Planning for Inquiry Based Learning

Planning for Inquiry Based Learning

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!


These 8 ways to plan for inquiry will change how you teach! Click through to see how! inquiry based learning | activities | projectsIf you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare for something that is student led. Although using an inquiry approach removes you, the teacher, from the absolute power position you,  still have plenty to do to prepare yourself to get ready for inquiry.  I wanted to share a few of the steps that I take to plan my inquiry units.

Planning for inquiry is different.  There is more to do ahead of time.  You have to be purposeful and knowledgable.  However, once this is planned the day to day planning is so much less as you work with students day to day to direct the learning together.

Here are a few of my steps for planning inquiry.

Look at Your Standards / Curriculum

What are you expected to teach?  Get familiar with the contents of the learning expectations.  Where does the expected learning start and stop?

Pull it apart

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!Start to take the expectations apart.  Put them in your own language.  In the Ontario curriculum, it is often structured in a similar fashion.  Big idea expectations are first, skills are second and basic knowledge is third. Knowing this will help you to decode the and order the curriculum in an easier way.  It is also important to differentiate between knowing the difference between the expectation and the examples.  The examples are just that, examples they are not the learning outcomes.  This will help you to know that following different lines and topics within the larger theme will be okay to do so.  I will often re-word the expectations at this point into meaningful language so that it is easier to understand.

Put it in order

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!Once I have pulled the curriculum expectations apart I then begin to put them into order.  In a split grade classroom, this is especially important because you will need to order the learning in a way that makes sense. But remember that you are going to approach this with an inquiry perspective so you are looking at the knowledge that students will need to have first, second and third, in order to meet the expectations of the big ideas for inquiry.  Doing this will help you to guide students where they need to go.
For example, in the matter and materials unit, students will need to know what matter is and the vocabulary.  The best part is that students will naturally ask these questions when presented with the answers. Show them a vocab card with the word sublimation and they will naturally ask what does that mean and try to guess by using their background knowledge.
If you know where they need to go you can plant the clues to get them there.  But by doing it this way you spark curiosity and interest as people naturally try to solve problems and look for answers.  This is why putting the learning in order is important.  You are not necessarily planning the lessons but planning the trajectory and logical progression of the learning.

Find common ground

If you are like me you might be teaching a combined class.  At the very least you will have students in your classroom that require accommodations and modifications beyond the grade level you have been assigned.  So this is where you need to find common ground and activities where there is common ground.  

Sometimes the content is so different that you can’t and you need to look for similar tasks with different subjects like experiments or research opportunities to align together so that the instructions are the same but the learning is different.
To differentiate the learning for different abilities you need to plan some tasks that have multiple entry points so that the output of students can be adjusted to meet individualized learning needs.

Begin to Research

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!I cannot stress this enough, if the teacher doesn’t understand the content then the students

won’t either.  If you are conducting inquiry you need to know your stuff.  You can’t always rely on textbooks.

Hop on google, ask your own questions and know the content.  I often have to do this when creating my units.  Learning the content at a more in depth level than your students is important.

Do you understand how a catalyst is used to speed up the polymerization process to make plastic? This was one of the many topics I explored when creating my unit on matter.

Planting the Evidence

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!Starting your learning off with a provocation and beginning to build your WonderWall is animportant step to begin your inquiry.  This is where your selection of materials will help you to set the stage for your inquiry and to help you to guide the students to focus on the questions that relate to what they MUST learn.  If you put at word card with the word Sublimation then usually at least one student will ask the question “What is sublimation?” By setting up your WonderWall discussion with activities and questions such as


  • Look at the artifacts and cards, one at a time share what you notice about something you see
  • How could you sort these artifacts
  • What questions do you have or what do you wonder about what you see?
In my human body unit choosing a picture of a microscopic image of the air sacs in the lungs inevitably leads to the questions “why do we have grapes in our body?” or “What are the grapes used for?” This opens the door to a lesson or activity about the parts of the lungs.


You Don’t Need All of the Answers

Yes you need to be prepared and yes you need the knowledge of you subject content but there will come a time where you simply just don’t know the answers to your student’s questions.  Sooo… it’s okay, you don’t have to know and you can admit it.  Simply say “wow that is such an amazing question we really should look into that further.  Let’s look it up!” In inquiry, you are the guide not the giver and constructor of knowledge.  Allow your students to see and watch what you do when you don’t know the answer.  Being a model will show them what to do when they encounter a question or problem.
But this is inquiry, sometimes the learning happens in finding the answer themselves and their ability to retain this information is dependent on their ability to find their own answers.
In fact, one of the most amazing lessons I learned through my inquiry journey was to stop answering their questions (even when I did know the answers).
I had one moment of ‘out of body’ (not really…but for some reason I was super reflective that day) where I realized that the students were simply just looking to me to answer everything for them.  Learning and struggling to stop myself from answering their questions was hard, but watching them learn to solve their own problems and find answers to their own questions was very rewarding.

Final Thoughts

Inquiry is different from traditional teaching.  This is not traditional unit planning or the backwards design model.  You do not plan the activity that students will complete at the end.  If you are looking for an activity that everyone will do you are in the wrong place.
Inquiry means the students help to guide their learning.  There are still teacher directed lessons, there are still key concepts they NEED to learn and be assessed on.

However, you can guide and lead the student there in authentic ways.

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!

Save a few steps…

Need a break and want to skip a few steps?  Since I have done this already why reinvent the wheel.  I may not be able to help you teach it day to day, but you might as well benefit from the time I have already put into planning for inquiry lessons.  Check out some of the grade 4 and 5 inquiry science and social study lessons in my TPT store.


Ignite Student’s Passion for Writing!!

Ignite Student’s Passion for Writing!!

Encourage student writing in your class and ignite their passion for writing! Click through to learn how to create a class that loves to write.

Writing is a challenge to teach.  It is more than simply just teaching students how to write.  There is an underlying challenge that can predict a student’s success and this is often dependent on the messaging that students tell themselves about their ability to write.  A student’s attitude towards their skills as a writer are very important to ensure their success in their ability to write.  Writing was the last subject that I taught as a teacher where I felt like I was doing a great job at getting students to write.  Many times I felt that my writing program was sucking the fun out of writing and making the task feel so foreign and unrelatable to the real world of writing.  This change coincided with my also beginning this blog.  Through blogging, I felt that I reconnected to my enjoyment of writing that perhaps had been sucked out of me.  Understanding that sometimes just the act of getting your ideas out of your head and on ‘paper’ is a great feeling.  I needed a way to translate that into my own teaching.  Writing needed to be connected, the act of writing needed to be just as important as the conventions and style elements of writing.  Student engagement needed to increase and a fire and passion for writing needed to be ignited within my students.  Even with the most reluctant writers.

This need for a change also aligned with using inquiry in science and social studies.  The power of student conferences, guided instruction and increasing a student’s voice and choice in the classroom were powerful tools to get students hooked.
Encourage student writing in your class and ignite their passion for writing! Click through to learn how to create a class that loves to write.
I changed my approach to how I teach writing and now use a cyclical/spiraling method of teaching writing instruction which is tied very closely to reading instruction as well.  Allowing students the ability to choose what they want to write about, how they want to write it and when has changed by teaching of writing and completely transformed the level of engagement and excitement in writing within my classroom.  The progress I see with students in their ability to write is amazing.

However it is more than just giving them less structure and rules to follow in their writing.  This would lead to chaos and triple your work load as you had each student doing whatever they want. There are systems and guides and a great deal of structure that goes into preparing your students to write in this manner.

To get this started there are three things that I use to help me get started to establish writing in my classroom.


Student Writing Folders

Students will still need a place to put their writing.  These writing folders will help you to support students as they work through the writing process.  Within the pockets of these folders students are given anchors that will help them brainstorm ideas, plan, draft, edit and revise their work.  Each anchor can be taught separately and added to the folder in a purposeful way.

Writing Anchor Board

This is displayed on a bulletin board for your students.  This support will be a reference for students to remind them of the different writing forms they identified as being interested in as well as provide them with success criteria charts and exemplars as students write them, and any anchor charts that you create with students throughout your responsive lessons.

Story Wheels

These story wheels will help students to generate ideas.  If you have students that struggle with generating ideas for writing different types of stories then these wheels will help you to support these students.  Students will either create personal wheels or you can support them to create class wheels in small groups or as a whole group depending on need.
Want more information about how I implement my writing program in my classroom sign up now to join the waiting list for my upcoming ebook – Ignited Writing: a Differentiated Cyclical Approach to Writing. 

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No More Worksheets?

No More Worksheets?


Schools push you to go paperless, and parents want a their kids taught the way they were. Learn when to use worksheets and when not to use them here!

So what is the deal with all this hatred to the worksheet?  It was recently asked on a facebook forum if using worksheets in your classroom makes you the dreaded ‘old school teacher’.  This sparked an interesting discussion amongst the teachers in the group as to what the big deal is on worksheets.  With schools pushing a paperless classroom in favor of digital tech and parents demanding an education for their children that reflects the familiar comforts of their own schooling. Teachers are put in the middle of a murky pond wondering how much is too much when it comes to our own worksheet usage.

What is a worksheet? For me, this idea of a worksheet goes back to my life as a student.  It was the page that you completed after a lesson to prove you learned something or the questions that you answered after reading something.  If you knew how to play the game, you could skip a few steps and simply just read enough to get the answers to the worksheet and simply forget the information the minute the page was fastened into your binder or duo-tang.  This activity was low-level thinking, kill and drill type activities that allowed the teacher to get other things done while you sat in rows and worked quietly on your worksheet.  The reliance and use on worksheets increased as the technology improved from the hand written copied sheet on the ditto machine (I may have never used these as a teacher but I still remember the smell of freshly copied ditto paper) to the printed computer resource photocopied on a photocopier.  I think as teachers we have to realize that the idea of a worksheet is the symbol used today for a lazy teacher that uses a worksheet to teach a concept instead of actually teaching.  The worry is that if a teacher relies too much on these that they are not using best practices in their classroom.

I really don’t think that it is the piece of paper that is the problem but it is how that paper is used by the teacher that is the problem and as teachers, administrators, and coaches we really need to be careful about critically looking at what is on the paper to assess if what is on the page is the product of valuable learning, not used as a replacement of good teaching, and meets the needs of the students it is being used with.  All paper is not bad….but a heavy reliance on paper products where students sit quietly and work while the teacher does other things may be.  Ask yourself on a daily basis how much time do I spend spending in front of the photocopier.

I know you are probably thinking but don’t you sell worksheets online through TPT your products are full of worksheets.  This is the largest complaint and criticism that I hear from teachers, administrators, coaches and boards about using resources from TPT that they are simply the new teacher store where lazy teachers get worksheets so they don’t have to actually teach anything. Admittedly, TPT is full of worksheets but I do find that with a little bit of effort you will find more than worksheets on TPT and actually find the time-saving lessons and activities that can be done in your classroom that may include a worksheet but you are really just saving time from planning, sourcing, re-creating, and re-inventing the material that you need to teach your lessons.  Without good teaching, even the content of my lessons can be considered worksheets but with strong pedagogy and a teacher using best practices in their classroom the same piece of paper is transformed into real learning that no one should be ashamed of using.  The problem with the worksheet is when the worksheet is used to replace the teacher.

There are times to use a worksheet and there are times when you shouldn’t.  This is the list to get me to think about whether or not a worksheet is necessary. This is the list that I also use when making my products for TPT and when planning daily lessons for my classroom.

When to use worksheets

  • To help to differentiate instruction so that all students have the same page but the task is differentiated to meet the various needs in your classroom
  • To assist special education students in scaffolding their learning
  • Does the worksheet help them to create, collaborate, or show critical thinking skills
  • Is this the best way for students to show their learning
  • As a consolidation of thinking after learning
  • A place to record brainstorming, observations, analysis, evaluations, new thinking etc.
  • Helps students to create their own understanding of a new concept.  They have ownership in what they are doing
  • Students are excited and engaged in their learning.  They will remember this!

When not to use worksheets

  • The worksheet is the learning and students are regurgitating information without the need for critical thinking.
  • It consumes the majority of your time on task or learning
  • It follows the traditional pattern of “sit and listen – sit and work”
  • It replaces good teaching by removing the teacher or others from the learning allowing them to simply just turn off their brain and do it (learning should be collaborative, creative, allow for communication and critical thinking)
  • Includes rote or low-level tasks such as answering closed questions, creating lists, fill in the blank, basic recall etc.
  • Colouring
  • The worksheet is unnecessary and could be replaced with a more interactive approach to learning.
  • It could be considered busy work (word searches, color by number, cross words)
  • Students could make it themselves (many graphic organizers as worksheets are unnecessary unless at the beginning of the learning stage as students progress then need to be able to create these on their own in notebooks in more authentic ways)

At the end of the day, we all give out worksheets, even the bad kind, because there are the days that this is what we need to do.  We need to challenge ourselves to reduce the amount of worksheets we rely on and to up our game as teachers. Differentiate more, increase the complexity of the activity and critical thinking skills being used. Integrate technology, and hands-on learning opportunities more and increase student voice and choice in the classroom.  Know what best teaching practices are and try to implement them in your classroom.  Don’t look for the easy way out by simply relying on worksheets to do the work for you.  As teachers, we are professionals who should constantly be looking for ways to improve our ability to teach the students in front of us.  Use worksheets, I do and will continue to do so, I think my takeaway from this is to use it as a tool, sometimes, but certainly not all of the time.


Instagram in the Classroom

Instagram in the Classroom

Up your game with classroom technology: learn how you can use Instagram in the classroom! Click through to learn about Student Instagram Reporters.

I joined Instagram awhile ago but personally, or professionally didn’t quite know what to do with it.  I posted a few pictures of my kids but wasn’t really sure how to use it.  Fast forward and a few other blogger friends talked me into opening up a Madly Learning Instagram account.  I have found it to be a great way to connect with other bloggers and to see what others are doing in their classrooms.  I also noticed that Instagram was what my 4/5 students were using as their chosen social media platform.  So all of this got me thinking.  How can I leverage student interest in Instagram with my desire to teach 21st century skills, media curriculum expectations, and empower students to share what we are doing in our classroom with the world? This is when I came across Kayla Delzer @topdogteaching.  She has done a TED talk, which speaks to my teacher heart. She so very much captures what I think and feel about technology in education.  Following her on instagram she shares that she has her classroom Instagramming their adventures throughout the day.  Well this inspired me to get my students Instagramming too.

How I Use Instagram in the Classroom

I have made a schedule for students to Instagram.  They each have one day that they will be the class reporter.  They are tasked with taking pictures that show students meeting our learning goals in the classroom.  We are in the midst of our first month still (I had to wait until contract issues were settled) students are taking pictures of what is happening in our classroom and writing a caption about what it is they are doing.  I have a class iPad supplied from the school and this iPad is the reporters for the day.  They also get to use it to complete their assigned tasks too.  They are responsible for taking pictures and making a collage of our activities on PicCollage.  They add some text and write a caption.  Other than making the first calendar I have been pretty hands off.  I approve the final draft before it is posted but this really has not added any more work to my already busy and full schedule.  The students love it and so do the parents (well at least the ones on Instagram).

I have also learned some things too…  My students have a lot to learn about social media and etiquette.  This generation of students will live their lives online and developing a positive digital footprint is essential.  This is the entry point for many of my students at this age.  They are beginning to get online but they have not yet made any serious mistakes about what they are doing online.  This is a perfect teaching opportunity to teach them how to be responsible online.  Teaching students how to post, what to post, what not to post, how to be responsible, how to comment, and how to collaborate online is important.  I also have future lessons on how to take a picture, layout, colour, and creating a digital collage that tells a story. (all of which meets media curriculum) This beginning into student Instagram reporting is a great way to do all of this.

Think a Student Instagram Reporter is something you want to try see my tips below.

  1. Get Permission – now I do not mean that you need to beg parents for permission to do this. I did not send a lead letter home explaining this nor did I make a separate Instagram permission form.  My school board has a general form that covers all photo consents and sharing of information through social media.  This covers what I am doing.  In my first student news letter I  let parents know that I will use various social media to inform them of what is happening in our classroom.  I would look into making sure that you have this permission, or go get it,  before you start any of this.
  2. Hardware – You will need a device that students can use freely throughout the day.  I have an iPad touch that would have worked too.  But we use our class iPad.  All you need is a device with a decent camera, and an internet connection.  Having apps such as Instagram is necessary as well as a photo collage app such as PicCollage or even WordSwag is great.
  3. Have Rules –  establishing rules about how Instagram will be used is important before you begin.
    • Ask permission before you post a picture of someone.
    • Do not post names of students
    • Stay Positive – we try to focus on the postitive aspects of our classroom.
    • Add Value –  we don’t just take a photo to take a photo what we post contributes to our feed.  (we are going to work on this one)
  4. Have a code that allows students to sign their work without stating their names.  I use SR:PF to indicate that the photo was taken by a student reporter:student initials.  I also use #hashtags such as our school board hashtag.  My goal is to use more hashtags in the future such as #inourclassroom and others that I find together with my students.  These will help us share our message further.
  5. Keep Track – Make a calendar for students so that they know when their turn will be.
  6. Students Training Students – I only had to show the first few students how to be the student reporters.  Then they did the rest and previous reporters would help out the new reporter to make sure that they knew what to do.
  7. Instagram Goals – As I started my first round I wanted the students just to do and discover how to Instagram.  We weren’t focused on doing anything really well, just on doing it.  Once I am through my first round I will work with students to come up with a list of best practices about how to Instagram our classroom out to share with others.  Such as….
    • Take a picture that shows evidence of our learning goal.  What did we do today that met our learning goals in _________.
    • Choose your colours carefully.  Use complementary colours between background and text.
    • Pictures are the most important.  This has been an issue with my class they show a lot of background colour with tiny pictures.
    • Focus on what is important
    • Respect Privacy – this has not been an issue but I have a few students that personally don’t want to be photographed at all.
    • Make your comment specific – We are reading books (many times this is what is posted) but we will soon be pushing students to be more specific with We are reading books because…
  8. Be Careful Who you Follow – Screen who you follow and watch who follows you.  You can make your profile private and this helps but I really wanted to be open with what we were doing in our classroom so I have left our profile open.  As a result I often pay attention to who is following us and who we are following.  I had a night club following us at one point, I blocked them quickly as they have no purpose in following 9-11 year olds.  I also have had to stop following many people due to the content in which they post.  Having students post does not seem to be something that is very popular right now.  (or else I just haven’t found them yet) Therefore there are many teachers, however for this Instagram account I want it to be for kids not teachers.  (so if we don’t follow you back….don’t worry we still love that you follow us)
  9. Be Picture Ready – or at least don’t worry about it.  I never know when a student is going to snap a picture of me during the day.  I am often in the middle of writing out a sloppy chart paper when I hear the sound of the iPad camera.  You really just have to be okay with this.  Your picture is and could be taken at any point during your teaching.  This did take some getting used to.  (well at first it was my student teacher that had his practicum documented through our Instagram feed). But on the bright side, sometimes a child yawning early in the morning,in a photo, looks like they are super excited about your new math concept. So there is that.  Now I do require that students check with me prior to posting work and I learned my lesson early on to pay close attention to spelling as spelling errors were a problem at the beginning.  However when pointed out to the student, I think that was a learning moment for him to realize how important it is to use our/are correctly.
  10. Cross Post – if you have your class on other platforms then cross post to those platforms.  Instagram is great to cross post to Twitter and allows for updates on multiple platforms which is great so that parents and other followers don’t need to follow you on every platform but can use the platform that they are comfortable with to connect with you.  I will eventually even get our feed posted to our sidebar on our classroom website and would love if I could find a program that would sum up our Instagram feed and create a blog post for this automatically.
Are you ready to instagram with your class? Why not start by following my very own classroom reporters @45in205 on Instagram or @madlylearning


Spelling and Grammar – How to Teach in Context

Spelling and Grammar – How to Teach in Context

Is there a better way to teach spelling and grammar? Yes, there is! Learn how to teach spelling and grammar in context using mentor texts!

Spelling tests teach kids how to memorize not how to spell.  This is why I don’t use spelling tests in my classroom.  I am sure that you have been told many times in your teaching career that you need to get rid of your spellers, stop doing spelling tests, and teach kids how to spell in context right?? Of course you have.  So you throw out your spellers and promptly never teach kids how to spell a word correctly again (primarily because you don’t know how).  Ok maybe you try but really, you have read their writing…their spelling is horrible and grammar?? Who needs to know what nouns are anyways. But then you feel guilty because they don’t know what a noun is sooooo….ummmm….. you teach a lesson on nouns.  Yes! Eureka! Teacher of the Year for Grammar goes to…..  Ok so perhaps this is me or you share a similar cluelessness about teaching grammar and spelling.  But you know what I am starting to figure this predicament out  I may just have a solution.

It has been my quest to solve the problem of how to teach grammar in context.  If you have read through some of my older blog posts you will know that I love picture books and use them in my classroom weekly.  You may also know that I have a slightly obsessive need for things to match and coordinate within my classroom. (Yes I colour my staples to match my Bulletin boards…but that is a different story) So this desire to have everything match in my language lessons persists.  If I am to teach spelling and grammar in context where is the context in which I am supposed to teach it.  Well I look at a whole picture book and wonder this is so large and there are so many concepts how am I supposed to pick just one to focus on? Which one should I focus on?  Then I came across a book by Jeff Anderson called Mechanically Inclined.  In his book he talks about teaching the concepts of grammar in context of good literature such as a picture book but that you need to strip back the layers of the book and just choose a sentence.  Just one sentence that highlights a concept in grammar or spelling that students are having a hard time with.  I teach junior so getting into the complexities of comma splices (something I admittedly struggle with) and clauses may be a bit beyond my students ability and need.   However they do need to know what a noun and verb is and how they are used in sentences.  How to make complete sentences and where to use a comma.  How to use quotation marks, spelling rules for suffixes, homophones, apostrophes for possession or plurals, etc.

Last year I started this with some of the grade 2 students I teach once a day for Core English.  (This is a prep coverage – no worries I am not leaving my 4/5 anytime soon.)  I started experimenting with simple grammar concepts like nouns and verbs, pronouns etc.  I WAS SO IMPRESSED with how well they were picking up age appropriate grammar concepts.  Sometimes I wondered if they had a better grasp of spelling and grammar than my 4s and 5s.  I only started using mentor sentences with junior students at the end of the year and although I didn’t see the same progress because I didn’t do it as regularly. These mentor sentence lessons did help students make specific corrections to our final reports that they were writing.

How to Teach Spelling and Grammar With Mentor Texts

A) Look at the curriculum

get a general idea of what spelling and grammar ideas you are expected to cover.  Next look at the grades previous to you and determine what they needed prior the grade you are teaching.  Make a List.  Below is my developmental list for my grade four and five students.  Numbers four and five are for my class and the previous parts of the list refer to the grade level expectations prior to my grades.

Spelling and Vocabulary

  1. High Frequency Words Spelled Correctly short vowels and simple long vowel patterns, rhyming patterns,
  2. High Frequency Words. Spell words out loud, segment words, sort words by common sound patterns. Follow rules for adding suffixes
  3. Spell familiar words correctly short and long vowel patterns, visual similarities, rules for changing base word when adding suffix
  4. Spell subject specific words correctly. Silent letters, syllables, Apply knowledge of vowel patterns to new words. Letter patterns and combinations regular and irregular plurals
  5. Subject specific vocabulary. silent p divide words into syllables, irregular plurals,
Grammar and Mechanics
  1. A capital letter and an ending punctuation mark.  Nouns and personal pronouns
  2. use punctuation question marks, periods, exclamation marks, commas, some quotation marks
  3. quotation marks, commas, capital letters and final punctuation. Use the parts of speech appropriately Proper Nouns, possessive pronouns, action bears in present and simple past tense, adjectives and adverbs, and question words
  4. the apostrophe to indicate possession, and quotation marks to indicate direct speech. Common and Proper Nouns, Simple verb tenses.  Subject Verb agreement adjectives and adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions
  5. use of the comma beforehand or but used to join principal clauses.  Quotation marks for direct speech and punctuation marks placed inside quotation marks. Common Proper and Abstract nouns, collective nouns, adjectives, comparative adjectives, helping verbs. adverbs

B) Use a writing sample.

Have the students write you something.  See what they need.  Look at the list above and try to determine if they have the grammar and spelling background knowledge to be able to meet your expectations.  If most do not then I would recommend started with a lower grades expectations are covered enough that you can move on with your curriculum.

C) Choose a story and pick a sentence

Choose a story that fits the other components of your language program.   From the story pick a sentence from the book that highlights that concept for your students need or will be learning about.  Post it for students to see and ask them what they notice about the grammar and mechanics of the sentence.  Only pick one focus a day.  One day you could focus on spelling patterns and the other day you could focus on grammar and mechanics.  Keep is Simple and just pick one spelling and one grammar concept per week/sentence to focus on.  Try to avoid the too much to soon trap.

D) Mini Lessons and Independent Work

Because I am choosing to integrate these into word work centers.  I teach mini lessons (5-10 minutes) to work on the teaching phase of the mentor sentence.  According the Mr. Anderson this means getting students to notice things about the text.  There should but a guided focus on the teachers part to steer the lesson in a direction that is conducive your planned teaching lessons.

In my Classroom

I have structured my language block to be able to accommodate word work centers.  Centers will focus on grammar and spelling (and some printing and writing because that is always a problem) Students will work through these centers during the week to supplement their Readers and Writers Workshop.  They have 40min of a 100min block for reading and writing in a day.  I only expect that these word work activity centers will take about 5 -10 min a day.  They are easily accomplished during a weekly writing cycle.  My centers are
  • Focus on Grammar – Using a Mentor Text Sentence
  • Focus on Spelling – Using a Word Sort
  • Focus on Writing – Imitation sentences that use the spelling or grammar focus in a new sentence modelled after the Mentor Text Sentence.
  • Focus on Printing or Cursive –
 I also will spend 5-10 min each day on a spelling or grammar mini lesson that uses a mentor sentence (both grammar and imitation), word sort, or printing/cursive writing.  If you are interested in seeing my Mentor Text Word Work Centers you can check them out here.


How to Schedule your Language Arts

How to Schedule your Language Arts

language arts | school | curriculum | grade 4 | grade 5 | elementary | organization | schedule

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) Word Work – Mentor Text Centers – If you haven’t heard of mentor sentences they are based on a concept by Jeff Anderson. After reading his book I was inspired to integrate some of his ideas in to my word work centers.  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.