Thursday, March 28, 2013

Guest Poster: Rachael Parlett, Pockets of Poetry

Did you know that April is "National Poetry Month?"
It's a great month to expose your students to this fun reading genre!  Whether you do an entire unit on poetry, or just touch upon it for a week, students are sure to get excited about poems!  There are poems for everyone!  There are so many resources both online and in hardcopy!
It's easy to get lost online perusing through the gazillion poetry websites for kids.  Here is just one of my favorites that can help students practice fluency, poetry terms, word work and more!

Giggle Poetry

This site teaches students how to write a poem, and read with expressions (there are sooo many poems right on the site for students to practice reading in the "poetry theater" link).  There are also interviews with many children poets.  There is even a section where students can read a poem and rate it!  It would be a great site for students to explore during computer time! 

In addition to this online resource, I also wanted to share with you a fun game that I created that your students can complete at a literacy/poetry center.  This center will give your students practice in identifying different elements of poetry (similes, metaphores, hyperbole...etc...).

On each "pocket" there is a poetry element.  These elements include:

Students read poetry cards that have an example of one of the elements listed above.  The student places the poetry card in the correct pocket (a total of 4 cards per pocket).  Then, the students show their work on a recording sheet.
It's super easy to put together:
There are a total of 6 "pockets."  

I recommend laminating all of the pockets and cards for durability.

You can glue (or staple) the back of the 6 pockets on the inside of a file folder to keep all of the pockets together, or keep them lose and store all pockets and cards in a ziplock bag.
Assessing your students' understanding of the elements is easy by collecting this recording sheet:

I've provided an answer key too!  Even better :)
Use this game during the month of April or any time of the year that you expose your students to this fun genre!
Classroom Game Nook

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Poetry: Inspired by the Masters

Poetry is one of my great loves, and I have loved it since I was a child. While many people have novels on their nightstands, I have books of poetry. Poetry comforts me. It calms me. It amazes me. It speaks to my heart. Numerous bookshelves in my office at home hold many works by the great poets who are near and dear to my heart.
Now I understand and respect the importance of Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, etc. I know they are talented poets. I know kids love their poems. However, there has always been a part of me that longs to introduce my sixth grade students to the poets I love...and I do. It takes careful selection of just the right poems, but we always read works by Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, etc. Sometimes it takes my kiddos a little while to get into each poem, but once they do, they have a new appreciation of poetry. 

I found a great series of poetry books through Scholastic called Poetry for Young People. The series features poems by great poets with illustrations to entice the kiddos. These are just some of the books I have from the series (those we are currently using), but there are more in the series as well.
I always feature different poets in my Book Nook while we work on poetry. Our latest featured poet was Robert Frost.
One of the featured books is from the Poetry for Young People collection. The other book is You Come Too: Favorite Poems for Young Readers. I chose a poem entitled "Dust of Snow" from You Come Too

Our first task was talking to the text. This is a method I have always liked because it helps students  familiarize themselves with the text on their own first. It helps them feel more comfortable with the text before we launch into discussion. My students know that anything they write is okay while talking to the text, but they are always aware of the key points we usually discuss. Examples include unfamiliar vocabulary, theme, structure of the poem, setting, connections, questions, etc. Here is a student example (with the poem blocked out because I am not sure I have the right to put it here online...but you can find the poem "Dust of Snow" here).
After my kiddos talked to the text individually, I had them discuss their observations with partners. I always enjoy circulating and listening during partner discussion because it provides me with better insight into how my students feel about each poem we read. It also helps me gauge how well they understand each poem.

We then share ideas as a whole group. It's great to hear comments like, "Me, too!" or "I never thought of it that way!" as classmates share their notes.

A large part of our conversation regarding "Dust of Snow" centered on how one small moment in time...can completely change your mood. The poem focuses on a man who is having a bad day until a crow on a tree shakes some snow down onto him. It lifts his spirits and changes his day. 

We used this discussion as inspiration to write our own "Change of Mood" poems (as we called them). Each student selected a person's face from a magazine. Some years I have the students bring in pictures of themselves or those they have found in magazines (I get a lot of Justin Bieber and One Direction!), and other years, I provide the pictures for them.

Students analyzed their photos and the emotions on the people's faces. Each student then had to create a "snapshot in time" of a few minutes in that person's life. The character had to start out with one emotion and within a few minutes, something had to happen to change the person's mood (just like the narrator in "Dust of Snow"). Students really enjoyed creating scenarios for their characters.

As they worked on their rough drafts, they were SHOCKED when I walked around and cut the faces of their characters in half! They soon found out that on their good copies, they also had to illustrate the change in mood included in the poem by drawing the other half of the person's face with the opposite mood. They were all giggles and loved the idea! It was a bit more challenging than some of them realized, though!
They really enjoyed the lesson, and the best part is that afterward, students asked me if they could check the Robert Frost books out of my library. I can't think of much that makes me happier than students WANTING to read poetry! 

Poetry can impact people's lives. It can make you see things in a way you haven't seen them before. It can give you a voice. Before I sign off, I want to share a video that shows exactly what I am talking about.
Caroline's book was released yesterday, and I am anxious to receive my copy! Bravo to showing kids the power of poetry!
Until next time, happy teaching, friends!
Find me here:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Angles, Angles Everywhere!

Good morning! As many of you know I am a lover of anything and everything to do with an Interactive Notebook (INB). I am here today to share one of my latest flippables with you that my students have recently.

We just finished up reviewing the four different types of angles as part of our Geometry Unit so we had to create a fun flippable to use as a resource.

When my students walk in the door, they know to grab what is laying out for them and as part of their bell ringer they cut out and prepare everything for their INB for the day. First things up, the page title and the I Can statement.

I always show my students a completed example so that they can see what it will be looking like when they are finished. They know not to start "decorating" because they never know what the directions will be for the day. (Today's directions given at the end were to draw an item that has each given type of angle: heart- acute at the base, right- house at the base, clock- the hands are in an obtuse angle, flag pole- the pole is a straight angle).

Next up, it was time to match the definitions to each flap. I let my students work together on this and gave them a few minutes so that I could walk around and hear their conversations and how they were justifying it within their group. Hearing them using mathematical terms makes my day.

Next it was time to start creating our examples. I gave each student 4 stars in three different colors. They were to create an example of each angle and then label the angle according to their sticker color names. You can see this is angle BGR (blue, gold, red).

After the students went through and created their angles and placed their stickers, I had them check a neighbors. More mathematical talk that made me swoon.

The last part of this flippable was when I passed out the protractors. Each student had to use their protractor and write a complete sentence demonstrating why the angle that they created for each flap was that particular type of angle. 

When they were done, I let students go around with their protractors and measure various things in the room and stick a small Post-It in that spot that labeled the measurement of that angle. I even had some that were adventurous and asked for my painters tape and made their own angles on our tile floor. 

This Flippable, and many more, are available with all of the resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers store

I hope you have a great day and I can't wait to share another math adventure with you next time around here on All Things Upper Elementary!

Mathematically Yours,

Jennifer Smith-Sloane
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Free 4 All Linky #3


Once again, another awesome linky party for grades 3-6 full of FREE resources for you to download and use immediately!

Link up your freebies below and grab some freebies from others! Link up a blog post or the TPT product page.

After you link up, make sure you follow the rule of 3! Leave comments on the two posted before you and then come back and leave a comment on the one after you.

One more thing...don't forget to promote this linky on your Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest!

Happy Linking!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Authentic Performance Tasks

Years and years ago, we learned about creating authentic performance tasks for our students. As we learned more about them, we were like, Wow! These are fun to create and came to find out, our students LOVED completing them. Creating authentic performance tasks allow teachers to be creative and students a chance to stretch their little brains. You may be thinking, Oh, I know what a performance task is....well, an authentic performance task is a little different. Many people think a performance task is when a student makes something, say, you ask a student to create a graph based on a survey. Well, yes, that is a performance task. But it is missing important components of an authentic performance task....well, what is that you ask?


GRASPS what? GRASPS is the model that we like to use to create our authentic performance tasks or assessments. GRASPS is an acronym that helps us make sure we have included all the components. You can Google GRASPS performance task and find many links. Where did it come from? Well, we love some Wiggins and McTighe. Here is a link that you can check out briefly.
Goal- This is what you want your students to be able to accomplish. 
Role- What real world role will your students have? This is where we love to get creative...will they be a zoo keeper? An artist? A fashion designer? A journalist? Choose a role that will make sense to the task.
Audience- Who will students be addressing or presenting their project to? A city planning committee? The mayor? First grade students? Again, have fun and make sure it makes sense to the task and role the students will take on.
Scenario/situation- What is the context in which the task will take place? Here's the kicker, must be REAL WORLD connected. That's right, you need to give your kids a real world situation or scenario. 
Product/project- What is it that students are creating? Be specific.
Scoring rubric- How will you assess student work? Here we create a standards specific rubric describing exactly what students need to include in their project so they know exactly what we expect of them.

Example Please!

Here is an example in our Teachers Pay Teachers store that you can download for free. Students are a paleontologist and they are using rounding skills and addition/subtraction concepts. This is just one example of the endless possibilities that can be created. 

These tasks are a great way to ensure engagement of your students and not just compliance. We have yet to have a student not want to complete a performance task...are they easy for students? Well, we think they are challenging as the ones we design are usually cross-curricular, so students have to draw on knowledge from a variety of sources. 

Need an engaging idea for comparing and ordering decimals?  Have your boys design the dream baseball roster. Give them a printout of some of the best pro baseball players and have them select the players they want on their dream team. Include all positions and stats and your boys can go through batting average, slugging average, ERA, saves, and so on and so forth. They can then write and explain their choices. Of course they will have to include knowledge of decimals. Or you could have a baseball draft instead! How much fun would that be?

Or maybe you want to assess your students on their knowledge of lines of latitude and longitude...instead of giving them a worksheet that has them write a the name of a city at a given set of coordinates, why not give them coordinates of past hurricanes so they can be meteorologists tracking a hurricane's path? We did this with our 3rd graders, and they really had a blast! We gave them a world map that had the lines of latitude and longitude, let them choose which hurricane to track, and let them have at it. Yep, it took some work on our part, but it was well worth it, and now we can just tweak it for next year.

One thing we have come to learn, though, is that to create an engaging, authentic performance task takes leg work. Sometimes you have to have things made for students (like in the baseball example will need to have some stats ready). But the upside is that if they are standards-based, you can refine them for the following year. We definitely either keep a few exemplars or take pictures so our students the following year can see real examples. 

Here is an example from our Measuring Length Circus Animal Cage performance task. Students researched an animal and then created a traveling cage using measurements that would result in a roomy, comfy cage. Students then gave actual measurements of different features of their cage. 

Different Outcomes

At first we tried to control how the performance tasks would turn out....HUGE mistake! Now we sit back and watch. We have seen some of the most impressive projects as a result. With an authentic performance task, there is more than one way to complete a project, and no two projects will be alike. Sometimes we give our students a choice of roles they can take on. Here are some examples of when some students chose to be a landscape, fashion designer, or architect designing a monument. They were to measure lengths and compare measurements (2nd Grade CCSS Math MD.2 and MD.4) focusing on Washington, D.C. 

This student chose to be a landscaper and added a new outdoor space. She added a garden, fruit orchard, a Snack Shack for hungry guests, a pond, and other items.

This student chose to be an architect and designed a new monument for Teddy Roosevelt. He felt like Teddy had great accomplishments with securing national parks for nature conservation.

This student chose to be a fashion designer. She not only included articles of clothing but also accessories. 

This student chose to be a fashion designer and created outfits for the First Family and included their pet dog. She measured pieces of the outfits in inches and centimeters.

We hope that you will give authentic performance tasks a try. The hardest part is getting started, but now we find ourselves driving home thinking of the new task for our students....and we know they love them, too, because anytime we tell them they have a new task, they try to guess what they will do next! Please feel free to contact us at if you need a little help getting started!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Literary Devices-Hyperbole, Personification, and Idioms...Oh My!

The end of the school year is sneaking up on us, and if you are like me, I am starting to get really nervous about those... (whispering) state tests! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Okay, now that that is out in the open, I wanted to share with you some of the ideas that I have been using with my 60 writing students (grades 4-5-6). Literary devices are so fundamental to our kiddos doing well on the language portions of the test I knew that a HUGE review of what we learned in our poetry unit/year of writing and push on in our preparation of our learning for the year was in order! So, I changed my literacy board to this (well, actually my WIFE was the amazing writer of the posters and charts):

You will notice that a few books are missing from the Mentor Text section. That is because I had to order some new books to fill the spots. I found a great book called, If You Were Onomatopoeia, and a couple of others. It is so much fun to have mentor texts right there at my fingertips ready for any lesson I need. To hang them, all I did was use binder clips and t-pins. Easy-peasy!

About two weeks ago, I started a unit on personification. It was really fun to have the kids think about and discuss giving human emotions to animals and objects. I pulled in lots of resources from professional books to resources I spent time creating. I was impressed with how well my students picked it up. We even learned a new word "anthropomorphism"! Don't know what that means? Look it up- my students can SAY and tell me what it means. Not that they will really NEED that term, but it was fun to teach them a new big word, and they enjoy saying it! The students even wrote a story that had at least three examples of personifications in them. The 4th graders did an amazing job. To help keep it fresh in their minds, every time an examples comes up in a story, a conversation, etc. I point it out to them. :)

Then last week, we worked on Idioms. Oh my word. That was SO MUCH FUN! I had the kids make posters of different idiom phrases and then the students chose three different posters and had to incorporate those idioms into a short story. Bwa ha ha. They were SO creative and fun. Students did NOT take this particular writing through all the steps of the writing process. We stopped at the rough draft. The kids were grateful for a break from full process writing, and I was grateful to have a "quick and dirty" writing project the kids enjoyed. As part of this unit, I made a set of "I Have, Who Has" Idiom cards. What a blast. You can check those out by clicking on the picture below.

This week, we have been studying hyperbole (hi-per-ba-lee). The students have really gotten into exaggerating the truth! We have had contests to see who can come up with the best exaggeration, we have read tall tales, and watched Disney's American Legend DVD clips pausing frequently to discuss all the literary devices that have been used. It has been eye-opening to them just how much the topics we have been learning are used in music, TV, movies, and writing. In fact, this week, students have been bringing in their reading books at recess to show me an example of an idiom, or a funny hyperbole. It's amazing how well they are retaining these topics! I love that the students are starting to realize that there is an overlap in the literary devices used- that a hyperbole can sound an awful lot like a simile. I LOVE it when the light bulbs over their heads click on! 

While I can't guarantee that my kiddos will rock the test, I am very excited that as our testing dates approach (two weeks away), I can say that MY students are learning, retaining, and enjoying these short units of study on literary devices.  How about you? What strategies, activities, or studies of literary devices do YOU use to prepare for those end of year, high-stake tests? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Mr. Hughes

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