Category Archives: reading

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!


Singing to Teach Reading: Decoding, Fluency & Expression

Reading & Singing in Grade 5

If you were a fly on my classroom wall this week you would have heard my students singing the Go’s-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” … and yes, it was for academic purposes 😉

For the past few weeks I have been searching for fun ways to practice oral reading (decoding as well as reading/modeling fluency, proper phrasing and expression). Well, the other day I was googling Fun Boy Three’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” and noticed that one of the videos on YouTube was “lyrics only”. As I read (& sung!) along it dawned on me: Why not have the kids practise reading with fluency, appropriate phrasing, etc. by showing them the video (see below) on the SmartBoard and having read/sing along?

The song’s message is a good one too. It provided a great springboard for a Class Meeting discussion about rumours, gossip and strategies (e.g. the power of silence & confidence).

Well, the students loved the lesson and have asked to do more of the same. So now I am on the hunt for fun songs … with appropriate lyrics!

Anyway, just thought I’d share!



Our Lips Are Sealed
1. Go-Go’s video:
2. Fun Boy Three performance (my fav!)
3. For a contemporary spin: Hilary and Haylie Duff’s cover
4. Lyrics:

Another current favourite has turned out to be songs by “Owl City”:|

Encouraging a Love of Reading

Encouraging a Love of Reading

I am often asked by parents how to get their children hooked on books – how to encourage reading at home. I love it when I am asked this question! Reading is such a gift & I welcome any and every opportunity to encourage my students to see the value & pleasure that comes with reading.

… & so, if you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see and hear me sharing he following ideas with parents.


(A) AT Home & At School

  • Model reading – “show them” that reading is both entertaining & informative
  • Interest “Surveys” – find out what children want to read –  what interests them – what’s “hot”
  • Easy Access – have reading materials everywhere around the house, in the car, in the classroom
  • Variety is the Spice – provide options/choice e.g. novels, picture books, graphic novels, magazines, fiction, non-fiction (e.g. biographies, sports, geography, science, poetry, etc.)
  • Read alouds – Read aloud to your children. Even older kids often love being read to.
  • Talk-Talk-Talk – talk about what’s being read – make it social as well
  • Play with Books
  • Time – set aside enough time for reading – give them the time & the place/space
  • Re-read – give children permission to re-read old favourites

(B) At Home
A Special Place – create a special place for children to read (e.g. fill the corner of a room with pillows, build a reading-fort under a table, pitch a tent in the garden, etc.)

(C) At School

  • Read alouds – do this a lot, talk a lot, stop along the way …& don’t forget that there are many amazing picture books out there for older students
  • Author visits
  • Provide alternatives/choices to the traditional book report
  • Skpye with authors
  • Exploring: “Free Time” – scatter books (novels, picture books, graphic novels, magazines, fiction, non-fiction) on the carpet & allow students to read/explore them along or with a buddy(s)
  • Exploring: “Speed Dating” with Books – Students are given a few minutes with each book & then they switch to the next

Initial Reading Assessments in the Classroom

Initial Reading Assessments in the Classroom

At the beginning of ever school year we spend a great deal of time getting to know our students … as they get to know one another, as well as their teachers and new surroundings!

It’s a balance of:

a) Learning from day 1(!)
b) Ice Breakers & Getting-to-Know-You-Activities
c) Establishing Routines, Expectations & Rules

d) Organizing our space, materials, day, etc. 
e) Carrying out both Formal & Informal Assessments
f) & so much more 😉

In thinking about September I sent a “Tweet Out” the other day looking for suggestions regarding reading assessments in the classroom.
I was looking for something authentic, practical, efficient and “free”.  I was looking for something just to use as a “springboard” … to help me get me feet wet …. because as we all know assessments (both informal and formal) are ongoing and organic.

I love Twitter & was fortunate enough to have received many responses. …  So now I want to share with you what some of my Tweeter Friends have shared with me (with a special thanks to @mitcheta3477 among others)!
(I would love to see any additional resources as well!)

& .. of course, if you are a fly on my classroom wall in September you will see me carrying out several initial assessments – including reading assessments.


For Your Consideration: Reading Assessments:

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.

Encourage Reading at Home – Raising a Reader

Encourage Reading at Home

The other day a parent asked to speak with me after school. Her child has yet to become a reader and it is breaking her heart.

While it is true that some children love reading and others do not (just as some children enjoy soccer and others do not) reading is a gift as well as a life skills and ought to be encouraged.

I made the following recommendations.Hopefully one or two will prove helpful!


Ways to Encourage Reading at Home

·     Make sure that there are plenty of books, magazines and comics lying around the house for your child to pick up at a moment’s notice.
·     Create a special place for your child to read. A place just for him/her.
·     Read to and with your child a lot! Snuggle up and enjoy!
·     Create a fun book club for your son/daughter and his/her friends! A monthly book party!
·     Find out what other kids are reading. Find out what’s hot (and what’s not!).
·     Play board games that require reading.
·     Read recipe books and choose a favourite recipe — or two. Read the recipe and bake together … then enjoy the fruits of your labour! (This is a great way to focus on math skills as well.)
·     Movies can be a great starting point! Read a book based on a favourite children’s movie.
·     What are your child’s interests? Find out more! Buy, borrow and suggest books, articles, magazines, etc. that relate to the topic(s). 
·     Before going on a family trip supply your child with magazines, books and pamphlets based on where you are headed to. Encourage them to take on the role of tour guide, and suggest activities as well.
·     Recognize “readable moments”, e.g. reading menus, instructions, directions, invitations, postcards, birthday cards, CD covers, food labels, etc.
·     Be a good role model. Your child should see you enjoying good books and magazines.

Talking to Kids About What Strong Readers Do

Talking to Kids About What Strong Readers Do

Yesterday we set aside a good chunk of time to talk about what strong readers do.

I teach Grade 5 … & I make a point of reading at least one picture book to my students every day.
During each reading I serve as the “model” and we talk about reading with fluency and expression. As we read we stop along the way to reflect & relate. We talk about the author’s purpose, the pictures, the vocabulary, even the choice of font … Picture books are inviting, entertaining, clever, rich, meaningful, bite-size pieces of literature … and serve as a fantastic springboard into any and every topic under the sun … Anyway, during our read alouds there’s certainly a lot of learning that goes on along the way.         

So yesterday, after our read aloud, we made our list of everything that we feel strong readers do. I posted our list on the Smart Board and it looked something like this:

(A) Setting the Stage:
– Set a purpose for reading
– Look at the cover and the pictures inside – make predictions
– Survey: Read the table of contents & the back of the book.
– Survey: Take a good look at and think about the illustrations found inside, the headings, charts, graphs, etc.
– Think about what I already know about the topic
– Think about what might happen in the story
– Think about the author’s purpose

(B) During Reading:
– Think about the author’s purpose
– Stop along the way to “smell the roses”: to comment, discuss
– Think: question, consider, predict, infer, make connections, relate, evaluate,
– Visualize

(C) We decided to save the concept of “After Reading” for another day 😉

Following an energetic discussion I gave my students four graphic organizes to choose from.
Once each child had chosen the one that appealed to him/her they set to work.
Their task was to choose the strategies that they found the most helpful/useful. They were to indicate (using jot notes) why as well.
They also had to identify two strategies to focus on, either because they hadn’t actively done so as yet, or because the strategies work for them and they want to improve.
We glued our graphic organizers into our Learning Logs to be returned to next week.

As their teacher it was a wonderful lesson to engage in … I was so very proud of, and happy for them. I hope that they all see (or will come to see) the benefits of these discussions as well … anyway, only time will tell.