Category Archives: reflective thinking

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.

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.