Monthly Archives: April 2011

Writing Strategy – A Snap Shot (Grade 5)

Writing Strategy – A “Snap Shot” (Grade 5)

Today in my classroom I was thrilled to see students engaged in the writing process with more independence and energy than ever before.
… & it just so happened that a colleague of mine walked passed our room as we were in full swing.
He poked his nose though the doorway (my door is always opens 😉 , remarked on their active engagement and independence, & asked me what they were doing.
I told him that they were making their way through the writing process.
“Cool …”

I explained that if he was a fly on my classroom wall, he would see this activity – and level of engagement – weekly. He would see students writing, talking and moving about the room as they develop poems, stories and short essays.

The following afternoon — at his request — I shared my program with him.


The Process:

1. Preload:

I introduce the concept – the assignment. I typically read a “related” picture book (never underestimate the power of picture books!) to my Grade 5s as they sit at the carpet. Along the way we stop to discuss the writing & illustrations. All the while we are building our vocabulary and understanding of the topic at hand. We are generating ideas, questions and “Ah-ha!” moments. Students are invited/encouraged to bring note pads to the carpet to record ideas (jot notes) along the way should they choose.
We then move on to something else totally unrelated. We leave this session for an hour or a day. We are giving our ideas time to grow and gel.

2. Playing with ideas:

We revisit the assignment. We talk a lot. We brainstorm. Before putting pen to paper we play with ideas. I provide a safe environment in which children feel confident enough to stop me in my tracks should they come across a word or concept that they don’t understand. We explore various approaches, outlines and graphic organizers. We explore the different methods that can be used to develop and organize ideas before beginning first drafts.

3. Model the assignment/the approach:

Later I follow up with students in small groups. I model the process of breaking assignments down into smaller more manageable units. Over the course of the school year school students are better able to do this for themselves. It’s a life skill!

4. Graphic Organizers:

Student are given a choice of several graphic organizers to use as a means of getting started. Once the graphic organizers have been completed to the best of the students ability they often break into pairs to share, discuss and develop ideas, vocabulary, etc.

5. First Draft:

When it’s time to write the first draft there are very few rules other that students must remain actively engaged. They must get there ideas down on paper as best they can, double-spaced and as legibly as possible. Students are not to focus on spelling or grammar, but rather on ideas, organization and voice.

7. Getting Cold:

Students then put their first drafts aside for another day … thus allowing them to get cold. The next day we return to our work with fresh eyes. (This is a surprising useful strategy!!!)

7. Writing Drafts:

What follows now are individual editing activities, peer conferences, teacher conferences, and the writing of several drafts. We focus on ideas, organization, word choice, sentences fluency, voice and finally conventions. (e.g. &

*** Note: As a teacher I am constantly teaching, modeling and pointing out the elements of good writing. I keep examples and models of “good writing” for student reference – some kids really benefit from knowing where they are going. As a class we develop writing rubrics together. In exploring expectations and developing rubrics together I have found that students exhibit a greater amount of ownership … they tend to buy into to, and the use and the process without question … they see it as meaningful and authentic.

How We Answer Comprehension Questions in Grade 5

How We Answer Comprehension Questions in Grade 5

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would “see” that this is how we address comprehension questions in Grade 5.
We are very methodical, & yet flexible & organic in our approach.

This process becomes second nature to
my students quite quickly … it becomes automatic … & in fact, should I ever miss a step they are quick to remind me.

Just thought I’d share.


Our Method:

•    Review the previous chapter. Discuss “seeds”. Ask questions … share ideas … wonder why … make predictions. Note: As with the other “steps” (& anything worth doing) it is very important to take one’s time … never rush … savour contributions, ideas & moments shared.

•    Turn to the questions. Read the questions prior to reading the chapter. Ensure that they are properly understood. Discuss any new vocabulary. Make predictions.

•    Highlight any words that will most likely appear in the answer. Take an educated guess. Doing this helps to set yet another purpose for reading, direct questions and also “helps” with spelling.

•    Should students come across answers to questions during our read aloud they mark the page with a post it.This is helpful as they can then move on quickly – and find the answer & page number easily when the time comes. As we stop to discuss readings frequently along the way students are use to reflecting and then returning to text seemingly without skipping a beat.

The Lonely Child & The Action Plan

The Lonely Child & The Action Plan

A while back a friend of mine wanted to talk to me about her eldest son “Mark”: a smart, cute, artistic child in Grade 3. She wanted my advice “as a teacher”.

It all started one day when she went to pick him up on the playground. There from her car, she saw him standing alone. She watched for sometime (maybe 5 or 10 minutes). He approached no one … & no one approached him. He didn’t appear to be visibly unhappy — just alone … very alone & unnoticed. This broke her heart.

Later that week – still concerned about what she had seen – she went to speak to her son’s teacher (a good step in the right direction!). Sure enough he told her that Mark presents as “reserved” and often alone. The teacher explained that Mark often preferred to work, eat lunch and spend recess alone. He has tried to encourage him to participate more in the past, to take the initiative, but had very little success. Together they talked about what they might do as a team to address the situation.

For the second time in one week she left her son’s school broken hearted. Although this time she felt a little better in that she had an ally – Mark’s teacher was eager to help!

Now having identified the problem we needed to further develop the plan.

Putting our heads together we came with what we felt seemed like a reasonable approach – for both home & school. We also made a very important pact: We would keep in mind that we had to view the plan as organic, as something flexible and responsive to everyday situations.

& so now time will tell …fingers crossed.


Our Action Plan:

(A) At Home:

  • Keep a diary of sorts – observe the Mark’s behaviour in order to identify specify areas/situations to be addressed
  • Be patient – don’t overwhelm him.
  • Demonstrate empathy and understanding; talk but don’t push
  • Model/practice social skills. Mum should take advantage of the situation & schedule her own play dates!
  • Ask her school’s librarian for books on friendship***
  • Identify short-term weekly goals: e.g. answering the phone & taking messages
  • Identify long term/monthly goals (e.g. schedule a play date on his “home turf”)
  • Overall: Listen to Mark … and watch over him. Be empathetic & make note of anything of interest. 
  • Continue to be his greatest champion, his advocate.
(B) In Public:
  • Before heading out let Mark in on what’s in store. Set him up for success.
  • As a parent be friendly & confident in stores, doctor’s offices, etc.. Model social engagement.
  • Take advantage of daily routines, e.g. ask Mark to pay for things at the cash, to ask for directions, the time, etc.)
  • Since Mark is artistic, enroll him in an after school arts program where he can feel a little more comfortable and shine
(C) At School: We asked Mark’s teacher to:
  • Keep a diary of sorts – to observe Mark’s behaviour in order to identify specify areas/situations to be addressed        
  • Find a mentor for Mark at school
  • Based on what he sees at school, Mark’s teacher should let his mum know who he feels would be a great child for Mark to have a play date with
  • Find special jobs for Mark during the in order to keep him active & engaged
  • Monitor group work carefully so as to ensure that Mark is engaged – identify specific areas of strength & weakness (build on strengths & address needs)
  • Encourage Mark to join a school club (e.g. he’s a talented artist & so we will approach the art teacher about joining the lunchtime Art Club)
  • Teachers (all of Mark’s teachers) should continue to work in partnership with his parents in order to set short & long term goals, as well as monitor his progress

***I have included some books on friendship from a previous post:
Reading List: Books to read with your child:

  • Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride by Pam Muno
  • Best Friends by Kim Anderson
  • The Different Dragon, Jennifer Bryan
  • Duck at the Door, Jackie Urbanovic
  • A Friend, Anette Bley
  • The Hare With Many Friends, Aesop’s Fable
  • How to be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them by Laurie Krasny Brown [Little, Brown Young Readers, 2001]
  • Katie Loves the Kittens, by John Himmelman
  • The Lonely Little Monster by Andi Green
  • Making New Friends, by Jacqueline H. Blumenstock and David C. Pool
  • My Friend and I, by Lisa Jahn-Clough
  • Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, Aaron Blabey
  • Penguin, Polly Dunbar
  • Rainstorm, Barbara Lehman
  • Regards To The Man In The Moon, Ezra Jack Keats
  • This is Our House, Michael Rosen
  • Wemberly Worried, Kevin Henkes
  • What are Friends For, Sally Grindley
  • When Giants Come to Play, Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Activating Activities: Students "zoning out"? Need to pump up the volume in the class? (Activities)

Pump Up the Volume

Students “zoning out”? Need to pump up the volume in class? Here are some ideas for short classroom breaks:

I work my students hard. I demand a lot from them — I ask for their very best. I am firm but fair. We are busy!
But no matter how intelligent and entertaining (hahahahahaha) I try to be, my students and I (!!!) invariably do at times during the week run out of steam at times and need a little pick me up.

When this happens I turn to two bowls in my classroom filled with little pieces of paper. They are our “GO TO” bowls and the students love them. One is labeled “Seatwork-out”  and the other “Get Moving”.
I choose one student to go to one of the bowls and draw a “ticket”. On the ticket is the name of a game that we can play as a class for 10 minutes – & they really help us to perk up!

I find that after moving about and sharing a giggle or two our attention has improved and the quality of my “teaching time” is better. It’s also a great opportunity to continue to build our classroom community, and gives me an opportunity to see how my students interact with one another.

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see two bowls in my room containing the following activating activities to enjoy!


GO TO Bowls:

(A) Seatwork-Out:

  • Chain Spelling (Teacher says a word; the next person names a word the begins with the last letter of the previous word
  • Broken Telephone
  • Eye-Spy
  •  Memory Games (e.g. show a number if items on the Smart Board for 15 seconds – remove the pictures – see how many items students can recall)
  • Chair Aerobics (e.g.
  • Brain Gym (e.g.
  • Mirror-Mirror  In pairs face a partner: one child mirrors the other child’s movements – he/she is the mirror 
  • 20 Questions
  • Letter – Give the students a letter and provide them with one rubber chicken (for example). Students must pass the chicken around the room. Each time a student has the chicken he/she must say the name of a word the begins with said letter … within 10 seconds.
  • Letter-Letter – Teacher writes a letter on the board – students are given 20 seconds to record as many words as they can that begin with that letter (individually or in pairs) Boggle – write radon letters or a word on the board – how many words are students able to make from the letters?
  • Secret Letter – In small groups students come up with 3 or 4 questions to ask the class. Students take turns answering the questions without using the letter “S” (for example)
  • Hangman – play using current classroom concepts & vocabulary
  • Pictionary
  • Sparkle

(B) Get Moving:

  • Two rounds of  Classroom Charades
  • Simon Says
  • Over/Under Relay – use a student’s soft pencil box, a tennis ball, etc.
  • Seven-up-Stand Up / Heads Up-Seven Up
  • Hot Potato 
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Trash-ketball- Crumple up paper (from the blue bin) to use as a basketball. Use a garbage pail as the net.
  • Freeze – Play a song: everyone dances & freezes when the music stops.
  • Snow Ball Fight – My kids love(!) this one. Students record some
  • facts about themselves on a piece of paper (e.g. favorite color, animal, number of siblings, etc.). They crumple up the papers & at the count of three they throw the paper balls around the room for one minute (like snowballs in a snowball fight). At the teacher’s signal students stop the “fight”, grab a piece of paper & take turns guessing who created the snowball(s).
  • Flight Master – Make a paper plane quickly at home, during lunch, just before recess, etc. (use recycling paper).  Students keep them in their desks until later. When we seem to be “fading” we take them out and see whose flies the furthest.
  • Musical Chairs

Reflective Thinking in the Classroom

Reflective Thinking in the Classroom

So it goes without saying that we want our children/students to become successful, reflective tinkers … & so then the question becomes: Are we in fact doing this & if so, how?

If you were a fly on my classroom would you would see me encouraging my students to demonstrate

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy & Understanding
  • Insight
  • Analytic abilities
  • Flexibility
  • Decision-making skills
  • Evaluation & re-evaluation skills & strategies

As The Teacher:

As a teacher I make a conscious effort to model & practice the above for all to see. I “think/talk out loud” to myself for my students to hear and benefit from. As I work through concepts and problems, and reflect upon strategies and processes I make sure that my kids can hear me, see me, learn from me – we learn together.   

I act as a guide and model. I also try to take advantage of situations in which I can step back and act as a facilitator – encouraging students to take the lead. I encourage student directed, discovery learning.
I make sure to stress & value the process – the journey.

Know Thyself:

In order for students to truly act as reflective thinkers and employ/own the skills they must understand who they are. To this end I encourage students to ask themselves the following questions – to really understand the following:

  • How do I learn best? e.g. auditory, visual, tactile, etc.
  • Do I like to explore concepts alone, with a friend or in a group?
  • What support can my teachers give me to ensure learning; to encourage growth & development?
  • How do I best “show what I know”?
  • What are my interests?
  • What are some of my beliefs about the people and world around me, and do I have any biases?
  • Am I an active listener?
  • Am I open minded?

The Classroom Atmosphere:

I create … 
… an environment in which students are leaders and I as the teacher am a facilitator
… a safe, secure environment – establish/review the ground rules prior to discussion
… an active, organic, respectful, exciting and encouraging environment.
… a seating plan that encourages discussion, e.g. in a circle, a horseshoe or sitting in a circle on the carpet.
… an environment that encourages diversity, curiosity, creativity, imagination & confidence.
… activities that encourage refection –  that encourages / requires curiosity, reflection & an inquiry approach.

Suggested Activities Include:

  • Class Meetings.
  • Read Alouds – picture books are a great resource no matter the grade level!
  • Class debates.
  • Writing / sharing Persuasive Essays – including practice taking the opposite point of view.
  • Learning Logs.
  • Problem Solving Activities (e.g. Math, science, citizenship, social, interpersonal).
  • Opportunities to gather, organize, evaluate & reevaluate information.
  • Create opportunities for authentic problem solving activities.
  • Hands-on activities.
  • Drama activities.
  • KWL charts – preview, review, revisit, reevaluate.
  • Posing open-ended question practice observation skills – the world around us, social integration, body language, etc.
  • Practice asking & answering questions: Ask “why” and “how”: “Why do you feel this?” “How do you know this?”
  • Peer & group work – encouraging the discussion and valuing of differing points of view.
  • Whole group/small group brainstorming sessions.
  • Activities which afford students the opportunity to discuss the topic/concept with a friend or in small groups first – then engage in a whole group discussions.
  • Activities including structured processing time.
  • Follow-up activities requiring reflecting, reevaluating, & thinking about alternative approaches, information & next steps.
  • Opportunities to “show what you know” & to consider the ideas of others; to express understanding / beliefs clearly; to consider & build on the ideas of others.

Getting Students to Participate: Encouraging Discussion in the Classroom

Getting Students to Participate: Encouraging Discussion

The other day a new teacher approached me and asked how I encourage student participation / open discussions in the classroom. I guess I was taken aback as I had never really thought about this before.    

As we sat down I quickly began to realize how eager I was to explore this topic. I welcomed the opportunity to take a closer look at – to reflect upon – a little of what I do here every day.


Encouraging Discussion in the Classroom:

  • Create a seating plan that encourages discussion, e.g. in a circle, a horseshoe or sitting in a circle on the carpet.
  • Choose interesting topics – topics that speak to students.
  • Ask open ended questions.
  • Allow for processing time – introduce the topics/questions “ahead of time” & then afford students the opportunity to think, reflect, jot notes, write, etc.  before beginning the discussion.
  • Afford students the opportunity to discuss the topic/concept with a friend or in small groups firstthen engage in a whole group discussions.
  • Create an environment in which students are leaders and teachers are facilitators.
  • Establish/review the ground rules prior to discussions.
  • Create an active, organic, respectful, exciting and encouraging environment.

The "Know-It-All" in the Classroom – Meeting the Needs of Students

The “Know-It-All”  –  Meeting the Needs of Students

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see me (& all teachers, etc. …) dealing with a multitude of personalities and subject matters (school, family, group & individual matters) all day long — and seemingly all at once. It is a very active, organic, impulsive and exciting environment within which to operate.

A few years ago I found myself speaking with a friend of mine whose child was (in her words) a “know-it-all”. I know … it’s not a flattering term … and she wished she could find a kinder way of describing this one aspect of her personality … but it is what it is and she was who she was.

Accordingly, she was (or is) – 99% of the time – a charming, well-mannered student. She was is a motivated learner who loved to participate in class. She assumed responsibility for following all directions & initiating tasks. Her organizational skills were excellent. She made a conscious effort to remain engaged in the learning process, took pride in her accomplishments and eagerly reviewed concepts to ensure understanding. 

However … she could be impulsive and quick to presume … to make assumptions. She often assumed that she was right; that she knew better than others – and corrected teachers & peers- rightly or wrongly – several times a day. … For lack of a better term she came across as a “know-it-all” – an unflattering quality for such a lovely child.

So what to do? Clearly, being a “know-it-all” did not present her in a good light … and often annoyed the other children (& grown-ups) around her. The goal was clear: To discover the “roots” of the behavior and then to address the situation as best as possible. So to that end I suggested that they keep a diary of sorts and developed a plan. One must act as, like a detective, gathering clues, hot on the the trial of the “suspect”: The “Know-It-All”. One must investigate the roots of the behaviour & work toward developing strategies to address the situation – to meet her needs.

& So today I thought I’d share some of the observations with you … I hope that you find the following useful – maybe as a spring board for your own learning and teaching.


The “Know-it-All”:
(Please note that despite the label … she really was (& is) a lovely child!!!)

(I) The Roots:
– attention seeking
– insecurity – wanting to connect with others
– a sense of wanting to belong – of being socially acceptable/accepted
– the belief that being an expert will  make them “popular”/listened to
a string desire to be in control of some aspect of “life”

(II) What to do:
(A) Model/teach/review (e.g. using pictures books, drama, Learning Logs, individual meeting times, etc.):
… social skills – & keep a close eye on what’s going on
… active listening skills
… conversation skills

… reflective thinking skills

… the “wait time” necessary prior to responding (e.g. processing time)

… empathy 

(B) Provide her with:
… appropriate attention; recognize her efforts – ultimately this is what she is seeking
… special/desirable/appropriate jobs that make her feel good, smart, valued – giver her opportunities to shine
… an emotionally supportive environment
… time / activities for social skills development
… opportunities to process, reflect, reevaluate
… opportunities to see/evaluate/debate opposing points of view
… opportunities for “choice” – so that she can feel in control at times (but be sure to set limits)

(C) Partner with:
… her; let her know what I am seeing, what we are going to do & why. As the teacher I have to be empathetic, understanding, open, prepared & strong.
… other teachers & specialists who work with her at school 
… parents – we are a team after all

(III) Never(!!!):
… ignore, embarrass, appear to be frustrated or “annoyed”
… never allow her peers to tell her “come down on her”- that is an adult responsibility (e.g. to address and correct behaviour)