Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Moment Balanced Literacy Teachers Live for...

Today I was leading my students through a summarizing activity on the website Into the Book. They were learning how to become pirates by reading sections of a pirate manual. After reading each section, they had to highlight the sentences that described the main idea and supporting details and drag them onto a ship sail. Then they had to use the main ideas from each section to write a summary of the manual.

One of my students raised his hand and said, "this is just like making boxes and bullets in our jottings!"

Other students shouted out their thoughts such as: Hey, yea! and Wow, you're right!  and my favorite, This is just like that! We are making jottings without even meaning to!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mystery Unit

Third grade was supposed to teach this unit back in January, but at that time we did not have enough books at a variety of levels for our students to read. In order for a balanced literacy framework to be successful you definitely need to have the appropriate materials. So we switched it to March. I placed my leveled mysteries on the top of the classroom library shelves for easy access by my readers. They were very excited about all of the new books (I did not have these in the library prior to this unit).

I created my Focus Board which lays out the unit Common Core Standards, skills, strategies, essential questions, and vocabulary.

I created a menu to share with my team which highlights the read aloud, materials, anchor charts, resources, and technology for the unit.

When planning this unit, the first place I started was my Teachers College Reading and Writing Project/Lucy Calkins A Curricular Plan for the Reading Workshop. I read through this plan and highlighted all of my teaching points and goals for the unit. Then I created my anchor charts (which can be seen in my previous post, Mystery Unit Anchor Charts).

 We began the unit by spending time on content-specific vocabulary. Scholastic (click for link) provided a detective's dictionary that had easily-understood definitions. Students played matching games, did vocab activities on the Smart Board, and cracked a code using definitions. They designed flap books to illustrate the words and use them in sentences.

In order to differentiate the vocab matching activities, some students played the game like Memory with the cards face down, but others left the cards face up and then matched words and definitions. provides numerous resources focused on mysteries. There is a link that lists the themes found in the Cam Jansen books and a reading by the author, but it also has activities about mysteries in general under the link Super Sleuth Squad Headquarters.

This was a Crack the Code vocab activity from that website. I differentiated it by giving my lower readers a matching activity that contained what I thought were content words they should learn.

After I preloaded the vocab I created an aura of suspense in class when I presented each student with a plain gold envelope. I was very secretive about it and told each student that they were now an official third grade detective. During the unit, I referred to them as detectives, not readers, during our mid-workshop teaching point. Each time I addressed them, I called them detectives. They loved this! They were very serious about their detective files. They decorated them and were not allowed to look in the file unless I told them to do so and I told them exactly which paper to take out.

The first paper to come out of the detective file was a Scooby Doo recording sheet. It explained to students that by watching a television show, we would be creating a touchstone which would allow us to refer back to this story throughout the unit to make connections, compare, and contrast themes and ideas. There are many episodes of Scooby Doo on You Tube. My inclusion block watched A Pup Named Scooby Doo episodes because they were shorter and the characters were children.

The next paper they used in their Detective File was:

They selected a mystery book at their level and as they read they checked off the parts of the mystery that they came across in the book. They also had to reference the text by writing the page number next to the element on the checklist. Students continued their practice of jotting while reading so they could have meaningful discussions with peers and conferences with me.

During minilessons, students would stop and jot information about characters and clues on their suspect lists and clues clipboard. They would also reference the text on these recording papers.
I used the Detective Case Report as an assessment piece. Students completed this form with information from our read aloud book.

My read aloud was from the Woodland Mystery series. This is a series of books from the Wright Group that are written to encourage students to increase stamina and be successful with chapter books. These books are written with about 1000 base words and the words that rhyme with them. There are larger margins, 3 illustrations per chapter, fewer lines per page, limited use of contractions.

Of course I marked up my read aloud book with jottings ahead of time. I addressed envisioning, character traits, life lessons, plot development, and prosody.

I was able to integrate a little math into our mystery unit with this cool little mystery activity from Scholastic! Students had to use clues to eliminate suspects and solve a mystery using elapsed time. 

My students loved this unit because they said it was suspenseful and exciting! They increased their volume and stamina which were two of the goals of the unit.  I cannot wait to add to this unit for next year...I think we need mustaches and hats! 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mystery Unit Anchor Charts

Here are the anchor charts I will use during our Mystery Unit of study in Reading Workshop. This first one was inspired by a poster I saw on Pinterest. The others I created myself using information I read in the Lucy Calkins' Curriculum Plan for the Reading Workshop.

Biography Book Club Jottings Assessment

This is one of the forms I used to collect data on my students and what they were learning during our biography and narrative nonfiction unit. I asked them to choose some of their jottings from their Biography Book Club books and then they had to tell why they chose those particular jottings by circling the choices at the bottom of the form. I used these forms during conferencing to celebrate success and address any weaknesses.

During the conference with this student, I complimented her descriptions of Rosa Parks' character, but we talked about how to better reference the text and explain events in her life that showed she was that type of woman that was described in the jottings.

I complimented this student on her independent use of a chart from a previous minilesson. We discussed synonymns to use that are more detailed than just caring and helpful.

I complimented this boy on asking such an intense question. In addition to a quick reminder of capitalization, we discussed other people he has read about that also changed the world. I encouraged him to make more connections between other texts when reading.

I complimented this student for referencing the text, but reminded him that when he is a biography reader he should not just be recalling facts. I had him practice relating to the text instead of just retelling details. I led him to the thought that maybe the statue was so big because Dr. King did big things for civil rights.

I was proud of the student, Bryan, because the other members of his book club were absent on the day they did this activity so he put all of their names on the jotting.


relating...not just recalling

again relating...not recalling

This child is religious and often makes connections to her church. In this jotting I complimented her for relating to Abe Lincoln reading the bible. We talked about reasons why he possibly chose to become a stateman instead of a minister.

I complimented this student on asking a question and then drawing a line to write the answer to the question after he found it in the text. I encouraged him to reference the text with a few more details. I complimented him on relating to Black Beard's family because he thought the pirate should protect his family and not the gold treasure.

I complimented Mya for referencing an event in her book and relating to it. I told her I agreed with her 4-star rating of her jotting.

I complimented this student on being in touch with the text and asking questions to help understand what she was reading. I told her that I agreed with her star ratings. She is limited English proficient (LEP) so I think that her questions were justified. We had a basic conversation about Obama and his life. It was not too deep or detailed because that is not what she needed at this time.


Great use of character traits and referencing the text.

I complimented this student for referencing the text, but we talked about the difference between fact and opinion when reading a biography.

When I conferenced with this student, I had him show me the fancy writing that he found because I thought maybe he was not understanding italics. It was actually a photograph of Declaration of Independence. We had a conversation about how writing has changed from old times and the different types of writing we might see and use today.