vein, you also need to communicate changes in the routine well in advance so students have time to process the change. It also helps to have a visual display of the schedule posted somewhere. If necessary, it could really help a student to have the schedule posted to their desk to reinforce the routine.
Tip #9: Incorporate Literature
The best thing you can do is make your students know and understand that it is okay to be different. One of the best ways you can do this is through the use of picture books. One of my favorite picture books is Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds.
In addition, it’s important to teach inclusion to all of your students. You can promote kindness and understanding in your classroom with books like Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller.
Whether it was my first year or my fourth year teaching, Meet the Teacher Open House night was always such a big source of stress. Sure, I’m excited to meet my new students, but making a good impression for parents always made me a bit nervous. However, over the years, I developed so many great materials and activities that the night actually became a lot of fun. If you have a Meet the Teacher Open House night coming up, don’t fret – you got this. The tips I share in this blog will help you impress parents and breeze through the night. If you are looking for materials for your Meet the Teacher Open House night, I’ve got those for you, too. Everything discussed below can be found in my editable Meet the Teacher resource found HERE.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, my first tip for Meet the Teacher Open House night is to let your personality shine through! Be you so that students and their families can truly get to know you and see that you are a person who cares about their child. In order to do this, you need time to dedicate to each family so that you can have meaningful conversations. That brings me to my second tip. Don’t assume that you’ll have enough time to spend with families. You have to make time, because Meet the Teacher Open House night will pull you in a million directions if you let it.
So how do you make time for yourself? Simple – organize your classroom so that students and their families automatically know what to do without any direction or assistance from you. I do this with station signs that direct “traffic” and let everyone know exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
Another tip is to set out fresh flowers at your sign-in sheet. I got these hydrangeas at Trader Joe’s for $4.99. It’s a simple touch that sets the tone for the evening.
Station signs should clearly direct students and parents around your room so they don’t need assistance from you. Again, this will free you up to give enough attention to each family. These station signs you see above (along with all of the other printables) can be found in my Meet the Teacher resource. Also, they are editable so that you can change the text to fit your classroom. In addition, I used standing alligator clips found below to stand them up on tables.
Once you have your signs organized and place throughout the room, it’s important that you create a Meet the Teacher letter prior to the evening. This is something you can easily create using my Meet the Teacher letter editable template. It’s a great way to introduce yourself and share some of your personal information. It’s also an icebreaker because it shares a lot of details that make great conversation starters. Parents love to talk about the college you went to, your family and children, etc.
Below is a close-up of my editable Meet the Teacher letter template. You can edit the text to share personal information with your students and families! Click HERE to check it out.
Another thing you can do to have a successful night is get parents involved. I provide parents with a detailed parent letter outlining my classroom policies and expectations. In addition, I always like to include some helpful tips for parents that they can use to get their child prepared for school each day.
In order to learn more about my students, I also like to set out a parent questionnaire. There is no one that knows your students more than their parents. This questionnaire will provide you with a lot of great information and show parents that you care and appreciate their input.
Meet the Teacher Open House night is an opportunity to gather other important information to help your year run smoothly. Two very important forms that will help you manage your class effectively include a transportation form and a volunteer form. You don’t want to be caught with a crying student who doesn’t know how to get home, and you don’t want to be scrambling for volunteers when you need them. Getting this info before the year starts is a lifesaver.
By providing parents with a volunteer form, you are more likely to increase parent involvement and encourage parents and other family members to volunteer in your classroom.
One of my favorite areas of my classroom during Meet the Teacher Night or Open House is my supply donation area. I always find so many students and their families gathered around this area. I used to feel bad asking for things like this, but each year I always found that parents are so happy and willing to help.
Here is a display I’ve done in the past. Families can take a supply off the display to donate to your classroom. The large sign and all of the small supply circles can be found in my editable Meet the Teacher resource found HERE. Also, you can get this wired frame on Amazon to use in your own classroom below!
Another activity I do on Meet the Teacher Open House night is a school-wide scavenger hunt. This is another creative way to free yourself up to meet with families. In addition, it gets students and their families out into the other areas of your school to meet other staff members.
I remember talking to our librarian and gym teacher one year, and they both said that they were always bummed during this night because no one came to visit them. They are such an important part of our learning community, and it’s so important that parents and guardians meet them and other staff members throughout the building. In addition, students can show parents or guardians different places around the school like our office, cafeteria, art room, etc.
Another important thing to remember is that this night shouldn’t just be about parents. It should be about students, too!
You can do a coloring station for students with bookmarks. It’s important to prep this station so that it is ready to go when students arrive.
This is a great way to welcome students into your classroom and give them something to call their own! I created these editable bookmarks with a coloring page on one side and their name printed on the other side. They find their name, and color the back of the bookmark.
Students can bring their bookmark back on the first day of school to use with their just right reading books. Or, you can have your students leave their bookmarks. You can laminate them, put a ribbon on them, and set them out at their seats for the first day of school.
Another thing I like to do on Meet the Teacher Open House night is to provide families with explicit information about my classroom. This includes things like the schedule, expectations, grading policy, homework, etc. Most parents will ask about your rules and procedures, so it will help if you have it prepared ahead of time so you can direct them to your materials.
In my Meet the Teacher resource, I have included both a no-cut flip book and a brochure. You can choose to edit both and hand out both to parents or you can pick one and hand out one on your evening.
Are you looking for a fun test prep idea for 4th and 5th grade math? Switch things up with a Tic-Tac-Toe relay race during your test prep or testing time. You can use my Color by Number for Big Kids resource that I have for both 4th grade and 5th grade or any set of task cards to play this fun game!
This is a great game to even take outside on a warm day when your kids are getting a bit squirrely, or you can even play it in the gym!
To play Tic-Tac-Toe, all you need is large hula hoops (or some other item for students to be able to get three in a row), balls (or different colored objects for the X’s and O’s), Color By Number for Big Kids task cards, and white boards with markers for students to solve the problems.
#goals is this amazing inflatable Tic-Tac-Toe game! This would be great to use instead of the large hula hoops! Below is the link to this inflatable.
Here is how to play:
This fun test prep idea comes from @miss5th, and she even shared a video of her students using my Color By Number for Big Kids to play Tic-Tac-Toe outside!
In addition to being a fun way to test prep, this Color by Number for Big Kids relay race and tic-tac-toe game will help you teach to the unique learning styles and intelligences of your students. Below, you can see how this game benefits each students’ unique learning style.
Click HERE or the button below to check these resources out!
During test prep and test time, our students could use a little encouragement and motivation. This time can be so stressful for students and teachers. I’ve found that coloring pages with motivational quotes can really help students during the testing season.
You can give them to your students ahead of time to help ease their minds before the test begins. Coloring is a relaxing activity that will help calm jittery students.
After the Test:
You can also give them to students after the test. These work great after the test when you have to keep students quiet for a bit longer. In addition, they are a great stress-free and fun activity to help them unwind after the test.
They also make a beautiful hallway or classroom display!
By clicking the preview, you can download one for FREE! Click HERE or the button below.
Okay, everyone, I want to discuss theme to help you teach it in your classroom. In the upper grades, your students are no longer reading fables with clearly stated morals or lessons. Your students must read a fiction story and determine a theme (message or lesson), which is not explicitly stated.
In this post, I will share a step-by-step process to teach theme in the upper grades, and I will also provide you with anchor charts, printable posters, and mentor texts to help your students determine theme.
Before I get into my post, I must include a caveat.
I feel compelled to blog about theme because I see that there is a lot of confusion about this concept, and the definition is often debated. You either teach students that:
Definition #1: Theme is a single word that explains what a story is about (e.g., love, friendship, jealousy, etc.).
Definition #2: Theme is a lesson or message from the story that students can apply to their own life (e.g., Honesty is the best policy, It hurts when you exclude others, etc.).
I’m not here to debtate or decide which definition is right or wrong. Instead, I will share my research with you, explain why I teach definition #2, and provide some tools to help you make an informed decision for your students.
I have seen professional and academic texts call definition #1 several things, including a topic, a thematic concept, a motif, the genre, and even the subject of the story.¹ The same professional and academic texts often refer to definition #2 as a work’s thematic statement, or simply, it’s theme. Definition #1 is not technically wrong, but it’s not the definition I teach.
I teach definition #2 for two main reasons. First, after some extensive research, it’s the definition adopted by the standards in many states. For some of my research, I went through the glossary of terms of quite of a few state’s standards, which I have highlighted for you in the image below.
I also teach this definition of theme because it requires students to perform higher-level thinking and engage in a deeper level of reading comprehension instead of just telling me common topics of a story.
With that caveat, below are the steps I use to teach theme to students.
Step 1: Define It (in student-friendly language)
Students need to know what theme is before they can reliably find it in a text. So you need to define it for students in a language that they can understand. I teach my students that theme is the message or lesson from the story that you can apply to your own life.
It’s the lesson or message the author wants you to learn from the story.
The author won’t explicitly state it – you often have to infer the theme.
There can be more than one theme.
It’s not specific to the story you’re reading.
The theme of a story is universal. It applies to everyone.
You can use these big ideas to work with your students to create an anchor chart together. Below is an example of an anchor chart that you can create with your students.
I’ve also created this anchor chart (and every other anchor chart below) in a printable version so that you can use it in your classroom with your students to help guide your teaching. Just click HERE to grab this free printable anchor chart.
In addition to going over the definition with students, you can see that I also touched on a great mentor text. You can read more about how we used this mentor text below.
It’s important to not get confused by competing definitions or inaccurate resources. In addition to the example above from The Invisible Boy, single words like jealousy, persistance, and love are also NOT themes because there is no message. Those single words are probably better described as subjects or topics of stories. You can read more about this below.
“You can achieve your goals with hard work” or “love has the power to change your life”…now those are some themes on which you can build a story! Also, don’t confuse theme with story genres, patterns of events, or conflicts. Coming of age (pattern of events) and good vs. evil (conflict) are not themes because they say nothing about life or the human condition, and there is no message.
Step 2: Read a Mentor Text as a Class
Once we define theme as a class, I then use a mentor text to introduce the concept.
I read The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.
The Invisible Boy is a great book to teach theme because students can easily relate to its message and apply it to their own lives.
In addition to The Invisible Boy, below is a list of many other mentor texts you can use with your students.
Click HERE to download the free list of Theme Mentor Texts below. You can then click each picture to be directed to the book to check it out for yourself.
Step 3: Find the Topics of the Story
Now that students have a solid understanding of what theme is, and they have had the chance to be exposed to a great mentor text, begin the active engagement portion of your lesson by finding topics of the story.
Topics are the subject matter addressed in the story. They are typically one word and will tell students what a story is mostly about in a word or two. The list of topics that you create will help guide your students to find a theme. The theme of a story will be the message or lesson the author wants the reader to understand about that topic.
To help students build this list of topics, start a discussion about the mentor text. Talk to students about the main character, what the main character went through, how the main character responded to the problem, etc.
Then, ask students: “What is this story about?” or “Tell me what this story is about in a word or two.”
At this point, you can create an anchor chart with students to highlight the difference between topic and theme. Below is an example of an anchor chart that you can create with your students.
I have also created this FREE printable that you can give to your students while they are gathered on the carpet. This printable will help students to identify the different topics in the story. Click HERE to download the free printable.
Remember, at this point, make sure your students understand that these words and phrases are not themes because there is no message or lesson yet.
Work with your students to create a list of responses. Keep going until you have a number of good topics.
Step 4: Turn Topics into Themes
Now that you and your students have come up with appropriate topics from your mentor text, you can use these topics to find themes.
Pick one topic and start a discussion about it. For example, ask students: “What is the story trying to teaching you (not Brian’s classmates) about exluding others?” Allow students some think time, and then ask students to answer this question. By answering this question, they are coming up with themes. Then, continue these questions about each of the topics. As your conversation continues, you can tell students that they are finding themes by thinking about the message or lesson the story is teaching them about each of these topics.
Sometimes, students still might give responses that are specific to the story, such as: “Brian’s classmates shouldn’t have excluded him from the party.” These responses are the main idea because they tell you what the story is mostly about instead of the message or lesson the story is trying to teach you.
If this happens, repeat the question: “And what does that teach you about excluding others?”
Step 5: Discuss the Difference Between Main Ideas and Theme
If your students are still struggling to think big picture, you can take the text-specific short summaries (main ideas) that they give you and turn them into themes (universal) so that they can see the difference between the two concepts.
Below is an example of an anchor chart that you can create with your students to highlight the difference between main ideas and theme.
If your students are still struggling, below is a list of additional questions to help students reflect on the story and focus on the message. You can also find these questions on the above free Determining Theme Printable Anchor Chart found HERE.
How did the character respond to the conflict or challenge? Did the character make a good choice or a bad choice? What happened to the character as a result? What can you learn from that character’s decision?
Did the character learn anything from their decision(s)? How can you apply that to your own life?
Would you do the same thing as the character? Why or why not? What do you think the author is trying to teach you from the events of the story?
These questions are also great for your students who need additional interventions. When you pull your small groups, use these questions to help guide your discussions.
Step 6: Allow Students Time for Independent Practice
The last step in the lesson is to allow students the opportunity to practice with their self-selected books. If necessary, provide each student with a set of printable discussion questions and printable anchor charts to help them determine the theme. In addition, use this time to conference with students to make sure they truly understand what theme is.
Since it may be tough to get a great mentor text for each one of your students in your small groups, you can use my Determining Theme: Differentiated Reading Passages and Questions. These are a great resource to use when practicing theme with your students because the passages are already leveled and differentiated for your students. They can comprehend the text at their level.
As educators, we all know that having students passively learn facts and information and then regurgitating those facts for a test or quiz is not sufficient. It does not prepare our students for the real world. Instead, we need to allow our students opportunities to LEARN BY DOING. Project-based learning structures curriculum around real-world projects that require students to solve multi-step problems or asks them complex questions that they have to answer. Connecting academic situations to the real world is one of the biggest benefits of project-based learning. It shifts the focus from teacher teaching to student learning.
By allowing your students to investigate and respond to authentic and engaging real-world problems, you are encouraging them to become independent workers, critical thinkers, and lifelong learners. For students to be successful in life, they need to be able to think critically and solve problems. Project-based learning encourages students to be critical thinkers who are highly capable of solving real-life problems that they are likely to encounter throughout their lives. This collaboration is so important for our students’ both in and out of the classroom.
The Benefits of Project-Based Learning
Below is an infographic to help you understand the difference between projects and project-based learning. It’s important to understand that there may be room for both in your classroom.
Here are some examples of different project-based learning activities that your students can work through independently or together with a group. Remember, projects don’t have to be overwhelming and stressful. Instead, they are a great opportunity for students to be creative and have fun.
For the most part, reasoning, deducing, inferring, and critical thinking are not skills that come naturally to our students. Rather, they must be nurtured and developed. We want our students to become critical thinkers so they can reason and apply logic to solve novel problems throughout their lives. These skills will set them up to be the scientists, engineers, researchers, and educators of tomorrow. Unfortunately, these skills are often lacking in many of our students.
Research shows that critical thinking ability is not widespread in students and that many scored poorly on assessments that required them to recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments, and make inferences. I have also seen this when my own students were faced with questions that asked them to infer, analyze arguments, and solve problems with a given set of rules.
The good news is that through practice, students can develop the tools to think critically.
Logic puzzles are a great tool because they stimulate the area of our students’ brains that help them to reason and think critically.
I get it. We barely have enough time to teach the required standards, let alone reinforce another skill. So, that’s why I want to share my Logic Puzzles and Brain Busters. The great thing about this resource is that it’s cross-curricular. It will hit the important critical thinking and reasoning skills (inductive, deductive, problem solving, etc.), and also reinforce important math concepts.
My Logic Games and Brain Busters include a variety of activities to rev up your students’ brains. A few puzzles contain pure logic-based clues that don’t require any prior knowledge.
Other puzzles require your students to apply their knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, geometry, digital time, and algebra along with their reasoning skills to solve problems.
They are perfect to pass out to your students at any time throughout the year.
These logic puzzles will require your students to apply a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning that is challenging enough to stimulate their thinking, but straight-forward so that they will be successful.
Click HERE or the button below to check them out. You can download the preview to see the entire resource!
I’m here to share some secrets of successful classroom management. They are some of the simplest things you can do to have better classroom management, yet some teachers often forget to do them.
The first secret – believe in your students, and let them know it.
It’s important that students know that you care about them and that you are there for them. It’s also important that students know that you only want THE BEST for them.
It may seem obvious that students achieve at higher levels when teachers believe in them, but what’s incredible is the way in which it can change a students’ entire path and achievement levels. According to a 1968 study by Rosenthal and Jacobs, students whose teachers believed in them were far more effective in all areas of academics and behaviors than students of teachers who didn’t believe in them. When students know that you have their best interests at heart and that they can trust you, they become extremely motivated in your classroom.
Teachers can show they believe in students in a number of different ways. The easiest way to do this is by simply using encouraging words. You can watch a phenomenal teacher demonstrate this below as he provides encouraging words to each one of his students.
Teacher starts each day with compliments for every kid - YouTube
You can tell a student a positive message throughout any part of the day. You can leave positive notes on their desks when they arrive first thing in the morning. You can send positive notes home for students to share with their parents. You can give the notes as a reward when students have given effort or as encouragement when students are disappointed despite giving effort on a test or assessment.
It’s easy to remember to provide encouraging words to students who are motivated, on task, or learn concepts easily. I know it can be tough on days when you feel like a particular student is trying to test your patience. It’s especially tough to communicate this to students who appear unmotivated or who are struggling with particular concepts. But these students are often the ones who need to hear it the most. Remember, though, every student needs to hear it.
The second secret to successful classroom management is to encourage a growth mindset in each of your students.
While it’s extremely important that teachers encourage students in order for them to be motivated in their classrooms, students also have to have the right mindset. The importance of mindset (specifically a growth mindset) is a simple idea coined by Carol Dwecke, a Stanford Psychologist. Her decades of research on achievement and success in academia and the business world led her to the conclusion that mindset makes all the difference. Those who believe intelligence is static (or a have a fixed mindset) will choose to “look smart” rather than try to be smarter. This behavior leads students to avoid challenges, give up easily when things become difficult, ignore useful feedback, fear making mistakes, and feel threatened by the success of others. However, students who believe that intelligence can be improved (or have a growth mindset), desire to learn and become smarter. This behavior leads them to embrace challenges, persist despite setbacks, see effort and practice as a way to master something, learn from criticism, and understand that mistakes help them learn and grow. The right mindset helps a student’s motivation, effort, self-confidence, and creativity. Throughout the year, you may find students who believe they aren’t smart and that there is nothing they can do to change it. Changing that fixed mindset in the classroom can literally change those students lives.
When students give the impression that a concept or problem is a constant struggle for them, tell them that “struggling is good.” Every time they try to solve that problem, they will struggle less and become smarter by practicing. They may ask a lot of questions or keep saying they are stuck. These students may have even had bad learning experiences with negative messages in the past. These students are typically suffering from a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, students typically believe that their intelligence or talents are a fixed trait. They believe they are who they are and they will never be able to change this. They are often scared to take risks or get anything wrong. This doesn’t mean that these students can’t achieve great things. The opposite is true. With good teaching, positive messages, and most importantly, high expectations and encouraging words from their teachers, they can excel. You can be that person who turns things around for that struggling student.
We have to teach our students that it’s okay to fail and not be afraid of it, as long as they give their best effort and understand that failing is a part of learning and growing. We have to let our students know that we aren’t going to coddle them and hold their hands through tough assignments because we want them to struggle. Struggling leads to growth. Students have to know that they are truly on their own and that they need to give a lot of commitment and effort to tackle tough tasks. We have to hold our expectations high.
You can grab these Growth Mindset Coloring Pages by clicking HERE or the button below. I created these coloring pages to provide you with a tool to establish and reinforce growth mindset in each of your students. You can pass out these pages at any time of the year to remind students that mistakes are good, challenges help us grow, trying hard makes us smarter, etc. These concepts are so simple, yet so powerful. Make sure you download the preview to get one free page to use with your students!
It’s important to remember that both a fixed mindset and teachers’ reluctance to allow students to learn hard lessons is what zaps the motivation out of these students. It fills them with boredom, and is absolutely exhausting to any teacher. In the end, the only thing we are teaching our students when we don’t let them fail is helplessness.
When there is a risk of failure coupled with a great teacher who provides students with encouraging words and believes in them, this is what gives kids a purpose. This is what gives kids the determination and excitement to try really hard at great things. This is what motivates students and promotes a growth mindset.