October 13, 2013

Vocabulary In Action

A few years ago I attended a professional development training on the importance of teaching "Tier 2" vocabulary words.  Tier 2 words are complex, often nuanced, words that can be used in a variety of settings -- words like gullible, mimic, and coincidence.  These words are unlike traditional vocabulary words (Tier 1 words), which are low-frequency and domain-specific -- words like peninsula, proton, and protagonist.  Tier 2 words are found in literature and mature conversation; they are essential for strong comprehension and fluency.

In order to learn Tier 2 words, students need to hear them in a variety of settings and be able to recall and utilize them in different situations as well.  For the past few years, my school has been using the Scholastic Text Talk® program to introduce weekly Tier 2 vocabulary words.  There are a number of great features about this program, but my favorite thing is how much the kiddos love it!

Text Talk® Level B Books
Each week we have a new high-quality book to read-aloud (the books are a mix of realistic fiction, fairy tale, fable, and fantasy).  Throughout the story, there are teacher notes which include deep comprehension questions, retelling prompts, and brief vocabulary explanations.  The kiddos love the books and get very engaged in the stories through the questions.

I typically read each book all the way through on Monday, and then we re-read sections on Tuesday and Wednesday to focus on specific vocabulary words.  Each book introduces 6 vocabulary words, although only 4 of them are directly from the book -- the other 2 words can be used to describe a situation that occurs in the story but are not actually used in the book.  For instance, in the book Caps For Sale, one of the words is mimic. Knowing the word mimic, helps students explain and understand how the monkeys act in the story, although the author never says it.

Text Talk® Concept Web for the word "suspicious"

This year, I've also added actions for each vocabulary word to support kinesthetic learners.  During the 2nd and 3rd read-throughs, I often add interactive writing tasks, such as making lists, concept webs, or other graphic organizers that help students examine certain words in more depth.  By the end of the week, the kiddos have heard each of the 6 vocabulary words multiple times and begin to use them around the classroom.  It's so cute to hear them saying, "We need an orderly line," or "He has an assortment of toys," or "The monkey bars are very versatile"!

October 10, 2013

Custodian Appreciation

National Custodian Appreciation Day was last week and my school invited classes to find ways of thanking our sweet custodians.  The timing worked out perfectly for me because we were in-between writing units and I needed something for the rest of kiddos to work on while the last few finished up their personal narrative stories.  

We started by defining the role of custodians in our school.  Most of the kiddos already know our custodians and generally know that they keep the school clean, but I felt it was important to point out all of the many jobs they take actually on around the building.  After we had a list of things that the custodians do to help us, I sent the kiddos off to write cards.

I was busy meeting individually with kiddos to review their personal narratives, so I didn't see the cards until I collected them at the end of writing time. They turned out so cute!  A couple of kids decided to write about how our custodians are always in the cafeteria to help "fix the tables" -- we are currently using a temporary folding table and it's legs have a tendency to fold under during lunch.   Most of the kids wrote sweet notes thanking the custodians for cleaning, mopping, sweeping, vacuuming, and keeping the school clean so that we can all learn. 

We set the cards up in the Staff Lounge, along with a banner made by one of the 4th grade classes.  I think the custodians got a kick out of reading the kids' writing and knowing they are very appreciated.

Low-Risk Greetings

I wrote another post here about the importance of greetings throughout the year; but at the beginning of the year, our class greetings are especially valuable for teaching names, practicing listening skills, and reinforcing behavior expectations.

I begin the year with our most "low-risk" greetings -- ones that don't involve touching, or even knowing everyone's name.  We start with a couple of singing greetings that go around the circle.  These greetings allow me to lead and say all of the kiddos' names (we wear name tags on the first day or two to help me).  Slowly, the kiddos start to join in, say their own names, and sing the names of the friends they know.

After a week of singing greetings, we start with a basic hand shake greeting that travels around the circle.  The kiddos only need to know the name of the person on either side of them and I make sure to give them time to check with each other before we start.  I then teach a few greetings that target specific components of greetings: the "hand stack" greeting really promotes eye-contact and the "pattern greeting" encourages paying attention.

After the first few weeks, I finally introduced greetings that didn't just go around the circle.  By that point, the kiddos understood how to have a successful greeting; they know they need to use names and a strong speaker voice.  Then we practiced the "closed-eye" greeting, which requires listening, and the "ball roll" greeting, which involves the extra challenge of using a material.  We added the "baseball greeting" and the "snowball greeting" last week.

Now that almost all of our established greetings have been introduced (we may create new ones during the year), we have started selecting a different greeting each day, using these greeting cards.  The kiddos love the variety and I have quite a few cards to keep things interesting!