Writing Part 6: Mini Lessons

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Thanks for hanging in there regarding my Writing series.  Today I will focus on using writing mini-lessons. The mini-lesson is the teacher’s chance to show children how to do all of the different things writers do — a little bit at a time.

Writing Mini-Lessons:

  • Mini-Lessons are meant to be short  – maybe 10-15 minutes.
  • They are meant to address student needs – so your decisions shouldn’t necessarily come from a sequenced list, but based on what you see the students doing (or not doing).
  • Focus on one topic per mini-lesson. Then practice that one aspect of writing.
  • Decisions on mini-lessons can be based on any writing students are doing (journal, prompts, reading responses, and other curriculum writing assignments).
  • How often? I would try 1-2 mini-lessons per week. Alternate days with handwriting instruction and journal writing if you only have one block of time for writing.
  • Writing mini-lessons can also be done as a part of your guided reading weekly routine. This means you can differentiate your instruction based on the group of students with whom you are working.
  • Always model and use think alouds. Your writing mini-lessons will be more effective if you have already been utilizing shared writing methods. Use some of your own writing to introduce a mini-lesson.
  • Don’t forget to praise when you notice a student who has implemented some of your mini-lesson strategies.  Give specific info to a student directly. Specific praise (not just “Good job”) will result in more consistent use of what you praised them for. Example:  “I noticed you have ending punctuation on all of your sentences. Keep it up!” 

Mini-Lesson Ideas: These are not listed in any particular order because you should select ones based on what students need. However, I did put them in a somewhat developmentally appropriate order from younger to older students.

Get your free printed PDF copy of these ideas (enough for a whole year) by clicking HERE. Continue reading

Six Small Group Literacy Center Organization Models

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Teachers realize the great benefit of working with smaller intimate groups in reading. By doing this, the teacher is able to tailor reading instruction and text levels to the needs of the students. This is a valuable time for students as well as the teacher. However, organizing a schedule and the activities for students who are not meeting with the teacher is very difficult. Then, if there is a large class (which seems to be the norm now), how can 20 students realistically be properly engaged for 45 minutes while the teacher meets with 5 . . . and move from one station to the next orderly, clean up after themselves, and do this all rather quietly?

So I have developed 6 different options which will enable the teacher to conduct small group instruction, while the other students are occupied productively. Click here to get a full description of them all, with charts and illustrations to help visualize how they are organized.PDF Center Organization Ideas For more help, search for my previous posts on Guided Reading Literacy Stations. And if you have questions or suggestions, by all means — click the comment box!!

Option #1:  Traditional rotation method — students rotate every 15-20 minutes and visit each station every day (including the teacher table).

Option #2: This is a semi-flexible schedule. Students start off with a must-do desk assignment(s), followed by reading practice. Then they choose a work station. Each day is a different station. Continue reading

Guided Reading and Literacy Stations Part 6: Final Summary

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Well, I have finally come to an end of this series on the topic of Guided Reading and Literacy Stations. This last part will be short (I promise) and will hopefully tie it all together . . . along with some of my ideas on what should go on at your teacher station. Here’s the summary:

  1. Build and sustain your classroom community.
  2. Assess students to determine instructional reading level (90-95% text accuracy).
  3. Practice procedures for the activities which students will be doing.
  4. Decide how to group students.
  5. Decide which type of scheduling system you will use (rotation, flexible).
  6. Organize materials: book sets, activity materials, teacher materials

Another important aspect of making your guided reading program work is collaboration and professional development. Talking and working with others is a way to share ideas and problem solve. Yes, you can find plenty of activities via TPT and Pinterest (and via me), but just because you find it on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s the most effective materials / methods you should use. The same goes for instructional videos. If you are reading this , it means you ARE seeking out professional opinions and resources – THANK YOU! I base my posts on researched methods and advice from the leaders in the field, plus some practical application and personal experience thrown in the mix. Please see my resources section (home page in black bar at the top) for those I consider to be the most helpful.

Teacher Station

Do you have the following materials handy?

  • Basket for each group to keep books and materials organized
  • Letter tiles / magnetic letters
  • Small whiteboards and markers
  • Teacher aides such vowel patterns chart, alphabet chart, sound box template, and sorting mats
  • Pencils and erasers
  • Writing journals
  • Blank cards for adding sight words or vocabulary cards to each group’s basket
  • Writing surface for teacher (table-top easel, chart paper, white board)
  • Strategies chart for teacher and student reference

Suggested 15-20 Minute Schedule for Each Group:

Day 1:  Introduce the book and reading strategy. Then provide children opportunity to silent read (while teacher taps in and listens to each child softly read 1-2 pages).

Day 2: Discuss the story. Praise strategy use. Provide another opportunity to read the story – via discussion or partner reading.

Note: If the books are at the emergent level (A – C), you may be able to combine Day 1 and Day 2 together in a 15-20 minute session. If the book is a higher level (late 2nd and up), you may want to read and discuss a few pages at a time over a 2 day period. Example:  Intro part 1, highlight tricky vocabulary or language structures, give a purpose or strategy, silent read until specified page, listen in to individual students, then discuss that section. Repeat with other sections. This works well with non-fiction books divided by sub-headings too.

Day 3: Word work — phonics and/or vocabulary practice related to the book or to needed skills

Day 4: Writing related to the story. This can be guided (K-2) or independent types (3rd – 5th). It can very easily complement your whole class comprehension skill such as main idea, summarize, sequence, cause/effect, character analysis, story elements, etc. Plus the teacher can monitor and informally assess all sorts of writing (mechanics, spacing, spelling, ideas, punctuation, letter formation).

Day 5: Familiar or independent reading practice. Reread previous books or independent level books  to build confidence and fluency.

Watch for future posts which expand on the above teacher station lessons (book introduction, strategy lessons and prompting, silent and oral reading, word work, and writing in the guided reading session).

 

Guided Reading and Literacy Learning Stations Part 5: The Flexible System

by Cindy Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

In part 4, I discussed the most common literacy station organization system – what I call the Rotation System. This week I will focus on one I refer to as the Flexible System. After reading this article, you should see why I gave it that name. Many of the points I made in the previous post about Organization, Management, and Behavior still apply to this Flexible System. I know several teachers who switched to this system and absolutely love it. Read on . . .

Flexible Station System:

  • Students can start out at their desks with a “must do” assignment of your choice. This provides a staggered start to center time. Then as they finish, they go to a station of their choice – but they can only visit it once a week. They stay at the station until it is complete, then go to another as time allows. The student chooses from whatever is open at the time. The idea is to complete as many stations as possible during the week.
  • Students can work independently, in pairs, or small groups of up to 3-4 students. They can work with the same or different students each day.
  • Teacher calls their small group for instruction daily from wherever they might be in the room. For example, if you call Group A – they might be at different locations in the room. They come to you for their lesson and return to their work station when you are finished with them. You can determine the amount of time you need to spend with each group since your time is also flexible.

Continue reading

Guided Reading and Literacy Learning Stations Part 4: The Rotation System

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

So you have established a respectful classroom community, practiced procedures and expectations for independent work stations, assessed your students, and decided on how to group them. Now you are ready to implement your literacy learning stations – but how? In this Part 4,  I will focus on the rotation system. In Part 5, I will focus on a more flexible system.

A successful rotation system means your students are divided into groups, and each group rotates to a different learning station at a set time (usually 15-20 minutes, longer for intermediate). The teacher table is one of the learning stations. Others can be computers, listening, silent or partner reading, letter or word work, writing, comprehension, etc. See my Literacy Station Ideas pdf. In this article, I will focus on organization, management, behavior concerns, and pros / cons of the rotation system. Continue reading

Guided Reading and Literacy Learning Stations Part 3: Stations and Grouping

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

This is part 3 in my series about Guided Reading and Literacy Learning Stations. In Part 2 I focused on creating a classroom community and making preparations for stations by going over procedures in depth – introducing 1 or 2 at a time.

Today I will focus on two other steps: 1) Deciding on what types of stations would be beneficial, and 2) Deciding on how you will be grouping  your students for small group teacher instruction.

Stations should:

  1. Be differentiated and engaging to allow for different abilities and learning styles.
  2. Have signs and anchor charts for each one. The anchor charts serve a dual purpose: To introduce your expectations of their behavior and procedures for the station, and to remind students while actually working at the station.
  3. Address the 5 areas of literacy: Phonemic Awareness (K-2), Phonics, Vocabulary, Comprehension, and Fluency.

Click on the link for my list of Literacy Stations Ideas. While I always advise teachers to start easy and begin with activities that require little preparation (listening center, smartboard, boxed activities, computer station), I hope you will gradually work toward more rigorous, differentiated activities that suit the learning needs of your students.

One station I think is critical is a silent reading / library / magic carpet reading center. Students need to practice the strategies you have been teaching. Here are my suggestions on having an organized classroom library. Continue reading

Guided Reading and Literacy Learning Stations Part 2: Classroom Community and Procedures

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Part 1 gave a brief summary of setting up your guided reading and literacy stations program. On this post, I will go into more detail on a couple of the points: 1) building a classroom community, and 2) establishing procedures and practicing activities.

When you release your students to work with partners or in small groups, you need assurance they are going to work together harmoniously, at least most of the time anyway! This is critical to the success of your small group instruction, because you don’t want to be interrupted with disputes while you are working together.

So what can you do? Starting from Day 1, you must work on creating a classroom community; one based on mutual respect, collaboration, kindness, a positive atmosphere, and a feeling that each one is a valued member of the class. There are many ways to accomplish this, of course. But I will share my favorites. Before Great Expectations came to SW Oklahoma, I became familiar with an organization called Responsive Classroom (click to link to their website). They are similar to GE, but primarily train teachers in the NE part of the U.S.  Like GE, they also focus on a strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning. You can subscribe to their newsletter and order wonderful books via their website. I started with one of their books called “The Morning Meeting Book” (click on title). It promotes ways to create a classroom community by having a daily “Morning Meeting.” We formed a circle every morning and greeted each other by name in fun ways. Through this circle, we shared successes and concerns for one another, began discussion topics about how we should behave and respect one another, welcomed new students, made group decisions, and set the tone for the day. Every student was acknowledged and felt valued every day. Students don’t want to disappoint a teacher or classmate they respect, and it almost eliminated the need for time consuming behavior charts. Continue reading

Guided Reading and Literacy Learning Stations Part I: Getting Started

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

I work with many teachers who are in various stages of implementing small group instruction in reading, so I decided to devote the next few posts to address this topic. I will address the benefits, organization, and how guided reading, whole group mini-lessons, and literacy learning stations go hand-in-hand. This information comes from first hand experience, research, reading from the experts, workshops, and observation of successful implementation.

Steps to setting up a guided reading program:

  1. Build a classroom community. It is important to build trust, respect, and relationships. Teamwork activities are recommended.
  2. Decide what the students will do when the teacher is with a group. The success of this aspect is critical. You will want to devote your complete attention to your small groups. So procedures are very important. What types of literacy activities? Introduce 1-2 at a time and practice before expecting students to do them independently.
  3. How will my students be grouped? By strategy needs? By instructional level? What assessments will you use to gather this data? These first 3 steps should take 4-6 weeks (ideally at the beginning of school).
  4. How will students move or rotate to different stations? Will it be a timed rotation system or free choice? How long? What signals will I use? How will I instill responsibility?
  5. Provide teacher and student resources. These include your guided reading sets of books, books for familiar reading, magnetic letters, individual white boards, teacher chart or board, writing journals, sight word cards, etc.
  6. Be part of a collaborative group. Ongoing professional development is important.

Recommended schedule:

  • 30 minutes whole group mini-lesson daily: Instruction of comprehension and phonemic awareness and phonics skills.
  • 60 minutes small group daily:  If you are grouping students by level, then you are focused on their instructional level. This means they can read the book with 90-95% accuracy (missing no more than 10% of the words). If the book is too easy, there are no strategies to teach. If the book is too hard, there are too many strategies to teach. While teaching your small group, your other students are engaged in literacy activities in these areas – phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.
  • 15 minutes read aloud daily: This helps build listening comprehension and can connect to your whole group reading focus.

Here’s a 2-page guide to help you prepare your students for guided reading: Guided Reading: The first 6 weeks of school

Stay tuned. I will share more details about each of the above in future posts.