Thursday, November 25, 2010

Emphasizing Vocabulary

I think an effective grasp of vocabulary is one of the most important tools we can give our students. The better your vocabulary the better your reading fluency, comprehension and writing skills are. Some things I think we can do as teachers to encourage that knowledge in our students:

1) Don't refrain from using the BIG words. I know many teachers who edit themselves-they will say this test is "hard". I will say "difficult" or "challenging". The more often you use that higher-level vocab the more often you will hear it echoed back in your students' words.

2) Encourage your kids to ask when they don't know what a word means. I can read a sentence in a read-aloud and I expect the hands to go up because I know it's a new word for them. We work on strategies for figuring out the meaning, but I also think it's important that they understand that word before we move on.

3) Read to them above their grade level. I heard this in a training once and have used that activity ever since-I find it to be extremely effective. We always have a chapter book going as a read-aloud-we read a chapter or so daily and it's my favorite time of day. Not only are they exposed to that upper-level vocab, they really have to listen for comprehension-no pictures.

4) Systematically teach vocab words. We do a word-of-the-day and I print out pictures that illustrate the meaning of the word. We will also often complete a Frayer Model in their Vocabulary Journals (examples below). I can't tell you how many times I am reading and they recognize a word we learned as our daily vocab word-they get so excited-"that was one of our words!".

5) Reward them for using their new words. Granted it's not always correct-after explaining the meaning of "sarcastic" one year, I had a student who would refer to saying the opposite of what you mean with a different tone as "psychotic". But they are taking the risk and trying to apply what they've learned-that should be encouraged.

Here are some examples of the Frayer Model and how we use it for daily vocab lessons. Obviously some words work better than others, but I can read what they've written and automatically determine if they "get it". One of my favorites was for the word "devious"-the student wrote Santa as a non-example-he came up with that purely on his own and obviously it demonstrated he understood the meaning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ethics and Classic Literature

The concept of Ethics is new to my rugrats this year-but they've developed a great understanding of it very quickly. I guess there's not much gray area in the lives of a 6-year old-things are either right or wrong. I often play devil's advocate and question them, not really giving my own opinion, but letting them create an argument to justify theirs. In the beginning, their argument always starts out as: it's wrong because it's wrong. You really have to systematically teach them and model for them how to elaborate on reasons why. The lawyer in court defending his client isn't going to say "he's not guilty because he's not guilty". He's going to explain an alibi, give an alternate version of what could have happened. That's what I'm looking for in my students' writing-a justification for their point of view. It's a challenging task for them, but I was impressed by their responses on this assignment.

 I read them the classic story The Giving Tree. I know many educators just adore this book-the entitlement of the boy character in the story just bothers me too much. However, we read it as an exercise in ethics "was it right or wrong for the boy to take everything the tree had and not give anything back in return"? Surprisingly, my little future arbitrators actually made some good arguments-he didn't do it on purpose, he used everything; it's not like the things were wasted and my favorite justification-it did make her happy. How many of us have accepted a gift from a relative just to "make them happy"?

Here are some of my favorites:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving With Perspective

My students love doing activities with Perspective now. They will come up with their own-let's do the perspective of a leaf, no let's do the tree when the leaves fall-let's compare the perspective of the leaf to that of the tree when it falls.

I did listen to their suggestions for their Thanksgiving writing assignments. After reading a book about turkeys in the wild (they really are amazing creatures, no wonder Ben Franklin wanted them as our national bird :) . They wrote from that perspective. We also did the perspective of Native Americans from the past and compared that to the point of view of the Pilgrims. I think it's definitely a higher level skill and brings out the creativity they have; while also giving them an opportunity to apply the facts they are learning. Here are some examples (the Native American pics are from Kinder-they did write about it, but I can't find those pics-they made a portrait of themselves as a Native American from the past, turkeys from 1st Grade).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Compare and Contrast

We start using Venn diagrams in Kindergarten. Believe it or not, it's a very difficult concept for my rugrats to grasp. I would for example, show them a picture from the city and the countryside asking what they see that's different. Hands go up-their answers:

Student: They are different pictures.
Me: Yes, but what details are different about them?
Student: One is the city and one is the country.
Me: True... but how is the city different from the country?
Student: They are different pictures.

Whew! It's a little exhausting at first. Just because the kids are already labeled GT and have innate abilities doesn't mean they have ever been taught to think critically before. So we do activities like that often; comparing stories, comparing addition and subtraction, comparing how flowers grow to how people grow. However, my all-time favorite is comparing 2 completely unrelated things.

I ask the kids for 2 nouns and write them in either side of a Venn diagram. One we did recently was an elephant and a car. We start with what's different and work our way to what is similar (because that is usually much more challenging). It was funny in this case when they realized both things have trunks. Our class just finished an activity where they made up topics for each other. One student wrote a noun, passed the paper to another student and then the papers were distributed randomly. They had to fill out the Venn.  Some were easier than others, one had to compare a flag to ham! But it really did get them thinking critically and I was impressed at some of the things they came up with.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Uses for Everyday Things

This activity really gets the creative juices flowing! I ask the children to come up with new ways to use an everyday object. We decided to use leaves this time but I've done it as an oral activity with a pencil, frying pan, book, etc. I like when we can use the real object like a paper clip or in this case the leaf. Some came up with some imaginative responses. These were my favorites a hammock, a bridge and a necklace:

Reading Response Projects

I'm a very firm believer in read-alouds and particularly reading to a class a few levels above their grade level. I think it's wonderful for vocabulary and comprehension (no pictures to rely on-they really have to listen and visualize). While we are reading a story the students write daily in a response journal, but I also like for them to do projects throughout the story that show an understanding of things like plot, main idea or character development.

Right now, we are reading James and the Giant Peach. This week the kids are making papier mache peaches and creating their favorite scene from the movie inside. I could picture this project in my mind, but was very hesitant because taking on papier mache is a daunting task. Not to mention I have 29 students for reading and a small, already cluttered room-where do you put them while they are drying twice-once with the newspaper and a 2nd time for the paint/tissue paper. They affixed newspaper strips soaked in a glue/water mixture around a balloon. When that was dry they painted the newspaper orange and since you could still see the writing, we added warm colors of tissue paper. When that was dry I took out the balloon (very fascinating to my rugrats)-it actually just comes right out! And they made their illustrations inside.

I just LOVE how they came out. Some of them did a really great job and you know the whole time they were working on them they talked about how much fun they were having-so you can't beat that!  Here are some pics: