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 “LET’S 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.)
I strongly believe that students need to read for enjoyment every day. I don’t monitor it, I don’t track it, I don’t value one type of 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.
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 language arts schedule above it has ‘read aloud and mini-lesson’ but really these two components work together. My time between these two components is flexible.
Reading independent practice is a time for students to apply the previous lessons independently. I like to think of this as a two-week cycle. I teach them through modeled 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.
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 the 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 centers 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 “