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How to Teach Novel Studies Part 2: Vocabulary

How to Teach Novel Studies Part 2: Vocabulary

Some of my most vivid childhood memories of school were the novel studies that we read for various subjects. It was my most favorite way to learn skills, history, any topic really! I am a lover of books and getting to read an entire book from cover to cover as a school assignment put me in heaven! I am sure this is a major reason why as a teacher my passion is to create and teach is novel studies! I love to introduce new books to students and as a community, get immersed in the book together. I love for a student to pull us off the schedule with a question or comment from something they read that leads the class in a lively discussion. That’s where the real memorable learning takes place after all!

Novel studies are my largest product line simply because I like to focus on what I love. I want to work with my passion! I often get questions from readers asking how I would set up novel studies in my classroom. I decided to write a small series explaining my methods.  For the most part, all of my novel studies include comprehension questions, vocabulary/grammar skill work, extension activities, and assessments.

Today’s post, part 2, deals with the vocabulary/grammar skill aspect of the novel studies. You can read part 1 here.

Novel Studies Part 2: Vocabulary/Grammar Skill Work

One of the beautiful things with reading books is that it expands your vocabulary. It introduces you to new words that you can build into your commentary. Being exposed to these new words within the context of a story helps the reader make an inference to the meaning of the word and it helps to see the word used in action to help the student understand its relevance.

When I create a novel study I try and pick out all the words that would be unfamiliar to a reader while at the same time not overdoing it by having such a long list of words for each chapter that the reader is pulled out of the story. Balance is imperative.

I would always write the vocabulary words for the day/chapter of the board before we would start reading so the student would know to keep a lookout for those words as they read.

 

I create a vocabulary bookmark for the student to have in hand as they read. They can record the page number of the word and note the inference that they have made on the meaning of the word as they are encountering it in context. You can see how I have this designed for my Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Novel Study.

 

 

 

I also create another page that the student can attend to after they’ve completed their reading. They will use their bookmark to locate the page number of the word. Next, they will look up the dictionary definition of the word and check it against the inference that they made on the bookmark as they read. You can see an example here from my Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Novel Study.

 

Each unit will contain some activities to work with the words and their definitions such as a crossword puzzle or word search.

I also like to work with grammar skills in context. My units contain a grammar skills activity for each vocabulary word that allows them to identify the part of speech of the word and then the sentence is pulled that contains that word. The sentence is written with improper grammar, missing punctuation, and misspellings. Students will need to correct the sentence to the proper written format. Here’s an example page from my Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Novel Study.

 

 

 

All of my novel studies offer a Google Drive™ format to use with your students in addition to the printable format that is shown above. This allows you to use novel studies in a 1:1 classroom, to save paper, and to easily engage students that are absent. Here’s an example page from the Google Drive™ format of my Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Novel Study.

Pacing and approaching vocabulary in this manner has worked very well for me. It allows the students to think about the words and their meaning in context, while not disrupting the story to learn the true meaning.


Join me for part 3 in my series to learn the pacing methods I use for my novel studies.

 

 


You can find my Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Novel StudyHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Novel Study, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Novel Study, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Novel Study that are mentioned above in my store. I also offer over 90 titles ranging from grades 1 to 8 where I am sure you’ll find something to engage your class in some deep reading.

 

 

 

 


 

 

To read Part 1: Comprehension

 

How To Teach Novel Studies: Part 1 Comprehension

How To Teach Novel Studies: Part 1 Comprehension

Some of my most vivid childhood memories of school were the novel studies that we read for various subjects. It was my most favorite way to learn skills, history, any topic really! I am a lover of books and getting to read an entire book from cover to cover as a school assignment put me in heaven! I am sure this is a major reason why as a teacher my passion is to create and teach is novel studies! I love to introduce new books to students and as a community, get immersed in the book together. I love for a student to pull us off the schedule with a question or comment from something they read that leads the class in a lively discussion. That’s where the real memorable learning takes place after all!

Novel studies are my largest product line simply because I like to focus on what I love. I want to work with my passion! I often get questions from readers asking how I would set up novel studies in my classroom. I decided to write a small series explaining my methods.  For the most part, all of my novel studies include comprehension questions, vocabulary/grammar skill work, extension activities, and assessments. Today’s post, part 1, deals with the comprehension aspect of the novel studies.

Novel Studies Part 1: Comprehension

In my opinion, one of the most compelling reasons to use whole novels in your reading instruction is to boost the comprehension skills of your students. A complete novel allows the student to delve deep into the character’s minds and work through the plot from a detailed beginning to an end. You just can’t achieve this level of deep understanding and thinking using short passages only. Students need to be exposed to all methods of reading instruction and complete novel studies fulfill a critical piece of the puzzle.

In order for your student to dig deep into the comprehension, they need to be able to have the time to get lost in the narrative. Complete chapters will help them fall into the world of their book. The goal here is for students to be thinking at the higher levels of the cognitive domain and to immerse themselves in the affective domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

 

To achieve this I only use narrative questioning for my novel studies. The student needs to write out a complete statement in order to answer the question. Multiple-choice questioning for this is just not adequate to get the student to move beyond the lowest level of knowledge questioning of Bloom’s. You don’t want students doing quick guessing games to show what they’ve learned as they move through the book!

 

Here’s an example from chapter 1 of the comprehension questions from my Fish in a Tree Novel Study.

You can see that the questions will not allow the student to quick-skim the book. They can only answer if they’ve read and the questions force them to think through the thought processes of the character and to put themselves into the character’s shoes. This type of questioning will take the student into the highest levels of both the cognitive and affective domains of Bloom’s.

You can also see that there are only 5 questions for the chapter. The questioning I use in my novel studies generally is only 1-6 questions per chapter. Students don’t need to be inundated with questions to dig deep and to show understanding of what they’ve read. If the questioning is thorough only a few questions are needed. I try to have at least one question per chapter no matter how small it is. Of course, there are some exceptions where a chapter is so short that it’s not necessary to assign questions just for the sake of assigning work.

Another reason for not overburdening the students with questions is to minimize the disruptions as they read. The more they have to stop to answer questions the less likely they are to get lost in the story. You want them to go all in!

All of my novel studies offer a Google Drive™ format to use with your students in addition to the printable format that is shown above. This allows you to use novel studies in a 1:1 classroom, to save paper, and to easily engage students that are absent. Here’s an example page from the Google Drive™ format of my Esperanza Rising Novel Study.

Going through a story in this manner in regards to comprehension has worked very well for me. It forces those reluctant readers to put forth the effort in letting themselves read deeply. The non-reluctant readers will just be thrilled to be reading a complete book so you’ve already hooked them!


Join me for part 2 in my series to learn the methods I use to try to turn my students into book detectives with vocabulary/grammar skill work using novel studies.

 

 


You can find my Fish in a Tree Novel Study and Esperanza Rising Novel Study that are mentioned above in my store. I also offer over 90 titles ranging from grades 1 to 8 where I am sure you’ll find something to engage your class in some deep reading.

 


Best FREE Classroom Apps!

Best FREE Classroom Apps!

More and more classrooms have 1:1 capability and even those that are not fully 1:1 are using technology more every day.  Here are some apps that are available for free for you to use with your students and for parent communication.

Organization and Parent Communication Apps:

• Bloomz

Remind

• Homeroom

• Seesaw

• Class Dojo


ELA Apps:

• Readworks

• Spelling City

 

 

 


Math Apps:

• IKnowIt

• XtraMath

• Prodigy

 

 


Quizzing Making & Apps for all Curriculum Areas:

• Quizlet

• Kahoot

• Quizizz

• Khan Academy

• EdPuzzle

 

 


First Year Flashback

First Year Flashback

I have to dig deep into my memory to flashback to my first year of teaching during the 1995-96 school year. It is always nice to revisit those times though, and every year new teachers everywhere go through the same struggles. You are not alone and you will get through it! I promise!

I graduated from Iowa State University in May 1995 and was accepted into a graduate program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha called the CADRE Project for the 1995-96 school year. In this program, you are placed in a classroom as a full-time teacher at one of the surrounding public school districts while simultaneously completing a Master’s Degree program. Part of the program included a “Master Teacher Mentor” that would check in on my classroom periodically to give pointers and advice to help make the first year go smoother. I was placed in the Omaha Public Schools as a 4th-grade teacher.

My classroom was in a building that was built in 1912 and hadn’t had many renovations so it was very “antique”. Wood floors, very high ceiling, tall windows, old radiator for heat, and no air conditioning! The school itself, a K-4 building, had more classrooms outside in portables than we had in the actual building. I was lucky to be in the main building. Outside my classroom door was the “office” which consisted of a large counter in the hallway for the secretary to work from with a small office to the back for the principal. The security guard sat right outside my classroom at a small little table.


I was given very minimal supplies to start off since my class was added late in the summer. I had a set of math and reading textbooks and a set of old metal desks in the room. I had access to large rolls of colored paper, writing paper, and pencils in a school-wide storage room. If I needed anything else I had to put in a supply order, but this was only for the basic office supplies like pens, staples, etc. It took several months just to get a working pencil sharpener in that room that first year!

These conditions forced me to create my own materials. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise that led me to a love of curriculum development and gave me skills to use for my post-teaching career!

The biggest challenge I had that first year was learning how to work with such a diverse population, both racial and socio-economical. There was nothing taught in teacher training to prepare me for that. I grew up in Sioux Falls, SD, where my graduating class of over 500 had less than 1% non-white students and all basically came from a middle class economic status.

My students were about 50% black living in the high-poverty neighborhood where the school was located. The other 50% were mainly white students that were bussed in from an even lower income area that included a homeless shelter. Due to the homeless shelter, we had a lot of movement in and out of the school. In a given year I would have on average 18 students in my room, but by the end of the year, I would have a list of 40-50 kids that had actually been in my class at some point during the year.

About the same time that school started my first year there was a police officer, Jimmy Wilson Jr, shot and killed by gang members while still sitting seat belted in his patrol car. This caused quite a bit of unrest and tension in the city, especially in the area where my school was located. One of the first Friday afternoons after starting school it was too hot to be sitting in the classroom (no air conditioning) so I took the class out to the front yard under a big tree to do our read aloud time there. Instead of reading, a discussion about the shooting started amongst them. My eyes were really opened during the discussion to just how different the families in the area viewed the shooting than I had as a white woman from the middle class area of town. I learned a lot about my students and the experiences of their families that day. I was also really tuned in to just how much innocence was lost in these young 9-10 year olds, from the mature nature of the things they’d seen and struggles they had experienced at such a young age. I had student taught 4th grade in Ames, IA, those kids were so much less mature and more innocent than the students I had sitting with me under that tree. It was a very eye opening and educational experience for me. I think that discussion really helped me see into the lives of these children and gave me a better empathetic attitude towards the life experiences that they carried.

The biggest challenge was also the best part. I learned to be so much more open-minded and learned to work with a diverse population. I learned as much from those kids that year as I taught them.

There was one student in particular who I feel I touched more than any other student I’ve ever had. I was, and still am, very proud of how I helped him build his confidence that year and helped others in the district, who had dismissed him and written him off as a goof-off who didn’t have much potential, see that he was very worthy of another look. I proved them wrong and opened their eyes to the incredible potential he did hold.


Sometimes you’ll feel like you are stuck and you’ll never get through, but you will. Every year after that first year you add a little more to your knowledge base. You learn the importance of organization, the importance of seeing each child through a clear set of eyes (don’t read past files before meeting them), and realize that your classroom doesn’t have to look “perfect” and that money can be better spent on instructional materials rather than cutesy bulletin boards! You don’t need a “Pinterest Pretty Classroom” to be a good teacher!

You also learn that you can’t solve every problem, you can only do your best to try. Make sure to protect yourself as well, don’t let all the problems of your students and classroom dominate your life. Take some time out for your personal mental health so you don’t get burned out too fast! Use your mistakes as learning experiences instead of stressing out over them. We all make them and you will too!

I wish good luck and happy days ahead for all teachers reading this, but especially all of you first-year teachers! Take a deep breath, it will work out in the end and you will do fantastic! There is nothing more exciting and contagious than a first year teacher’s enthusiasm!

How to Build a Better Teacher

How to Build a Better Teacher

I found an interesting article: How to Build a Better Teacher, by Elizabeth Green, that I thought was worth sharing.

The article talks about the myths and perceptions of what makes a great teacher. Are they natural born? Can it be learned?

The article gives five examples, taken from educational research that shows what sets apart a great teacher from a mediocre or bad one.


1. They can right a wrong: “The best teachers put themselves in their students’ shoes—and grapple with how they arrived at the wrong answer in order to set them right.”

2. They never say Shhh!”: “The best teachers eradicate ambiguity and respond to misbehavior with specificity, describing the desired behavior rather than the problem. “We’re following along in our books,” the teacher might say, gently reminding the distracted students to get back to work.”

3. They encourage deeper thinking: You will hear a lot of “why” or “explain how” type questions in these classrooms.

4. Great teachers “cold call” with a purpose: “The goal is to ­extract the maximum possible mileage from each question. By ­introducing the possibility that anyone can be asked to speak at any time, the teacher ­decreases the chances their students will tune out.”

5. They show more than they tell: “The teacher needs to be specific, showing students what detailed thinking looks like by illuminating the invisible mental steps that go into it.”

As I read I couldn’t help but compare myself and see my successes and shortcomings. This is a great article to think about as you navigate your school year. How do you measure up? What are you doing right? What can you improve to make this your most successful year yet?

How Much Does it Cost You to Go Back to School?

How Much Does it Cost You to Go Back to School?

There are many stories out there regarding how much money teachers spend out of their own pocket on their classroom. Of course, it’s not news to you! This also doesn’t account for all the “off the clock” time teachers put in to get the classroom ready!

The 1995-96 school year was my first year teaching fourth grade. I remember being so overwhelmed with so many things. I was not prepared for the culture shock of teaching in the low-income school where I was assigned, but I had a lot of foreshadowing so it wasn’t a total surprise. What I was really shocked about was the complete lack of supplies and condition of the building/classroom that I was to teach in. They do not warn you or prepare you at all in college for the complete lack of support you may receive for supplies!

The school I was in my first year dated back to 1928. For the years I was there 1995-1999, it was very aged and deep need of repair. The day I entered my classroom for the first time I was welcomed with 20 older metal desks, an old teacher’s desk with broken locks on the drawers, a single (empty) bookshelf, 2 smaller tables, and a very dated overhead projector on a cart all covered in dust!

After thoroughly cleaning I took stock of what I had to work with. The storeroom was supplied with some colored paper on giant rolls we could use for projects or bulletin board backgrounds, some pencils, student paper (that old very thin, brownish tinted kind). To get other supplies like scissors, pens, and other basic office supplies for my desk I was able to put in an order. Our school did not have any kind of a Parent/Teacher organization in place so there was nowhere to go for extra funding for anything else. Even with my sparse inventory, I was so excited to decorate and get my classroom ready to be a place to come together as a community and learn!

For the reading area, I bought a carpet remnant and scrounged garage sales and found an old chair and as many chapter books as I could find. The room had hardwood floors with big high ceilings so it wasn’t comfy and cozy and the acoustics were terrible!

Due to the income level of the area and district mandates we did not ask students to provide any school supplies at all. I went to Target’s back to school sales and bought up folders and other supplies the students would need. Of course, I emptied my checking account at the teacher resource stores on bulletin board supplies and classroom decor supplies. This was pre-TpT days before you could create and print any of this yourself on a computer with a colored printer so it was all that pre-made stuff which was not cheap!

A computer was not added to my classroom for a year or so. I was able to go to the Teachers Administration Building in another area of town and use a laminator that the district provided so that was helpful!

I was really proud of how nice my room looked, but my bank account was pretty empty those first days of school!

Throughout the year I tried to continue to stock the class library with $1 books from the Scholastic orders. I had a desperate need for chapter books. Our school only went up to grade 4 and sadly the school library was pretty small and very, very light on chapter books. My students did not have a high rate of public library use due to lack of access, so school was the place for them to get their hands on books. I wanted them to be reading age-appropriate books. I felt very strongly that you could not expect students to be reading at a 4th-grade level when all they had access to was 2nd grade and below books!

I also replaced folders and other supplies throughout the year and kept the class stocked in tissues. The district did not provide tissues at all, we were expected to use the coarse paper towels. This was not comfortable or very hygienic!

Over the course of that first year, I spent approximately $1400, more than a month’s pay, on supplies to make my classroom a place that was conducive to learning. I didn’t go fancy, I added the bare bones to make the shell of a room into a learning environment.

I still look back on that room with great pride. I do feel the school should have provided much more and there is still a little bitterness there, but I don’t regret spending the money I did on those kids. They deserved a warm classroom where they could learn. It just shouldn’t have been funded by someone being paid a mere $10,000 per year*!

For the years after that I didn’t contribute quite as much to my classroom since some things like carpet, the chair, bean bags, etc could be used again year after year. I continued to contribute for all that other stuff and it added up!

I see so often in the news about the cushy 9-month a year job of teachers and other disrespectful comments and it really burns me because I really don’t think the general public understands that my experience is replicated in classrooms all across the country every year. How many other jobs are workers expected to contribute one month’s pay a year back to their employer or clientele?

I know the state of finances for teachers has not improved over the years. Quite the opposite actually with legislation hurting or eliminating teacher unions.

Studies show that 94% of teachers spend out of their own pocket. This number actually surprises me and I find it low. I have never met a teacher that spends nothing, much less 6% of them! The national average is $479 for out of pocket spending by teachers. How does that compare to your experience? Do you receive much support for the basics? For extras?

Where do you find the best deals for the things that you buy for your class? Please share in the comments below your feelings about this subject and share any great deals you come across!

*My first-year contract consisted of a stipend of $10,000 and my tuition for my Master’s Degree paid at UNO. I was also not provided any medical or other benefits.