Tag Archives: teaching with informational texts

Discourage students from taking notes like this. Here’s why.

If students are reading multiple texts on a topic and taking notes on each of those sources, I require that (or strongly suggest) they write notes in phrases–just enough words to help them remember what they learned or what the author was saying or the student’s response to information. In most cases, I strongly encourage them to NOT write their notes in sentences.

Here’s why –

  1. If they write notes in sentences, the student may be easily tempted to just copy the sentences they are reading in a source and not do a lot of thinking. (How many of your students do this??????) Instead, we want them to think about what the author is trying to say or what they are learning from the source and then determine what is really important to remember. Then they can jot down a few of the author’s words or their own paraphrasing of the text.
  2. If they’ve already written sentences in their notes, they frequently just want to lift those sentences and insert them into their writing or presentation or whatever. Then they have missed an opportunity to combine details from multiple sources. When students are done taking notes from multiple sources, we want them to look across their notes and combine ideas from multiple sources. They have to be able to look at their notes and categorize details. Oh, all of these details are about what the raccoon eats! Or Yes! I see several details on how the Cherokee used their environment to create art. They may want to draw arrows between notes or circle details they want to combine with the same color of pencil. Conceptually, this is harder to do if they are looking across “sentences” versus words and phrases.

Here’s an example of what I mean by notes written in phrases (versus complete sentences)–

OKAY…I’M LEAVING OUT A LOT HERE like the fact that taking notes is a complex task. The students need to know their purpose for researching, reading, taking notes. They need clear questions they are trying to answer or grapple with as they read and take notes like How did this Native American tribe use resources in their environment to survive? or How did the members of the Jewish resistance exhibit courage during the Holocaust? or How can we be prepared for severe weather? They need a way to organize their notes like using an inquiry chart (Hoffman, 1992). See example below. (If you need more info on teaching with inquiry charts, see Chapter 8 in my book Close Reading of Informational Texts). AND they need examples of good texts to use as sources or access to a vetted set of sources before they go off to find their own. And, and, and…

Example of an inquiry chart…

Below is an example of a student’s inquiry chart. This fifth grade student was researching the Apache. Notice the questions across the top that drive her decisions about what to write in her notes. Her sources are listed on the left hand side. She’s circled details she wants to combine with a colored pencil.

The reason I wrote this blog entry is because I have an article in the February issue of EL “The Case for Multiple Texts” and on the sample inquiry chart I submitted, the editor changed my list of bulleted notes to look like sentences (although they are not all complete), deleting the bullets and adding capitalization and punctuation.  UGH.

Hesitate to do it this way. Many, many students will struggle when they go to synthesize and write or plan for presenting if they  have to look across a bunch of “sentences.” Many, many students will be tempted to just copy the sentences from their sources!

I did not get to see this change before it was published in EL. I’m sure this was an edit done with good intentions, BUT I feel the need to clarify. Encourage your students to take bulleted notes, short phrases or just enough information that they can look at it and remember what they learned.

I’d still recommend the article 😉 if you are looking for tips on teaching with multiple texts. I’m also working on a manuscript for Heinemann on this topic–the book should be released next winter.

Hope this helps.





Think-pair-share can go awry. Yup.


I’m a strong believer in students talking about what they’ve learned from informational texts. Good conversations about nonfiction have the potential to –

  • increase students’ understanding of texts,
  • help students clarify their thinking,
  • help students expand their understanding,
  • build bridges to stronger writing.

But a critical component is teacher support. Without teacher support, even our best students sometimes have low level, little-thinking-required conversations. Not conversations that build meaning and understanding of content.

More thoughts on what I’ve been working on in my own practice soon.


“I underlined all the words! They’re all important!”

When annotating, do your students underline most of what they’ve read because they think “it’s all important”? Maybe they’ve underlined that much because they don’t know how to determine what is important? Below are a few tips and photos from a demo lesson I gave to tackle this issue. And, yes, I used the pasta analogy 😉

The article for this lesson was about a village in Costa Rica that has chosen to raise and sell butterflies instead of clear cutting the rain forest. This movement started at a school with students taking the lead on the project before their parents and other community members became involved.


  1. I started by describing the reading strategy we would be using and introducing the pasta analogy. We are going to be reading an article very carefully and underlining key words and phrases that help us answer a particular question. You can read more about the pasta analogy in a previous blog. I use this analogy to help students understand that key words and phrases or “key details” are like pasta which we want to eat and the other words are like the water you boil the pasta in – which you don’t want to eat.Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 7.11.41 AM
  2. Then I moved to activating (for some) and building (for others) prior knowledge by briefly discussing three photos related to the content of the article. I shared a map of the western hemisphere and pointed out where Costa Rica is in relation to the United States and then a photo of the rain forest in Costa Rica and a contrasting photo of what a rain forest looks like when clear cutting happens. There were no photos to support this in the article (I found all three online) and I felt like it was very important for students to understand where this takes place and this concept and how it influenced the village’s decision.img_7374
  3. Then I shared the purpose for reading which was posted on the front board and said something like: We are going to read an article about a village in Costa Rica that decides to NOT clear cut the rain forest. Butterflies help this community in some way. I engaged the students in reading the purpose posted on the front board. img_7369
  4. In the ideal world the students would read the article in advance of this lesson to get a basic idea of the content. This was not the case for this demo lesson. Instead I asked the students to spend a moment using the THIEVES strategy to preview and make informed predictions about what the text would be about.
  5. With the text projected, I modeled reading the first paragraph, then rereading to think aloud for them about key words and phrases – including thinking aloud about why these were important words or phrases. img_7372
  6. The students had pieces of blank paper folded into quarters and I drew four quadrants on the dry erase board. (When we don’t have copies of the text to mark on, this is an alternative.) I wrote the key words and phrases for the first paragraph as I thought aloud. The students caught on and started contributing words to the list. They also copied these words onto their papers. img_7373
  7. I stopped and modeled using my key word list to summarize aloud what I’d learned–I did this with a student partner who brought her notes to the front.
  8. The class and I did a shared think aloud for the 2nd paragraph and listed words together. We stopped and thought aloud about what we’d learned in both paragraphs – with a partner – using the key words we’d written. student-pasta-2
  9. I released responsibility to pairs for the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. They listed key words and stopped to summarize aloud with each other. Eventually, THESE NOTES CAN BE USED TO WRITE SUMMARIES OR HIGHER LEVEL THINKING RESPONSES TO THE TEXT.
  10. We wrapped up by discussing what we’d learned as well as the strategy of determining what is important.

The classroom teacher finished the next day by coaching the students in determining what was important for two more paragraphs. The text was an eight page article. That’s TOO LONG for this kind of reading and note taking. If you’re working with a text this long, I’d suggest jigsawing the following sections (after you’ve done one section together like we did)  – assigning small groups to read a section of a text (from one subtitle to the next) and determining key words. Then when they jigsaw, they have to share what they learned with their new group. Another option is to choose a shorter text OR because they’ve read carefully the first section, ask them to finish reading without listing key words. That careful reading of the first section should launch them towards better understanding.

Hope this helps.


Dear Accelerated Reader, It’s not fair.

Dear Accelerated Reader,

It’s not fair that you assign fewer points to nonfiction than fiction. For example, students who read The Hunger Games (GL 5.3) get a whopping 15 points, but students who read Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Hopkinson (GL 7.4) receive a measly 7 points. Yes, Titanic is only 289 pages compared to The Hunger Games at 384 pages, BUT Titanic is a multi-layered, cognitively demanding text with intertwined narratives about multiple passengers, the sinking of the ship and the rescue as well as many many non-narrative sidebars including explanations of the engineering of the ship, comparisons to other ships, descriptions of the lifeboats, etc. and, on top of all of that, dozens of primary sources to interpret. It is also written at a higher Lexile level probably due to a lot of domain specific, challening vocabulary. And yet – you award Titanic LESS THAN HALF the points that students get for reading The Hunger Games.


titanicScreen Shot 2016-08-22 at 11.24.11 AMhunger games

More examples? Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Partridge (GL 6.6), winner of numerous awards, tells the story of the children who marched for voting rights in the 1960’s in Selma, Alabama. It has 62 pages of text, but it has a large format so each page of text equals about two pages in a typical fiction chapter book format. It’s a complex text in that the reader has to follow multiple narratives and grapple with complex issues like racism, social activism, and perseverance. The reader also has to understand the motives and work of organizations like the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). And yet – you award it only 3 points!

marching for freedom


On the science end of the reading spectrum, check out The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (GL 7.5). Only 59 pages but again with a large page format with twice the text on each page of what is in a typical chapter book. The author chronicles, describes, and explains colony collapse disorder. This is not a book for spring chicken readers. It’s difficult and demanding and yet amazingly rewarding as the reader walks away with knowledge critical to understanding an important issue in our world. Again-at a higher Lexile than The Hunger Games. And yet – you award it only 2 points!!!

UGH!!! Do you hear me moaning???

AR, I will give you a small, very small, bit of credit. Picture books geared towards the primary grades typically get .5 AR points regardless of whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. Just a little bit of credit.

Back to my point. I don’t know how you, Accelerated Reader, are assigning points, but I’m begging you to rejudge books like these and GIVE MORE POINTS!!! After all, we do want our students to read more nonfiction, correct? And IF we have to assign points (which I’m not a big fan of anyway), then let’s use this as an incentive to read more nonfiction, too? RIGHT?????

Teachers. AR may continue to fail us. In that case, would you double the points offered for a nonfiction book? Or maybe require so many books read in a particular genre versus assigning points? And if you already do, HOORAY!!! Thank you!!!!

Hope this helps.


Critical Thinking Across Multiple Texts – Choosing Texts Part 2

I’m hooked on the art of locating and layering texts for students to read and think across. In my last entry, I described a series of lessons where middle school students used an evolving definition of “honorable” to think critically about the role of medieval age warriors and modern warriors. We chose text excerpts and video clips from multiple sources, but in a very purposeful way.

Honorable anchor chart

When I choose multiple texts for close reading, I like to select texts that build on each other. I want students–when they go to read a second or third text–to say, “Oh, I recognize some of the information in this text from the last text I read…” or “Wait, this is new information…this expands my understanding.”

Below are the excerpts I selected on “knights” from a few library books I found and from sources on the Internet. Notice how in Text 1, the author provides some basic information about the young nobleman’s being a page, a squire and then a knight. In Text 2, the author provides more detail than the first. Thus the student can take what they learned from Text 1 and add to their learning with Text 2. This is an easy exercise to engage students in and reveal the power of reading across texts. I chose Text 3 (an excerpt from a longer book) because there is detailed content on particular aspects of the squire’s training – serious training and bodybuilding. The content in Text 3 expands the reader’s understanding of the squire’s training. Text 4 (a short video) extends the student’s understanding about the skill required to be a knight even further. By engaging in close reading and thinking across these four texts, the student can develop some depth in their understanding of an ability or an achievement of the knight that might be considered honorable. (FYI – The knights were not always honorable. I also located texts that described the Code of Chivalry and how the knights sometimes did not follow this Code.)



100 Things you should know about knights and castles (Walker, 2001, p. 16)

It took about 14 years of training to become a knight. The son of a noble joined a lord’s household at age seven. He learned how to ride, to shoot a bow and arrow, and how to behave in front of nobles. He then became a squire, where he learned how to fight with a sword, and he looked after his master’s armor and weapons. If he was successful, he became a knight at 21.

Text 2


Knights: Fearsome Fighters (Hanel, 2008, p. 20-21)

A knight’s training started when he was young and lasted several years. Around the age of seven, a boy born of a knight or other high-class parents was sent away to live with his father’s master or a powerful relative. The young knight-in-training was considered a page. He ran errands, served food, and performed other duties for the nobleman and the woman of the manor. In exchange for his services, the page received a good education. He learned to read and write, play music, and observe good manners. His preparations for later fighting also started, as he was taught how to care for the horses and learned a little about weaponry and fighting techniques by watching others or practicing with supervision.

Around the age of 13, the page became a squire. Squires studied directly with a knight and received more rigorous training for knighthood. They learned how to use weapons and participated in mock battles. At the same time, they continued their servitude, helping the knight in various tasks, including cleaning weapons and taking care of the horses. Sometimes a squire rode into battle to attend and observe his knight.

Text 3


Excerpt from Medieval Lives: Knight (Butterfield, 2009, p. 14-15)

Note: This book is written about a fictional English knight and in the present tense.

Becoming a Squire

When he is 14, the page’s parents watch their son receive a simple sword in a ceremony confirming him as a squire. He swears an oath of fealty, or loyalty, to the knight in whose household he lives. He is now expected to be that knight’s personal servant in battle.

Serious Training

The young knight-to-be now begins his training in earnest. He learns to aim his lance at the quintain, a wooden arm with a shield on one side and a heavy sack on the other. If he fails to hit the shield full-on, the sack will swing around and knock him on the back of the head! He also practices aiming his lance through metal rings hanging in trees.

He learns to ride superbly, controlling the horse with his knees and feet so that his hands are free to hold weapons. His saddle is shaped high in the front and back to help him stay on. He trains with two other squires and sometimes they have mock sword fights using wooden swords.


The squire works at building up his strength so he will be strong enough to wear heavy chain-mail armor and mount a horse while wearing it. He tries to make himself stronger using a well-known squire’s trick. He sews dirt into the pockets and hems of his clothing to make it heavier. He becomes good at vaulting over his horse while wearing chain mail, and he rides hard while hunting and leaping over ditches and hedges. He and the other squires are competitive and try to outdo each other in their knightly skills.

Text 4

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 2.11.28 PM

Short video at http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/chivalry/ entitled “A Passion for Swords, Daggers and Medieval Manuscripts” about a manuscript called “The Flower of Battle” (written around 1410) that describes battle techniques of knights. There are images from the book (so primary source) as well as a trained Medieval martial arts master as the narrator. Students can learn the following:

  • There were specific techniques for combat
  • These techniques required skill and quick thinking
  • If you could not harm your opponent in three moves or less, you are probably equally matched and should back off.

Students can draw the following conclusions from the video clip:

  • Knights were skillful
  • Training to be a knight required critical thinking and a lot of practice
  • Training required a strong body and a strong mind

Yes. It takes time to build a text set like this, but it’s worth the reward when students begin to make clear connections between and across texts. Because I do this frequently, the process has become much faster and this is a text set I can use again and again. I believe that later when students go to do research on their own, having experiences with teacher-developed text sets will help them in determining which texts to use and in thinking across texts as well. A few tips for locating and layering texts:

  • have a clear focus for the texts (like the “stages of knighthood”)
  • collect a stack of library or other resource books, skim and scan for excerpts
  • google topics (but make sure whatever you choose is a credible source)
  • integrate video clips (museum sites are a good source for this) & primary sources
  • as you choose texts, think about how they build or expand content in the previous text
  • select SHORT texts…students have trouble retaining information and thinking about multiple texts when they are too long…maybe build towards longer excerpts later on…
  • be flexible – you may not find the “perfect” (in your mind) set, but students will surprise you in what they notice as they begin to think across texts that have been chosen with at least some thought.

Hope this helps.


Critical thinking across multiple texts – Part I

In a 7th grade social studies class I visited a few weeks ago, the students used an evolving definition of “honorable” as a lens for reading multiple texts on warriors – ancient and modern. In the image below, the blue text was our original definition. As the students engaged in discussions about what it means for ancient and modern day warriors to be honorable, we added to the definition. Our ultimate goal was to get at the complexity of what it means to be honorable. What are abilities, qualities, achievements that demand honor? What training or life experiences are necessary? What is the role of codes of conduct? Is it possible to be perfectly honorable 100% of the time? What is tricky about this? What are sacrifices involved in pursuing being honorable?

Honorable anchor chart

Here’s an outline of the lessons we gave:

  1. One day interviewing a veteran – The class interviewed a modern day warrior, a veteran who works at their school. The students were asked to fill out an anticipatory set in advance. This was a very powerful experience that would launch their thinking as we moved forward.
  2. Two days on knights – The teacher and I modeled and then encouraged individual and partner close reading of multiple passages on knights in the medieval period – training and code of ethics. modeled annotations knightsDuring this close reading, the students underlined and annotated information in response to the question, “What are you learning that might help you think about how this warrior is honorable?” We provided lots of opportunities for 2-3 minute student-led conversations around what students were thinking regarding “honorable” and the content they’d just read and regarding how they were adding to their thinking as they read each additional passage. I quickly modeled having a conversation with a student as my partner (referring to our notes & thinking about what a partner had said before responding). Below is one student’s annotated texts.Student 1 annotated notes
  3. Two days on the samurai – A similar routine. Knight and Samurai texts
  4. Two days on modern day warriors – the marines. Students visited http://www.marines.com/operating-forces/strategic-warrior – a website that describes marines as strategic warriors and then they also visited a site that discusses posttraumatic stress disorder and includes videos (primary sources) of veterans talking about their PTSD.Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 6.44.55 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-03 at 6.58.11 AM
  5. Time to write in response to what they’d learned – Students were given a menu of options for responding – poetry, illustrating/creating art, writing a letter of appreciation to a veteran. In the future, we’re planning to encourage students to submit to http://www.teenink.com for publication.

Throughout all of these lessons, we continued to refer to the definition of “honorable” as a way to help students articulate what they were learning.

I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM THESE STUDENTS. In my next few blog entries, I’m going to write about what the students revealed in their annotations as well as how we determined which texts to use.

And a BIG THANK YOU to CHRIS, the classroom teacher who co-planned and taught with me!

Hope this helps.



Check out these reading responses!

A few posts ago I wrote about shaking up how we ask students to write in response to texts–creating hall of fame posters, designing two-page layouts for trade books, and writing letters. One of my colleagues in the field, Britany, a fifth grade teacher, gave this a go! She asked students who’d read the book Plant Parts by Louise & Richard Stilsbury to write a letter from the root to the plant. See her prompt below.


Plant letter prompt

Below are a few of the letters. What are the strengths I noticed in these letters? They are doing so much!!!!

  • The writers have a clear sense of purpose and audience with coherent reasoning.
  • The writers attempt to use domain specific vocabulary like fibrous root, root hair, nutrients, photosynthesis, minerals.
  • There are attempts at explaining the science they learned – especially in the first letter below where the student explains the job of the root hair.
  • There’s some humor–as though the student writer is having a good time. “I’m the big guy.” “Your sad friend.” “The smallest root hair with the biggest job.”
  • There are attempts at revising – check out the arrows and additional details that are attempts at adding depth.

KV Letter to a plant

C Plant letter

EG Plant letterMC Plant letterBased on my formative assessment of these responses, where would I head next with this group?

  • I’d locate and tackle another text on plants that somehow adds to this conversation between the plant and the root, that somehow deepens students’ understanding of plant systems.
  • I’d lead the students in a close reading of text excerpts that explain particular processes and engage the students in conversation about what they are learning–retelling what they learned and discussing their reasoning as to why this is important or why the explanation of this process is important to the author’s central message/main idea.
  • Some of the writing is list like–mostly listing reasons why the plant should keep the root.  I might share the first letter as a mentor text for “explaining” further and engage in shared writing of also explaining why a particular detail is important. For example, why is it important to the entire plant that the root grows deep? The shared writing might be an opportunity to work on syntax related to explaining these concepts in writing, in academic discourse.
  • I didn’t read this book, but I’d keep an eye on the facts. So it was funny when one student wrote, “All you do is just sit and act pretty,” but I’m thinking the flower part of the plant actually has a purpose and is also vital. Maybe I could introduce vocabulary like synergy or interdependence. (Sorry, Science Teachers. I need to study and find the right term!)
  • I’d build on the students’ strength as far as the humor and sense of purpose and voice revealed in the first set of letters by listing what they did well in these letters, proposing a follow-up letter, and adding to the list additional ways they can make their writing stronger. I might add an additional purpose for writing – perhaps drafts of a children’s book that can be shared with younger grade?

Okay. Hope this helps. A BIG THANK YOU to Britany for sharing!!!! I learned so much by thinking through what the students wrote!!!!


Can your 6-8th grade students explain how two authors present the same info and reveal different points of view?

Here’s a lesson for teaching students to analyze how two authors writing about the same topic may shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of the facts (Common Core Standard 7.9).

  1. Go to Science News for Students and locate an article that cites a study. Most of these articles do cite studies. For example, the article “When smartphones go to school” by Kowalski cites a research study by Jeffrey Kuznekoff at Miami University Middletown. Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 7.06.26 AM
  2. On the Internet, do a search for an article that cites the same study. I found “Take Note” when I searched for Kuznekoff’s study.
  3. Ask the students to read both texts and then jot their thoughts about each author’s point of view and discuss.
    In “Smartphones go to school,” while the author presents both sides of the issue (whether learning can happen via smartphones in the classroom), her presentation of the facts leans towards the argument that smartphones can be a distraction, dangerous and even addictive. Kowalski cites several studies and when she quotes Kuznekoff, she tends to quote him on the negative aspects of smartphones in the classroom. In “Take Note” the author explains Kuznekoff’s study in more detail and seems to be leaning towards the idea that teachers need to learn to work with technology like students’ smartphones and if they do, this can be beneficial.
  4. Closely read excerpts from the text that discuss the study. Close read for this purpose–How does the author shape her presentation or her message? Underline details and write in the margins. You might have to teach students language that identifies what the author is doing to shape their presentation of the information – you might have to introduce types of details like introduces study, explains study, presents counterargument, quotes an expert or researcher, shares negatives–benefits–disadvantages–positives–advantages, concludes with…, cites other studies, hypothesizes, draws conclusions. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART –TEACHING STUDENTS to identify and name THESE TYPES OF DETAILS. I find that I have to model heavily when first teaching students how to do this!  This is my annotation of an excerpt from “When smartphones go to school”              Scan 347Scan 348 Here’s my annotated copy of “Take Notes”                           Scan 349Scan 350
  5. Coach students as they have conversations about the differences and similarities in the authors’ presentations of the same study.
    Here’s one 7th grade student’s notes about the article “When smartphones go to school” articles–gleaned from her annotations                  Scan 351                                                                            Here’s her notes about “Take Note” Scan 352
  6. Ask students to write in response.
    Below is the 7th grade student’s response. There’s definitely room for her to grow–but her initial attempt reveals an understanding of what I was trying to teach.

Science News
Carl Straumsheim, Take Note, June 8 2015, web page
Kathiann Kowalski, When Smartphones Go To School, March 3rd 2016, web page

I read two articles on separate websites, by different authors, about the same
study, conducted by professor Jeffrey H. Kuznekoff. He had 145 students watch a video
and then take a test on it. One group of students was able to text and tweet about
anything during the lesson, another could only text or tweet about class related things,
and a control group could not use their phones at all. As a result the control group and
the group that could use their phones for class related purposes scored a letter grade
higher than the group that could text and tweet about anything. I learned that phones
can be a distraction during class if not used specifically for learning purposes.

Though the two authors were writing about the same study, they had a very
different point of view. Kowalski briefly touched on the positives, and went into detail
about the negative aspects. Her view on the subject of smartphones in school seemed to
be generally negative. To support this view, she also used results from three different
studies, as well as quotes from three experts. Straumsheim focused on only the one
study, and went into great detail about not only how it was conducted, but also both
the negative and positive sides of the argument of phones in school. He seemed to be
saying that smartphones can have benefits in the classroom, if teachers learn to
integrate them in a positive way.

This takes a lot of work on our part–model, model, think aloud, engage in shared thinking aloud, create anchor charts with the types of details author’s use, do it again and again and again.

Hope this helps.


Writing with Mentor Texts – App Reviews in Grades 6-8


Is anybody else sick of the five-paragraph essay? The book Writing with Mentors (Marchetti & O’Dell, 2015) was so refreshing to read as I ponder how to keep students excited about reading and writing analytically. The authors provide insight into how we can engage students in writing for authentic purposes in a variety of non-five-paragraph essay formats that align with the Common Core Standards. The key is using authentic texts – book reviews, restaurant reviews, etc.–as mentor through throughout the entire writing process. While the book is geared towards 9-12 grade, the authors’ approach is very appropriate for middle school students. I was inspired to try out a lesson as a result. (Depending on your students, you might be able to pull this off in even lower grades!)

Okay…heads up. I tried this out with one 7th grade student–my daughter– but having taught middle school and demonstrated lessons in lots of middle school classrooms, I can make the case that there’s room for this series of lessons with entire classes and with students at all ability levels.

My daughter is seriously into technology and has started a YouTube account with the purpose of “reviewing” apps. Sound familiar? So I designed a series of lessons that included critically reading published app reviews and then writing a review. Based on what I learned, here’s a set of lesson procedures—that will take multiple periods and can easily be blown into a longer series of lessons as well.

  1. In preparation for teaching, develop a text set of published app reviews for students analyze. Marchetti & O’Dell encourage teachers to read authentic texts for themselves, determining which texts might be mentors and developing text sets. I hunted for good app reviews and quickly realized that app reviews have common types of details–purpose, explanations of how to use, benefits, analogies, even counterarguments! I chose several to read during the lessons. I’ve attached the App reviews and the links if you’re interested.
  2. Start with what the students know by engaging in a shared writing of what they would include in a review or expect to see in a review. Scan 336
  3. Closely read multiple reviews and annotate for the types of details authors include–together, with a partner, independently. Below is a copy of my daughter’s annotations — these were heavily scaffolded to start and then as she read additional reviews, she started recognizing the types of details we’d already discussed. Scan 338
  4. During the close reading, maintain a list of the types of details that might be included in an app review. This is the trick-we have to provide students with the academic vocabulary they need to explain what an author is doing. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know I’m a big fan of living, breathing anchor charts. I’d make a list of the types of details we were noticing in the reviews on a big piece of chart paper for all students to reference as I gradually release responsibility. This is the list I made as I read and annotated with my daughter and then as she read independently. Scan 339
  5. Challenge students to “try out” some of the types of details in their own review of an app. (BTW- this assumes the students are familiar with or have chosen at least one app to review which may be another lesson or a homework assignment.) The responsibility for writing an app review may need to gradually released–you might write part of one together and the students finish with a partner and THEN they write their own. Below is the review that my daughter wrote–she is a fairly strong writer so I was able to release responsibility quickly. I required her to use a counterargument (a simple that addresses why users might argue against using this app) and she independently chose to include figurative language. There’s definitely room for growth (in revising, editing, etc.)–which also makes the case for asking students to write multiple reviews over a unit of study.


Embellish Your Photos With Stunning Graphic Designs And Typography With Font Candy

Easy Tiger Apps is a developer known for creating photo editing based apps, such as Split Pic, Animal Face, and Moments, so it is no revelation that they have released another amazing editing app.

Font Candy is meant for adding graphic designs and typography to your photos in the form of quotes. When you first open the app, you see your photo library, but you can also swipe at the top of the page to get more photo options, such as importing from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, or simply the internet. Once you select a photo, you are able to scale it for Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and then decorate it with over 50 fonts.

Some might argue for a different app such as Pic Collage, because you can filter, blur, draw on and add text to your photos. However Font Candy still has many more capabilities. It is compatible with all photo collecting apps that exist on your phone, including less popular ones such as Boomerang and Flipagram while Pic Collage only carries Instagram, Facebook, and web searches. Creators of Font Candy were also able to zero in on one feature, fonts, carrying 84 free fonts, plus more available for purchase. Pic Collage has less than 40 fonts available.

Being a teenager in the twenty first century, pen and paper to me is like an air book mac to an elephant, i.e, of no use whatsoever. I can create art of all types on my phone, whether it is in video form or picture. But with smartphones dominating over the original flip phone, everyone can take a picture and Instagram it. However not everyone has the time and patience to turn their photos into quotable designs. So Font Candy offers an advantage to creative Instagrammers, to spice up photos with an abundance of fonts.

Hope this helps. If you try this out or have experienced similar lessons, please let me know how the lessons go!  AND BTW – this lesson experience opened my eyes to some easy ways to teach introduce counterarguments—more on this soon.



Are your students tired of writing summaries and analytic essays?

I’m shaking up how students respond to informational texts. I’m experimenting with letters, Hall of Fame posters for a bulletin board in the classroom entitled “People Who Have Changed the World,” designing and writing content for a book entitled Did You Know, and classified ads. Regardless of the format, though, I’m still  REQUIRING students to tap and explain text evidence related to a main idea.

I tried this a few weeks ago with several groups of 4th and 5th grade students during small group guided writing lessons. (I was giving demo lessons–as a consultant in a school district.)  Here’s the routine I established for the series of lessons (4 lessons at about 20 minutes each):

  1. Lessons 1-2 closely read for a clear purpose 1-2 short informational texts and annotate or take notes. By short, I mean 1-3 pages of text. For example, one group of 4th grade students read two pages of text in their anthology on the work of public officials like city council members. The second text was a one page article from Scholastic News on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s plan for the water crisis in Flint, MI. Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.49.07 AMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.49.07 AM                      The essential question was How do public officials accomplish things to help people? They took notes on a two-column chart.                               Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.01.14 AM                                                                                During these two lessons, there were several opportunities for students to turn and talk to a partner about what they were learning–this is a very important bridge to writing!
  2. Lesson 3 – Start with 5-10 minutes of conversation. I asked the students to review their notes and turn and talk with a partner about what they’d learned about how public officials accomplish tasks. With this group, I noticed that they needed more support in talking in depth about this topic versus just listing what they learned off their notes. So I pulled the group back together and we had a “conversation” –this means no one raises their hands. We just talk and as needed I prompt students to ask each other for clarification, to ask for more details from a peer, or to build on what a peer said. As they did this, I took notes (based on what they were saying or my interpretation of their comments) on a small dry erase board – for the students to refer to as they talked (see image below).                                                            2016-02-04 15.15.15
  3. Lesson 3 – Set a purpose for writing and develop criteria – 5 minutes. For each format I explored with students, we developed criteria. For the hall of fame poster and the Did You Know book, I used a mentor text (that I found on the Internet) which I showed them on a small laptop (see below).  For the poster and the DId You Know tasks, I asked partners to collaborate.                                                                   Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.31 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.42 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.08.58 PM                                                                         Below are examples of criteria we co-developed and referred to over and over again as the students wrote.                                                                                   2016-02-04 15.17.542016-02-02 10.16.33 2016-02-03 15.30.27For the 4th grade lesson with texts on public officials, the students had to write a letter to someone they think should run for public office and explain why – with reference to the texts they’d read. Notice that part of the criteria is the student must refer to the texts read–tying a main idea from the text into the letter as well as text evidence and an explanation.  For the hall of fame poster, we decided they would refer to text evidence and explain how the two historical figures (Gus Garcia and Frederick Douglass) in the top right hand corner of their poster. For the Did You Know two-page layout, they would refer to what they’d learned from texts in the text under the question and then integrate throughout the graphics, side bars, etc.
  4. Lesson 3 – Engage in shared writing – 5 minutes. Below is an example of shared writing with the students who read about public officials. I chunked this. So we picked a person to write a letter for together and then they picked their own person. We wrote an intro for our shared person letter and then they wrote one for their own person. We wrote about text evidence for our shared person letter and then they wrote about different evidence for their own person.                                                                                      2016-02-04 15.16.28
  5. Lesson 3 continued and then Lesson 4 – Students write independently (or with a partner) – 25 minutes at the writing table with me there to coach. Students continue writing their pieces – in particular, the part where they have to refer to the text and explain. These may not be completely done by the end of these lessons but I’m not worried about taking these all the way to publication. What’s important is that quality time at the table with me present to coach while they write for 25 minutes.
    They can finish independently and I can confer with them briefly about finalizing later.
    Below are examples of students’ drafted letters. Notice how they integrated information from two texts into their letters.                                                     Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.16.20 PM                                                                                               (BTW – Mr. Taylor is the principal at that school! Another student wrote a letter to his mom and two chose friends they thought would be good public officials.)                                         For the letter below, the group of students read a text about Jane Addams and about Gus Garcia with an essential question regarding how these historical figures advocated for people. The author of this letter chose to write a thank you note to her teacher–thanking her for advocating for students and for teaching students to advocate for others – similar to Addams and Garcia.                                                                      Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.18.57 PM                                                                                           There are all sorts of letters students can write – thank you, encouragement, inquiry, requests, etc.  One group read about how scientists collaborate and then they wrote a thank you note to a classmate who’d collaborated with them in some way (to build a bridge in science, to complete a math word problem, etc.). They had to include what they’d learned from two texts about the power of collaboration.    

If you’ve tried shaking up responses to informational text done at the guided writing table, I’d like to hear about it!!!

Hope this helps.