Distance Learning Reading Activity

I wasn’t sure distance learning and reading groups were going to work, but I recently tried a reading activity with my students that was a big hit. I sent students home with one of three reading group books before self-quarantine started due to COVID-19. I prepared three separate letters from the point of view of a key character in each book. Next, I stuffed envelopes with a book character letter, activity directions, and a pre-addressed stamped envelope for a return letter. Finally, I dropped the character letters in the mail.

point of view character letters

Within two days, students began emailing me to say their letter arrived! Forget the fact that this was a reading activity; students were so excited to get real actual mail addressed to them! It helped motivate them to write careful responses from the point of view of the main character in their reading group book.

Reading Activity Materials

  • Copies of character letters (enough for each student reading a book)
  • Class set of activity directions (enough for all students in your class)
  • 2 class sets of envelopes (one envelope to mail to your students, one envelop for the return letter)
  • 2 class sets of stamps (one stamp for outgoing letter, one stamp for pre-addressed letter for the reply)

point of view character letters

Character Letter Activity Directions

  • Prepare your letter from the point of view of a principal character in your reading group book. Add fun details that reflect character traits and setting from the story. For example, in my letter for the book, Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey, I added a sprinkle of fake snow to the envelope. The story takes place in Alaska, so I included the fake snow to represent the setting of the story. In my letter for Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, I added smudged fingerprints. Danny’s dad is a mechanic. The fingerprints reflect the dad’s job, and how his hands get greasy when he works.
  • Here are my SAMPLE LETTERS to help create your own version of a letter from a book character.
  • Write a page with directions about your expectations for the assignment. I used these LETTER WRITING DIRECTIONS.
  • Pre-address and pre-stamp envelopes with the address where you want the return letters to go. I used my home address since we are in quarantine due to COVID-19.
  • Stuff each envelope with directions, one character letter, and a pre-addressed/stamped letter and seal closed.
  • Address and mail to each student.

Alternate Letter Ideas

  • If your students don’t have book group books, mail directions with a pre-addressed envelope and ask students to mail back a reply from the point of view of a book character in any book they are reading.
  • Depending on the activities of your students while in quarantine, ask them to mail you a favorite recipe with specific directions (procedural writing) or a letter about an activity at their house (descriptive writing), or a letter explaining why/why not social distancing is important (persuasive writing).
  • Include stamped postcards to save on the cost of postage or handle it all through email. Email can be a good option if you are worried about the spread of COVID through regular mail.

point of view character letters

To purchase low prep novel units for my three reading group books, click HERE, HERE, and HERE. To see another fun reading activity that thinks about point of view, CLICK HERE to read about a through the keyhole setting activity.

As classrooms across the country adjust to distance learning, teachers are scrambling to adapt their curriculum to an online format. It is not realistic to expect the same content or type of instruction in the distance learning class, but parents can expect innovative teaching ideas as teachers try new ways to activate student knowledge from afar. This reading activity is one way to assess reading comprehension, writing skills, and even keyboarding or handwriting skills. It also has real world application since it involves using proper letter format. Finally, if you are looking for an outside activity during quarantine, this might offer an opportunity to walk to your local mailbox (or at least to the end of the driveway).

Student Pueblo Building Activity

My students completed a Pueblo building activity as a unit wrap-up for our study of the Native Americans in the Southwest. They used one centimeter grid paper to cut out a pattern that folded into a box shape. Students added a few details to the box, and then all the boxes were stacked together to resemble the adobe pueblo homes.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

Pueblo building homes were permanent dwellings made of adobe bricks. The multi-story structure was built around a central courtyard. The rooms were attached and resembled a modern day apartment building. Extended families would live in connected rooms, and as the community grew, new rooms could be added. People used ladders to get to roof top openings for access to rooms without doors or windows. Once we started stacking and connecting the student paper pueblo rooms, we were surprised how authentic the final product looked.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

Pueblo Activity Materials

  • cardstock paper (tan or light pink color looks more traditional, but white cardstock works too)
  • 1-cm grid paper template (many sites have free printable templates– do a quick Google search)
  • scissors
  • glue sticks and clear tape
  • skinny wooden sticks (collected from your backyard or playground)
  • hot glue gun
  • colored pencils or markers

Directions for Constructing a Pueblo Building

  • Copy at least one piece of grid paper per student on cardstock. I made copies of grid paper on regular copy paper and let students practice making boxes before giving them the cardstock paper.
  • Draw an outline shape of their box. I recommend measuring 6 boxes (centimeters) for the 4 walls. The part that will become the roof can be a variety of sizes. 6-10 centimeters work well for the roof. I shared THIS VIDEO with the students before letting them draw the pattern for their room.
  • Cut out the box pattern with the scissors. If students want to add any doors or windows, they should cut them out before folding and assembling the room. They should also add any color around the doors and windows before building.
  • Fold the edges where the paper will bend and crease firmly. If students do not press their creases and make the edges sharp, the rooms will not stack well together.
  • Fold together the box, add glue to the flaps, and press flaps to attach the walls together. If the flaps are not sticking well, add a small piece of clear tape to secure.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

Pueblo Building Embellishments

  • Some of my students added wooden roof beams using small sticks we collected. We unfolded a paper clip and carefully poked holes near the roof line on the front and back of the box. The holes should be across from each other. You can use the grid squares as guidelines. After holes are poked, we pushed sticks through the front of the building and out the coordinating hole in the back.
  • Students used hot glue to build ladders with small stick pieces. I put low temp hot glue guns on a big piece of butcher paper and added some small sized yard gloves with the hot glue guns. Students wear the gloves while using the hot glue to reduce the risk of burning fingers.
  • Make a few plain boxes to use as base pieces for stacking and creating the layers. Stack boxes side by side, to the back, and on top of each other to create the effect of an actual pueblo building. We leaned the ladders on the buildings at different levels to finalize the look.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

If you would like to extend this activity, there are options for math integration by calculating square footage of each building. Students can use the grid on the interior of the boxes to calculate the dimensions and area.

To purchase other supplemental materials for a study of peoples of the Southwest, CLICK HERE. To see all of my resources for Native people in North America, CLICK HERE.

Olmec Big Head Statue Activity

My 4th grade students recently completed an Olmec big head statue activity as part of our study of ancient civilizations in the Americas. I knew very little about the Olmec civilization before I started teaching it as part of my history curriculum, and students are typically not familiar with the group either. The Olmec settled in present day Mexico and were the predecessors to groups like the Maya and Aztec. They developed calendars, may have been the first to harvest the cacao bean, were wealthy traders, and carved giant head statues from basalt stone. To date, seventeen big head statues have been found along Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In order to help my students understand the concept of the large head statues, I planned a hands on activity that let them build their own model of a big head statue using air-dry clay and Play-Doh. We reviewed photographs of the real statues and noted details about the facial features, helmets, and carving techniques to try to duplicate some of the key traits. The students were really excited about the project and demonstrated much better recall of the Olmec civilization after completing the heads. The activity could be adapted to fit with a study of other cultures such as the Easter Island statues, Ancient Egyptian sculpture, or the Leshan Giant Buddha in China.

Big Head Statue Materials

  • air-dry clay
  • Play-Doh in bright colors
  • paper plates
  • sharp pencils, bent paper clips, toothpicks, or other pointy tools for carving details

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

Big Head Statue Directions

  • Give each student about 1/2 pound of Air Dry clay. I have 18 students and bought two 5-lb buckets of clay. I divided each bucket of clay into 9 clay balls of roughly equal size.
  • Students put the ball of clay on a paper plate and molded the ball into a head shape.
  • Using a pencil or other pointy tool, they carved eyes, nose, mouths, etc. into the face. They also used their hands to pinch and form facial features.
  • After the basic design was finished, they took small amounts of colorful Play-doh and added details. According to researchers, the statues may have been painted with bright colors, so students used that detail from our readings to add to their statue design.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In addition to the hands on activity with the clay, I added supplemental readings like THIS ONE to enhance our study of the Olmec people. We practiced finding topic, main idea, and details while completing the reading. To see more of my reading comprehension passages and procedure for correctly identifying topic, main idea, and details in reading passages, CLICK HERE.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

How to Create a Graphic Organizer

I use MS Word to create various graphic organizers. Since many schools use Word as the primary way to publish documents in the classroom, these are good technology tips for both teachers and students. Most Microsoft publishing apps like PowerPoint and Publisher have similar functions, so once you know the formatting options in one program, you can usually click the same buttons in other programs. Here are 5 of my favorite tips for creating a graphic organizer in order to make teacher materials to print for my students to use in class.

formatting graphic organizers in Word

1. Formatting Button (again)

  • The best tip I can give people using MS Word is to turn the formatting button on (see THIS BLOG POST). None of the background symbols appear when printing, but it allows you to see where you have pressed buttons and what types of spacing you have.

Next, insert a basic table with the needed numbers of rows and columns. Don’t worry if you want to add or delete rows and columns later; it is easy to do. Once you have a basic table in the Word document, you are ready to customize. Most of the functions you will use will be accessed under the LAYOUT tab. This tab is only visible when you have clicked your cursor inside a cell (one of the boxes) on the table.

2. Making the Table Larger

  • To make the table cells (boxes) larger, hover the cursor over the bottom line. When it changes to two parallel lines with an up and down arrow, left click, hold, and drag down.
  • To move any of the gridlines within the table, hover over the lines you would like to move, wait for the parallel icon with up down arrows to appear, left click, hold, and drag.

3. Making the Rows and Columns Equal Sizes

  • To distribute rows evenly, highlight all of the rows you would like to be the same height. Select distribute rows in the LAYOUT tab. To distribute columns evenly, highlight all of the columns you would like to be the same width. Select distribute columns. This is where the formatting function comes in handy. There will be a small circle inside each cell. You can see if you have grabbed the cells you need by making sure the little circles in the appropriate boxes are highlighted.

formatting graphic organizers in Word

4. Adding Rows and Columns

  • To insert additional rows or columns, click your cursor in the cell next to where you want to add the row or column. Choose insert above, below, right, or left depending on what you need.

5. Adding and Formatting Text

  • To add text, click in the cell where you need the text. Type your words (I like to add all words first then work on the formatting).
  • To change the font, make the size, bigger, center, etc. use the buttons in the HOME tab you use when formatting regular documents.
  • To change the text direction, highlight the text you want to flip and click the text direction button. Click multiple times until the text is turned the direction you need.
  • To align the text within the cell, click the text symbols that show different line spacing within a box right next to the text direction button.

Spend some time clicking around in the LAYOUT tab of your document. You can merge and split cells, turn gridlines on and off, and add background colors to each cell, row, or column. You can also click outside of your table and insert clipart pictures. Right click on the picture and choose wrap text/in front of text. After that, you can drag your picture anywhere on your page.

For a printable version of these table tips with step by step instructions and screen shots, CLICK HERE to download. For more tips about using MSWord in the classroom, CLICK HERE.

formatting graphic organizers in Word

Tips for Formatting Documents in Word

If you teach upper elementary students or older, you are probably creating documents on the computer with students and need tips for formatting the documents in Word. I have six word processing functions that are essential for my students in order to edit and publish documents more easily. We use Microsoft products and PCs at my school, and days where we have the whole class set of computers out at the same time can be excruciating unless the students are familiar with some basic commands.

Student help pages for Formatting in MS Word

Student Tips for Formatting Documents

1. Save As

  • Designate one folder where a student saves his documents all the time. Every document a student types is saved into the same folder. Using the Save As feature, I show them how to navigate to the designated folder.
  • Set up a folder for a student’s writing assignments ONLY and teach how to save in the same place every time.
  • Set up a specific naming system. In my class, students always save documents as their name followed by key words from the project (Name Lemonade War or Name Aslan Essay).

2. Double Space

  • Double space the entire document at one time. Students like to type a little, then play with formatting, then have mismatched spacing and fonts. After the entire document is finished, change the spacing at one time. I recommend the Select All function to highlight the entire document, then choose the double space (2.0) line spacing.

3. Tab Button

  • Always use the Tab button to indent when starting a paragraph. When students use the space bar, words are out of alignment and look messy. I dislike messy.

4. Ctrl+c (copy), Ctrl+x (cut), Ctrl+v (paste)

  • These are the 3 most valuable shortcut keys in my opinion. Rather than messing with right clicking which inevitably ends up de-highlighting text, I teach my students these 3 shortcuts. I also use these shortcut keys for copying, cutting, and pasting images.

Student help pages for Formatting in MS Word

5. Formatting Button

  • This is a teacher’s best friend. If students have words jumping all over the page, turn on the formatting tool (it’s in the home tab and looks like a backwards letter p). It shows all the background buttons a student has pushed in the document. If a student pressed the space bar a thousand times to move something to the center, it shows little dots. If a student hit enter multiple times, a paragraph symbol (backwards looking P shows up). If a student hit  the tab button, an arrow appears. I can fix a lot of funky formatting in a student’s document by turning on the formatting key.

6. Undo Typing

  • And finally, when all else fails, hit the counterclockwise arrow and undo the most recent typing!

You can grab a free printable version of MS Word Student Tips from my Teachers Pay Teachers store by CLICKING HERE.

Student help pages for Formatting in MS Word