How to Schedule your Language Arts

Every day I am given 100 minutes of uninterrupted language arts time in my schedule.  In that time I must plan out how to get everything done.  My goal is to plan all of my lessons so that they flow together and fit, not so that they are a disjointed mess of "LETS CRAM IT ALL IN"  I do this by focusing on Themes, Mentor Texts, and Student Choice.

One of the things that I am asked most by new and old teachers is how do I structure my language block so that it makes sense and is not a planning nightmare.  This is especially important in a split grade because in reality you are dealing with twice the curriculum.  (this doesn't affect my planning as much as it does my assessment of language skills)

If you haven't already read how I set up my physical classroom space for literacy instruction check out my previous post here

What does my Literacy Block Include

  • Read Alouds
  • Shared Reading
  • Student Conferences
  • Independent Reading Responses
  • Creative Writing/Writers Workshop
  • Grammar and Work Work
  • Reading Mini Lessons
  • Writing Mini Lessons
  • Guided Instruction
Yes all of these things are included in my language arts time.  However not everything happens in one day.  I take a whole week to make sure that I do these things.

Here is a sample of my schedule

So a brief overview of this schedule. (perhaps some future posts may be needed about these elements in more detail.

1) Independent Reading - I strongly believe that students need to read for enjoyment everyday.  I don't monitor it, I don't track it, I don't value one type or reading over another.  Students read what they want to read during this time for fun.  This also serves as a quiet activity after recess to help them regain focus and prepare for their language arts time.  As a student I loved reading but hated that teachers ruined my reading time by making me write down what I was reading or picked what I should be reading.  So I don't do it.  I monitor the students, especially my struggling readers, and make sure that they are reading.  I have a larger classroom library that I am slowly weeding out old books (I am a bit of a book hoarder) as students are using more digital books and materials to read. Some of my students favourites last year were TinTin, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Video Game review sites and forums, and Wonder.

2) Read Aloud -  I LOVE PICTURE BOOKS!!! honestly I think this is my favourite teaching material in my classroom.  I use picture books as my read aloud/Mentor Text every week.  I choose books that fit my theme for the month (see my long range plans) and I focus on specific reading strategies such as determining importance, finding the main idea, making connections, making inferences, point of view, synthesizing (putting it all together).  My read aloud is the basis of my entire language program.  I usually take about three days to read a picture book because I only read what I need to that day to help the students focus on the mini lesson that I am using.  I know in my schedule above it has read aloud and mini lesson but really these two components work together.  My time between these two components is flexible.  (see my post on my language unit on questioning and predicting)
Reading independent practice is a time for students to apply previous lesson independently.  I like to think of this as a two week cycle.  I teach them through modelled shared and guided instruction how to do something in week one then they practice this in guided or independent time the following week.  Their independent activity each week is always based on something I taught them prior to the beginning of the week.

3) Mentor Sentences: Reading Mechanics - If you haven't heard of mentor sentences they are based on a concept by Jeff Anderson.  I will be honest when I say that I have not read his books but have been hearing about the concept for a while.  I decided to check it out and read about how other teachers are doing it.  It essentially helps students learn about grammar in context of well constructed sentences.  I am sure that you, like me, have been told that teaching spelling and grammar out of context is pointless as students do not internalize these lessons and apply it to their writing.  ME TOO!! My dilemma was that my use of mentor sentences needed to rely less on photocopy handouts and more on interactive centres.  Think Daily 5 meets Mentor Sentences.  Here's how it works:

  • Look at your students writing samples, or formal writing assessments and determine a grammar or spelling rule that they are struggling with. 
  • Go to your read aloud and choose a simple sentence that has a spelling pattern or grammar concept that want to cover. 
  • Print out that sentence on chart paper (and with younger students make a copy that they can glue in their book) 
  • Read the sentence with students and have them "Examine" the sentence (and when your principal walks in you can even tell them you are doing inquiry learning in language too) Have them look for parts of speech, suffixes, rhyme, or whatever else is appropriate for your grade level.  Use this sentence to form the jump off for your word work centres or activities.  Use word sorts, practice cursive or printing with the sentence, build a word wall, etc. etc. 
  • Then students develop their own look alike sentence based on the mentor sentence and using the key learning from the week in their look alike sentence.  So if you focused on adjectives then their look alike sentence would have lots of adjectives.  Or if you focused on suffixes then they would try to integrate words with suffixes into their sentences
  • For example "Whisker's claws caught on the string, scattering buttons like sunflower seeds" - Memory String by Eve Bunting.  Students would notice the parts and elements in the sentence you might focus on similes or irregular past tense verbs or suffixes, and then finally their look alike sentence could be "Joe's long jagged toenail tore through the sock, ripping a hole as big as the Grand Canyon " 
Writers Workshop - I have really come to enjoy this time with students.  This part of my writing time is also focused on student choice.  (Which I firmly believe increases student engagement)  I have a wheel of writing (found for free in my store) I show students the various options and then they vote and choose the three that they are most interested in. These are what we focus on.  I may do guided writing activities when they are writing or whole class lessons based on the student interest.  I post this wheel in my classroom and students can write any form that is on the wheel but they always have a choice.  When students are ready they move on to another form of writing.  Students also write a different draft of writing each week for me.  This can be intense and sometimes it is almost two weeks for a draft but they are drafting constantly.  This means that not everything goes through the writing process.  Once per term (we have two terms in a school year) students will choose a piece of writing and take it through the writing process.  This way students learn to love writing and not worry so much about the tedious parts of editing and revision.  It also allows them to choose a writing sample that they are very passionate about.  

My writing Mini Lessons are a combination of what I need to teach and what the students need to learn.  Much of what I teach during this time is generated by the information that I gather from reading student work.  For example last year my students struggled initially with organizing their ideas, gathering data, and asking questions.  This was a main focus.  

Shared Reading - This so far has been the most frustrating part of my language program.  I have many shared reading posters and workbooks but they all seem a little disjointed.  Shared reading for me is reading that the students do with me that is much more focused on a particular reading strategy. My frustration is that these seem very disjointed from the rest of my reading program.  This is a goal of my to remedy this year.  I will let you know how this goes as I am developing as I go :) (who knows perhaps there might be a product in there that I can share with you too) 

Well I can already tell that this is something I need to revisit again...if you would like more details on any of the above please leave a comment below and I will address it in future posts.  


5 Ways to Reduce Back to School Stress

Are you thinking ahead to the start of your school year? Being prepared before school begins always helps me to start the year off on the right foot. But if your don't know where to begin I will tell you what I do to help me reduce my beginning of school year stress.

1) Long Range Plan
This is the most important thing that I do that helps me to be organized school year.  I remember my first year teaching I was not teaching one day and was full time teaching the next after the contract teacher had to leave.  With no plan I was constantly playing catch up never really knowing where I was going or how I was going to get there.  I learned a very important lesson - Planning is Key!!! Whether or not you know what grade you are teaching or if you are a supply that might get a short term position, having an idea of what you might teach is very important.  My long range plans are refined every year and try to reflect the lessons I learned the previous year.

2) Organizing your Classroom
How your physical space looks and feels is important to consider.  You need to think about zones in your classroom.  I start in my classroom by having places for each subject.  I have a bulletin board for each subject and shelving I found unused around the school to hold objects used for that subject.  My Language goals are behind my guided reading table, math manipulatives beside my math board, and classroom library next to my literacy board.  When you always have the same subject in the same place students quickly learn where to look for information needed for each subject.  I also spend some time planning the physical layout of my classroom.  I painstakingly measure all of my large pieces of furniture and the size of my room.  Then I open up powerpoint and make each of the large objects in my classroom.  I choose a scale that works usually 1m = 2.5cm. This is a picture of my classroom for September.  I have moved to tables and due to the large number of students have made room by putting my desk in the top corner.  This helps me to save some time and plan out the layout of the room so that I am not forever moving furniture around the week before school starts.

3) Movement
Look at your classroom plan.  How will students move around the classroom?

  • When they walk in the room in the morning where will they go?
  • Where will they hand in their work?
  • Where will they line up?
  • How will they move from whole group instruction to small group instruction?
  • Where will you sit and will you be able to see all students working? Sightlines?
  • Where will you drop off your stuff when you come in the room each morning?
Once you have checked your classroom plan and the movement plan you can be confident that your layout should work.  However test it out live in your room.  Make sure that reality works with your envisioned plan.

4) Label, Label, Label
I label everything!!! I label my cupboards, student lockers, groups, book bins, book box shelves, book boxes, student books.  You name it and I label it.  This helps everyone know where everything belongs.  I even label my students.  While not really but I do give them numbers so that it helps to keep their things organized when they hand their work in, and when I mark it.  So much easier to know whose work is missing when a number is missing.  I use a variety of labels to mark my things.  I use traditional sticker labels for student books and book boxes. However for labels that I don't want fading each year I design and print our photos of the labels and then use mack tac to secure them on my book bins, manipulatives, and other objects that need durable labels.

5. What's the Routine?
Okay this took me a while to figure out.  When I started teaching I didn't realize the amount of planning it took to develop, practice and enforce a routine.  I teach junior students I took for granted that by their fifth year of schooling that perhaps they already knew how to do things.  I promise you that they don't.  Sure they conceptually know how to line up but they don't know how you want them to line up.  I read in a Whole Brain Teaching handbook that if students are not doing what you want them to do it is because you have not taught them how.  Teaching them is more than telling it is telling, rehearsing, and reinforcing constantly.  Here are some routines that you need to have planned for the start of the school year.  Think through this list, are there things that you would like to change about routines that you have used before?  Think through this list and write down what you would like to do for each of these routines.  Each of these need to be taught, practiced and reinforced for students.

  • How will they enter the classroom in the morning and after each recess?
  • How will they handle their agendas?
  • Where will they hand in homework?
  • How will they go to the bathroom?
  • How will they hand in permission forms?
  • How will they move around the classroom?
  • What will independent work look like?
  • How will they walk in the hallways?
  • How will they sit in an assembly?
I have included much more as a Freebie here.

These are just some of the things that you need to consider when planning for a new school year. I rewrite these each year just to reinforce for myself what it is that I want to do in my classroom.  I thought that I would share it with you here.  


New Design...I'm in love!!

Well I finally decided that it was about time to get a professional redesign. So after much thought and research I asked Megan at A Bird In Hand Designs to design a kick ass look for my blog. 

She was so awesome to work with and was even able to get to my redesign early . So now my new blog design is ready as I prepare to go to the TPT conference in Vegas. 

Now I will work hard on rebranding all of my products in my TPT store so that everything coordinates together. 

I have now joined Instagram and will work on adding more pictures to my account. If you have pictures of my products in your classroom please feel free to share them with me. 


The Making of a Rock Cycle Video

In my classroom right now my grade 4s are learning about Rocks and Minerals.  I have tried to focus more this year on using experiments and inquiry in my units.  I have taught the rock cycle before but it has always fallen flat.  This component of the Rocks and Minerals unit needs to be taught in a more engaging way.  So in doing research for my TPT unit I cam across an activity that uses crayons melted over hot water.

On Monday I knew that I wanted to do this with my class but as usual I wanted to try it out first at home just to make sure that it worked well.  Students are rarely good when an experiment doesn't work out the way you need it too.  So to prepare I stole some crayons from the little ones craft cupboard, ruined a cheese grater, and began to prepare the materials for my at home practice experiment.

But then I had an idea.....

A few days before a student showed me a video he had made of him drawing a picture with his iPod touch.  He had used the time lapse feature in the photos app to film himself.  It was great! So sitting in my kitchen I thought that filming this experiment of the Rock Cycle would be a great opportunity to try filming with Time Lapse Video.  However of course I could just simply film the experiment I was inspired so I decided to write a story about the rock cycle to go with the experiment so that I could use it to help reinforce the concept of the Rock Cycle in a memorable way.  So my Video was born.  Check it out below, then keep reading and I will tell how I made it.

Writing The Story
Once I was inspired to add a story to the video I needed to plan it out and think it through.  So I wrote it out a rough draft of the story.  Once this was done I made sure that my draft was off to the side when I was writing live on the video so that I reduced the amount of mistakes that I made when writing.  Writing out the story as I video taped was nerve wracking but very easy.  The time lapse feature makes is look very cool on playback.

Steps in the Experiment
Each step of the experiment was a different video clip.  I filmed these one at time.  This was imperative that did this correctly because I didn't have additional crayons so I needed to make sure that although I could rewrite the script I couldn't redo the experiment portion.  I rehearsed it then filmed it.  I put my phone in the kitchen cupboard above my counter and turned on the under cabinet lights to reduce the shadows.

Putting it All Together
This was actually the easiest part.  I used iMovie and this app is so user friendly to create a stunning video.  I simply selected each video in order, zoomed and flipped the original videos so they were how I wanted them to look.  I cut and clipped each video to make them fit together and transition nicely.  To zoom in to certain parts and focus on the writing I duplicated the same video and then zoomed into the bowl so that you could see the crayons melting into an igneous rock.

Finally I switched to KeyNote and made my opening and closing slides then opened the slides to see them full screen and screen captured them.  I added the new photos to my video and recorded my voice over the final image so that it would direct people back to by blog here or to my TPT product.

In the Classroom...

My students loved the video and it helped to consolidate their learning and review the steps that I had just demonstrated to them in class.  They were also very inspired to go out and try to create their own videos about things.  I am sure that I will have a lot of time lapse videos in my future.

If you would like to check out my Rocks and Minerals TPT Unit see it here. 

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Social Studies Through Inquiry: Two new Units

My Social Studies through inquiry units are now out and ready to download.  

Heritage and Identity: Early Societies from 500BC to 1500BCE
Heritage and Identity: First Nations and Early Europeans

Click on the pictures below to link to my TPT store to download your copy.  

To celebrate I am giving away a copy of my 4/5 unit.  
Please enter the contest at the end of the post.   

Again I have created a A Grade 4 unit.  

A Grade 5 unit

And a Combined 4/5 Unit.

Enter my Contest Here

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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