Category Archives: comprehension

Novel : Responses to Text

Novel Responses – Student choice when responding to novels & books through design, drama, crafts, writing, math

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see that much of what we do is based on the concepts of “choice” and “authenticity”. Introducing choice into the curriculum whenever possible provides students with a sense of ownership and a heightened sense of responsibility. Their personal choices reflect their interests, build on their strengths and (when applied properly) address their needs.

Please find a list of some of the different choices that I provide for my students when they are asked to respond to text.


Get Crafty:

  • Make a gift & a design/write a gift card for the main character. Consider all that you know about him/her in order to choose the most appropriate present and card.
  • Design and write a postcard as though it had been chosen and sent by the main character.
  • Create a scrapbook as though you were the main character. What will you include?
  • Create a photo album for the main character. Use cuts outs from magazines, download pictures, draw, write, etc.
  • Create a giant mural or piece graffiti based on the novel – consider symbols, characters, setting, themes, etc.
  • Create a time capsule for the novel.


  • Design the perfect bedroom for the main character – be clear as to your choices.
  • Design an ad campaign or the novel.
  • Design a movie poster for the novel.
  • Design a board game based on the novel.
  • Design a “look book” for the main character. What would he/she like/need to have in his/her wardrobe?
  • Design a test for the novel. Include a variety or types of questions (e.g. true/false, multiple choice, matching, fill in the blanks, short & long answer questions ….)


  • Dress up as the main character – include “clever” items and explain their significance.
  • Conduct a mock interview with the main character.
  • Write a script for and perform your favourite “moment” in the novel.
  • Write and perform a meaningful monologue.
  • Write a perform a puppet show based on the novel.


  • Choose a dream vacation for the main character. Create an itinerary for him/her.Turn the novel into a picture book.
  • Write & perform song based on the novel.
  • Create a newspaper. All the articles must somehow be based on or relate to the novel.
  • Retell the novel through a series of letters.

My Top Picks: Activities & Approaches that Rocked Our First Term!

My Top Picks:
Activities & Approaches that Rocked Our First Term!

Always Give Away the Ending
I start every unit in Social Studies & Science by “giving away the ending”. For example, when introducing our unit on Ancient Egypt we read a short article (or watch a video, read a picture book) all about life during that time: the roles of men, women & children, the foods they ate, where they lived, their kings & queens, religion, gods and goddesses, rituals, etc. We then discuss interesting facts (i.e. the fact that only boys were allowed to go to school) and “play with” the topic for a day or so. This introduction peaks their interest and serves as a foundation to build upon.

Choice is Choice
This year I have provided more “choice” than ever …. my students loved it … & I loved it. This approach allowed students the opportunity to build on their strengths while learning about and addressing their needs. With this apporach there is a true sense of ownership, interest, engagement and enthusiasm.
For example, upon finishing both class novels this term (The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick & The Iron Man: A Children’s Story in Five Nights is a 1968 novel written by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes) students were provided with a “menu” of final assignments to choose from. Some excellent examples of project menus are as follows: 1. Book Projects 2. Final Novel Projects 3. 91 Ways to Respond to Literature  4. Novel: Tic Tac Toe

Project & Inquiry Based Learning
Love it(!) and I am excited to do more, more, more!
To learn more check out:

The Teach & Tell
A “Teach and Tell” requires that students teach their classmates about something that is of interest to them.  Much like “Show and Tell” this activity provides students with an opportunity to share individual areas of expertise/interest. It encourages students to make organized, engaging oral presentations, while developing effective speaking and listening skills. The Teach and Tell is also a great way to increase class interconnectedness as students learn important things about one another’s interests and skills.

Blogging Rocks!
This was the first year that I had my students blogging … & we all loved it! I used There’s nothing jazzy or fancy about this site … but it is easy to navigate and it is super secure: and that’s all that really matters to me.
The Benefits of Student Blogging include:
-Authenticity – authentic writing for authentic audiences;
-Affordability – is for example is free;
-Builds confidence as students shine, share & respond;
-Carries across the curriculum;
-Collaborative discussions as students respond to & learn from one another;
-Communication skills – writing for an audience necessitates & builds effective communication skills;
-Connections between students & classes, between home & school;
-Develops higher order thinking skills (as students write, read, reflect & respond).

Hot Penning Please
Three times a week I set our timer for 5 minutes. When I say “Go!” my students write and write and write. They write about whatever comes into their heads. They might write a story, a memory, a poem or a stream of consciousness. The “deal is” that they can’t lift their pencil from the paper! My students just love this opportunity “free write”. They tell me that “it’s fun!” and that “it feels like a game!” On occasion we go back to highlight favourite passages, sentences or ideas to use as a springboard for longer, more formal pieces.
Check out:

Strategy Driven
It’s so important for my students to learn about and play with different strategies. I want them to build on their strengths (e.g. know what works for them) and addresses their needs. I want them to understand how to listen and read for meaning,  how to answer comprehension questions, how to study smart, how to write a test, how to problem solve, etc.
For some tools of the trade check out:
Test Taking Tips:
Active Listening Skills:
Writing Strategies:
Math Problem Solving: ;

Picture Books in the Grade 5 Classroom
I love reading, exploring and sharing picture books with my Grade 5 students. I use them in all(!) subject areas: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. They are quite simply a fantastic resource.

Class Meetings Building a Classroom Community
Class Meetings are just that: A time for students to sit and discuss issues that speak to them. They are student directed and teacher facilitated. The agenda is set by the group and depends on the group’s various interests, needs and concerns at any one time.

Learning Logs
Learning Logs develop metacognitive skills, guide my teaching practice, and provide yet another authentic assessment tool. Learning Logs are classroom journals. Students use them in order to keep honest and reflective records of their understanding of subject areas in the classroom (e.g. Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing Workshop, Reading, etc.).
Read more here:

Home Journals: Authentic Writing & Communication Between Home & School
Every Friday students write letters home to their parents about their week. Home Journals help to answer the age-old “dinner table question”, “What did you do at school this week?”. These journals also provide parents, students and teachers with weekly examples/snapshots of individual writing skills development.

Well, although I am sure that there are more …. these are my top picks for our First Term/2011 in Grade 5!
What are some of your “hot picks” in your classroom? I would love to know!


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.

>Why Reading Fluency Matters (… for parents)

>Why Reading Fluency Matters (… for parents)

I recently read a posting by a parent regarding her child’s report card.

Now, report cards are difficult to write at the best of times. There is limited space to say what I mean and I must mean what I say. I must address strengths and needs; the whole child. No easy feat.
I start and finish report cards early, and I hand them in late. I can never seem to let them go … they always seem to final, so static … and my students are so dynamic, so fantastic!

Anyway, this mum’s understanding of her child’s report card was thoughtful, balanced and positive.

There was one comment however, that stood out for me:

“The only negative comment was that her reading fluency is still a little slow. Frankly, I care more about comprehension than how many words she can read per minute.”

Through no fault of her own this mum is not aware that fluency is more than “words read per minute”.
Fluency is about reading smoothly, easily and expressively. Fluency enables individuals to read with greater understanding. A fluent reader has automatic decoding skills and a solid bank of known sight words as well as good comprehension skills.

Reading Fluency:
Reading is like singing: there is expression and rhythm. After all, we read for meaning and we read aloud to entertain as well as to inform.

Anyway … as teachers the onus is on us to ensure that parents (as well as students) have a clear understanding of our goals, objectives and outcomes.
Let’s keeping working together!