During group novel studies, it is helpful to have a strategy to follow a theme with students. I am working with middle school students this year. In order to have higher level discussions, students need to identify more sophisticated literary elements such as themes, symbols, tone, and mood.
I adapted an anchor chart idea I found while browsing Pinterest to encourage students to track a theme throughout our unit on Where the Red Fern Grows. I converted the idea to a printable chart with small Post-it notes students could keep in their binders. There are multiple themes in the story, so my students did not all have the same theme choice. The variety of theme choices enhanced our daily discussions.
Identify Possible Themes
- About a third of the way through the novel study, we reviewed the definition for theme.
- I printed THIS THEME HANDOUT with information on the front about common themes in literature. Using the “starter list” students worked with a partner to identify possible themes for our unit of study for Red Fern. Due to COVID, students stayed in their desk space and talked to the student in the 6-feet-away-desk near them.
- I presented the sample theme, a dog’s love, which we discussed as a group. Students named scenes that related to our key theme idea.
- Next, students received Post-it notes in different sizes, attached the Post-its to the spaces on the chart for tracking a theme, and chose an additional theme for the book.
- As we continued reading, students jotted scenes that reinforced their theme choice. Since we were using Post-its, students had the option to rearrange the notes if needed. Some students removed a Post-it and replaced with a different scene choice as we got further along in the story.
- After we finished the book, and all scene spaces were filled, students wrote final thoughts. They considered what they had learned about the theme through their reading of the story.
Materials for the Theme Chart
- Print a class set of THIS THEME HANDOUT front and back.
- You need 3 sizes of Post-it notes. The first space for the theme name is 1 1/2″ x 2″. The scene spaces are 2″ x 2″. The final long rectangular space is 3 1/2″ x 2 1/2″.
- In order to make the largest Post-it note, I cut down lined 4″ x 4″ Post-it notes with a guillotine paper cutter.
For another way to use Post-it notes in the classroom, CLICK HERE. To purchase novel studies with unique reading comprehension activities in each resource from my TpT store, CLICK HERE.
I love data, and I like to implement easy ways for tracking student progress during the year. I have grades and test scores, but I also need a system for recording daily observations and general student performance. A few years ago, I started keeping a plain manila file folder with Post-it notes inside for anecdotal or informal records about each student. Each time I grade longer writing assignments, observe students during group work, or make mental notes during instruction, I jot notes on a Post-it note, which I add to the student’s space inside the folder. When I am preparing for a parent meeting or creating report card comments, I have a personal resource to remind me about specific strengths and areas of focus for each student.
The Student Progress Folder
- Create a 3″ x 3″ grid inside a manila folder. Measure from the center fold, so you won’t have any squares that straddle the fold line. I mark every 3″ down the center line first. I then move the ruler to the right side and left side and mark the 3″ spacing. After making the guide marks, I connect the dots to create the horizontal lines.
- To create the vertical lines, place your ruler at the center fold in the top half of the folder space and make a few dots for guidelines every 3″ to the right and every 3″ to the left. Slide your ruler to the bottom half of the folder space and make another set of dots. Connect the dots to draw the vertical lines.
- If your grid is 3″ x 3″, you will have ~22 usable spaces. Where the notch on the folder dips, the grid space is smaller. My maximum class size is 18 students (lucky, I know), so the folder spaces work for my classroom. If you have a larger class and need more squares, plan to use smaller Post-it notes and adjust your grid measurements.
- Print labels or write names in each grid space. I create this folder at the beginning of the year when I am labeling class supplies and textbooks. I usually have extra labels that I can use.
- My school keeps 3″ x 3″ Post-it notes in our teacher supply area. I like to have a little gap around the edges of the sticky notes, so I use the guillotine paper cutter in the teacher workroom and cut a stack of Post-its down to 2.5″ x 2.5″. And yes, you may comment about my tendencies to be a little OCD. You could also purchase the 2″ x 2″ size or even the slightly smaller 1 1/2″ x 2″ size.
- Begin adding notes to each square. I might only add one small note at a time and keep adding to the same Post-it note over several weeks. Or, I might need many notes stuck on top of each other. By the end of a grading period, some students have multiple stacked notes, and some kids only have a few.
Suggestions for Tracking
- When you grade projects or larger writing assignments, add short thoughts about trends in each student’s completed work. Did the student struggle with time management or working independently? Did the student work well in a group or have evidence in the finished project of good higher level thinking?
- Note details about independent reading choices, pace to complete a book, comprehension overall based on his/her comments when the book is completed.
- As you listen to students read aloud, what are impressions about fluency or word attack skills?
- Monitor organizational skills and how a student transitions from class to class or teacher to teacher, you may have notes about executive functioning areas for a student.
- Since I am a language arts teacher, I tend to make notes about writing mechanics and writer’s voice. For math teachers, you may detect weaknesses or strengths with certain skill areas. When you see pockets of need with a handful of students, it can help you plan mini lessons to reinforce specific topics or give you inspiration for an enrichment idea.
- Observations about peer relations can be added too. I find I add items about general behavior– fidgety, frequent water breaks, stomach hurts every day after lunch, tardy to school…
I have other charts I keep too. They are plain and simple like the student progress folder but help me log parent contact or unusual student behaviors (more than what I might note with the quick Post-it note system). I also have gradebook style grids that I use for different class checklists. To download my teacher binder materials for free from TpT, CLICK HERE.
What teacher won’t need a COVID edition teacher emergency kit when they return to in-person school? When my children were in elementary school, I made little back to school teacher emergency kits for their homeroom teachers on the first day of school. I took a hiatus from the back to school teacher gift for the past few years as my kids entered middle and high school. I switched to shared teacher gifts like this SOFT DRINK BAR that I set up in the teacher workroom during teacher appreciation week.
I decided to resurrect my favorite teacher gift this year and adapt it to be more COVID friendly. The kits are always a little different, but the contents are based on items I need at school but don’t always have. For this version, I added small PPE items like a face mask and alcohol wipes. I will be standing by to give these to my children’s teachers on our first day of in-person school. As of now, we are scheduled to start on campus with social distancing modifications, but I anticipate changes.
Teacher Emergency Kit Contents
You can use any kind of bag, pouch, or box for the contents. I have used plastic bead boxes from Michael’s crafts or make-up bags from a store like Bed Bath & Beyond. If I am really in a crafty mood, I sew small pouches. Below is what I included in the kits this time. I wanted to include gloves as well, but they are hard to locate right now! You could also consider adding things like a good Flair pen or Sharpie pen, travel sized lotion, Advil or Tylenol, mini Windex wipes for electronics (I have seen these at Target), a Tide to Go pen… I browse the travel-sized aisle at places like CVS and Target for inspiration.
- face mask
- pop charger for an iPhone
- hand sanitizer spray
- mini lint roller
- alcohol wipes
- Listerine breath tabs (to help with mask breath)
- Emergen-C packets
- tinted ChapStick (although with the mask, lip color is not necessary!)
- safety pins
- all purpose nail kit (includes tweezers– very handy)
- $10 Amazon gift card (or any gift card– Starbucks, Staples, Target, Shell gas, BP gas)
To get more inspiration for Back to School Teacher Emergency Kits, take a look at some of mine from previous years by clicking the links below. To enter this year’s giveaway to win a kit for you and a friend, visit my INSTAGRAM account. Like, follow, and tag a friend on my INSTAGRAM POST to enter! Giveaway ends 7/20/2020.
Teacher Emergency Kit 2015
Teacher Emergency Kit 2016
Teacher Emergency Kit 2017
Students would much prefer a vocabulary review game instead of being told to “go study your vocabulary words” by their teacher. Since I don’t like using the same review game every week, I always try to add a twist if I can. One review activity my students really enjoyed this year (before we switched to distance learning) was a spin on the Heads Up! game that Ellen DeGeneres introduced on her TV show. In my vocabulary version, students hold notecards with vocabulary words up to their foreheads. A partner describes the word using synonyms, definitions, or situations where the word would occur. Once a correct guess is made, students trade cards and move to a new partner. Since students are describing the word in a variety of ways, it helps learners relate to the word in different ways. The kids had much higher success recalling words after we played a few rounds of this review game.
Vocabulary Game Directions
- Give students 3-5 notecards.
- Students write a single vocabulary word from your class list on the front of the notecard. My weekly list has about 12 words, so the student notecards will be a mix of the whole group of words.
- Students write the word’s definition on the back of the notecard. Or, they can write different situations where the word would be used. And finally, they can write any known roots or word parts and the matching meanings. In my class, our vocabulary curriculum is centered around classical roots, so I encourage the students to define the word parts.
- After each student has at least 3 completed cards, he/she begins to circulate around the room. The student finds a buddy and holds one card to his/her forehead. The partner begins describing the word. The first student identifies the word then lets the partner have a turn holding a card to the forehead. The pair takes turns until all cards have been used.
- Once a pair has used all the notecards, they trade a few cards with each other and move to new partners.
- By trading cards, the students do not continue to practice the exact same cards each time they trade partners. In addition, since students do not just write the definition on the back of the card, there will be different ways to explain the words to each new person they face.
- The students describe words in multiple ways. They are encouraged to consider the context for each word, so it is not a memorization game. It is an application game too.
- If your vocabulary lists focus on a few common roots and/or prefixes, students are building a word bank of connected words. When they see unfamiliar words with known roots in their textbooks or reading books, they will be able to make a prediction about the definition and have stronger comprehension. For example, if a student knows a tripod is a stand with 3 feet, they could guess that a podiatrist is a person who does something with feet.
- The game builds in a movement break. Students are up walking around the room. Of course, with COVID restrictions my Heads Up! game is going to look a little different this year. I thought we might put on our face masks and play outside when we need a break from being strapped to our 6-feet-apart-desks.
Other Review Game Ideas
- My students really like the website Memrise.com. I used this one a lot during distance learning. It’s an online flashcard type site. I have a free account and set up student accounts at the beginning of each year. The foreign language teachers at my school use the site too, so we have a standardized system for setting up the student usernames and passwords, so the account will move with the student year to year. To see a sample of one of my lessons for practicing individual roots, CLICK HERE (you need to have an account and be logged in to access).
- I like foldables too. My students make “fortune tellers” that we organize with our weekly roots and prefixes. To read more about how to build your own fortune tellers, CLICK HERE.
- If your students know many roots, prefixes, and suffixes, try this free WORD TRAINS printable activity.
CLICK HERE to see all of my vocabulary products for studying common prefixes, roots, and suffixes in my TeachersPayTeachers store. They even have links to a Google Slides digital option!
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, my students began a giant doodle poster group activity in the back of my classroom. Since I teach United States geography, I chose a U.S. themed design. The students loved it. It took us the entire first semester to finish coloring the doodle poster, but it was worth it. It turned into a great early finisher activity, and it gave students the opportunity to work collaboratively. After we finished the first one, we needed a new poster. The new poster arrived just before COVID-19 hit, and our school transitioned to remote learning. I cut the second poster into pieces and mailed each student a piece turning the collaborative activity into a distance learning assignment. Students colored their pieces and mailed them back to me in a pre-stamped envelope I provided.
The doodle poster group activity had more than one benefit. In the classroom, the students had to take turns. They needed to match how they wanted to color a section with portions that were already filled. They were allowed to color the poster any way they wanted, but we agreed that we needed to coordinate with designs that had been started by a classmate.
When the second poster turned into a distance learning assignment, the students had to work within the timeline I set. If they did not finish and mail the piece back to my house, the poster would not be complete. One person could prevent the whole group from finishing the task. As a group, we made decisions in a Zoom class about how to color each piece. We decided you could leave some white space, but in order for the reassembled poster to look finished, all key elements on each piece needed to be colored. A few students did not add very much new color, and people commented.
Doodle Poster Tips
- I searched Amazon for “giant doodle posters” and found many options. I wanted U.S. map posters to supplement my curriculum, and I ordered THIS ONE first. My second poster was by a company named OMY. I really liked these DEBBIE LYNN, INC posters, but they were too large for my wall space.
- Measure the space where you will hang your doodle poster. I could not go much bigger than 32″ x 24″.
- I used Command strips LIKE THESE to hang butcher paper on the wall and then attached the poster over the background paper. It kept markers from bleeding through to the wall and made the coloring surface a little smoother.
- Set up guidelines with your students. We made decisions about time limits at the poster if other students were waiting to color. We agreed on color choices based on completed sections that were in the vicinity of where someone might be coloring. For the most part, students self-monitored the poster.
It is fun to compare the two different posters between the in-class version and the remote learning version. I also liked the fact that the poster became an activity that kids were independently finishing at home but still maintaining a connection with the group. Another favorite class activity I considering adapting for distance learning is this AUTHOR LETTER activity. We ran out of time, so I will have to save it for next year’s class. Hopefully, we will be completing it in person!