Mme G.C. -Work in Progress

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May 2011

Text Features

The teaching of text features is essential for non-fiction reading. Many teachers forget this crucial step. I like to do  this in a way where the students co-construct their learning with me, rather than providing a list of features for them and expecting them to learn it. Through the co-construction and reinforcement afterwards, students are able to name many text features, their purpose and  remember to use them as needed. Why else would we want them to use them? Why else would authors put them in their writing?

I have had great success with the following process:
I start by asking students to look at the non-fiction books which I provide. I ask them to notice what the author has done to help them as a reader. This is often difficult for them, because they immediately begin to read for content, rather than notice the text features themselves. A great success I have had, is by providing the students with non-fiction books they cannot read. For example I take a selection of French books into a regular English classroom.I took a variety of Spanish and Italian books into a French Immersion classroom. At first the students are rather taken aback by ths, as are their teachers! I then ask the students to notice everything the author does that can help them understand what the book is about. We brainstorm together. Usually the first feature they notice is –pictures/photographs “great” I say. That is your first text feature and I begin our brainstorming list. With younger children, I have samples ready to glue beside the words so that they have the visual to help them understand. Usually after that other children will notice drawings, paintings. I add that to the list. “what else?” I ask. Labels, captions, titles often come next. I will ask the students to look carefully at the front and back of the books to see what else the author might have done to help us. Generally at this point students gain more confidence in the process-they begin to point out contents,glossary,index, even page numbers. students begin to realize I am not asking about the content-just the appearance of the book. Even non-readers begin to point out text features. Because they are all on an even plane,everyone can participate. We begin to ask-“what would that be called in English? Why would it be there? How did the author think that would help his/her reader?
That is enough for one day.

On the second day, I bring in non-fiction books in the working language of the class. We review the list we co-constructed together. I ask the students to look through the new books and see if the author has added any of the text feature we have on our brainstorming chart. You can see a copy of my chart at the top of this blog. That particular chart was for a grade 4 classroom. If the students have not-noticed what I consider to be crucial text features for their grade level I will usually add to our class chart by saying” Hey look I found one too!” I want this chart to be owned by all of us not just me as the teacher.That way it can be used all year,by the students to improve their comprehension and non-fiction writing. Students begin to incorporate the text features into their writing.Having the co-constructed anchor chart posted is not a distraction in the classroom, because every child now owns part of it and understands it. As new students arrive-we review the chart.

On the third day, I have the children do a text feature treasure hunt. I give them a graphic organizer with the names of the features on our chart. I give them a non-fiction book. Their job is to search the book for the features listed on their graphic organizer. The must write the page number of the feature on the sheet. Then a with partner, the pairs check each others work to see how many features are in the book. I originally started this process with a checklist, but I realized to make them accountable and also easier for them to check-we had to add the page numbers.
We occasionally go back to a text feature hunt during the year, adding new features as the students discover them.It is helpful to keep reviewing asking not only what it is, but also how it helps them as a reader.
Try this out! Let me know how it goes.


PWIM Picture Word Inductive Model

I have spent a great deal of the last 7 years mastering the PWIM. My team was trained by Emily Calhoun. I think that  the PWIM is an excellent way to teach a language arts program. It is essential to learn how to infuse the think alouds, talk alouds for reading and writing into the subject areas. I made this Prezi as an introduction to PWIM. I will build on this and add photographs of a good PWIM cycle.

My Favourite Books for teaching Comprehension

I think the first book to change my way of thinking about how I was teaching reading, was by Debbie Miller.Teaching Reading with Meaning. Debbie just made everything so clear and teacher friendly.She really understands kids, but she also understands how hard teaching is.She believes in making every moment count. She pushed my thinking, challenged me and I tried her ideas. Having had the opportunity to meet her and work with her was one of the highlights of my career. She is an amazing lady,gentle,strategic, super smart, funny and focused.

Debbie and me!

Another book I loved was Comprehension Connections by Tanny Mcgregor.I liked this book because it was teacher friendly. An easy,short read. She has photographs of her anchor charts and practical hands on introduction for each strategy. I have used her ideas in classrooms from k-8 and they work. From inferring in kindergarten to determining importance in grade 8 her ideas are solid.

Kylene Beers, When Kids Can't Read is an excellent book for the older students in grade 6-12. I love the way Kylene talks about learning from her mistakes. She writes to "george" a student she reflects on, and wishes she had known more when she taught him. What teacher doesn't have a child in the back of their mind that they wish they could have done more for.

7 Keys to Comprehension by Susan Zimmerman
This book has so much to offer for teaching young children. There is a section for parents, young children and early grades for each strategy. At the back of each chapter is a list of suggested books that can be used to reinforce the strategy. Very practical hints on teaching and the very important chapter of visible and invisible sides of reading is a must read for parents and teachers alike.

Strategies That Work is also a great book.

Harvey and Goudvis give some very powerful teacher friendly ideas and theory.

Text -to-Text Connections

I like to build on my Text to self connection lesson with the book Leon the Chameleon by Melanie Watt and adding in the book ELMER by David McKee

I make a T -chart on chart paper. On one side, I title it Leon on the other side of the t-chart I title it Elmer.We summarize the story of Leon in point form as a class. I make sure that the point is made that Leon was lonely because he felt left out ,and that in the end Leon realized that it was ok to be different.I have never had to tell a class either of these points. Children come up with a variety of other points that they think are important. I list them on the chart paper.

Next I read the book Elmer to the class. While I read I am modeling through my think aloud the text -to -self connections I am making. We then summarize the Elmer book on the other side of the t-chart.

As a group, we look at the t-chart. I have the children come up and circle any event s that happen in both stories. I read the Elmer story again, but this time in my think aloud I am modeling the text-to text-connections between the two books.
“This reminds me of when Leon…that text-to-text connection helps me to understand this book better, because I remember what Leon did.”
This reminds me of how Leon felt when…that text-to-text connection helps me to understand this book better, because I remember how Leon felt when he…”

I am trying to help students understand how their connections intertwine and build on each other.

“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
— Maya Angelou

Comprehension: Making Text to Self Connections

As a literacy coach I visit a lot of different classrooms at k-8 levels. One of my many hats is modeling lessons for teachers in their classrooms. Sometimes the lesson is a great lesson-sometimes I learn from my mistakes 🙂

This is a lesson on making connections that I have had a lot of success with at a variety of levels, including staff professional development.

My favourite book for introducing Making Connections is called
Leon the Chameleon
by Melanie Watt. It is available in both French and English, through Scholastic. I have presented this lesson in both languages.

I begin by giving a quick review of schema-explaining that when we read it is helpful to think about how we personally relate to the text we are reading. We use our schema to help us understand. Everyone in the room has a lot of information in their heads that they already know, but none of us know exactly the same things. That is called our schema. We use our schema to help us make connections to what we are reading. That helps us to understand the book better because we use what we already know to help us understand something new.

Obviously not everybody will have the same connections as I do. The point is to find a book that you do connect to personally and draw on that connection. Many of the teachers I have shared this lesson with, have purchased the book and "borrowed" my stories. Other teachers use books they connect to.
I introduce the book.
I ask the children if they know what a chameleon is. Then I tell them that I chose the book because when I found it, I got really excited. I have a lot of connections to chameleons. They remind me of when I was a little girl. My brother and I used to go into the jungle in Nigeria looking for chameleons. We would usually find one and bring it home. My mum always made us take them back to the jungle after a while, so that they didn't die.
I proceed to read the book to the students, stopping at the places I have connections to and saying This reminds me of when...that helps me understand the story because ...
Some parts of the story that children really relate to:
-Being left out of a game
-Playing (Camouflage and Seek)
-Getting lost
-Feeling lonely

The key to modeling yourself making connections is not to let children railroad the conversation by making a million irrelevant connections of their own. Keep them on task by teaching them key stems such as:
That reminds me of...
I remember when...
That looks like...
and finally finishing their sentence by saying how that connection helps them understand the story.

Example:"That reminds me of one time when I got lost and I was really scared. That helps me understand the story better, because I understand how Leon must have been feeling when he was lost."

If You Don’t Like Something

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
Maya Angelou

Six Recursive Steps of Explicit Instruction

When I teach comprehension strategies, I use the following six steps for my comprehension think alouds-
1. What the strategy consists of

2.Why the strategy is important

3. When to use the strategy

4. How to do it ( I model students watch and lsiten)

5.Practice with the students

6. Give the students time for independent practice


I was invited to be a guest presenter at the Literacy fair at one of my schools. I wanted to have an interactive session that would enhance their comprehension skills at the same time. I decided to go with trying out my first Tableau.

I chose the book

The Araboolies   by Sam Swope

I love this book because the messages are so clear. Dare to be different. Don’t judge someone by the colour of their skin. Stand up for what you believe in.

I set up by hanging curtains around my” stage”. I made a” movie poster” on the white board.

As each group entered, I had the children come to the “stage”. They were so excited that I had transformed the reading area into a”real” stage.I told the children that tableau is a French word for a canvas prepared for a painting. I told what the word tableau means in English for our time together by saying:
tab·leau An interlude during a scene when all the performers on stage freeze in position and then resume action as before.

I explained to each group that we would be doing three things.
First I would read them a story.
Then we would act out the story in scenes. I would take photographs of them acting out the scenes.

( In this photo the students demonstrate how the Araboolies pile into one big  bed like a bunch of puppies.)







Finally we would re-tell the story together as a group.

Each group was so excited by the process. I had chosen three parts of the book to use as a scene for our tableau. Each group then chose their favourite part to add to mine.

Some of their favourites included piling into the bus like the Araboolies, piling into bed like a bunch of puppies and of course “calling in the army”.

When we finished and the children were re-telling the story it was exciting to see that even the most shy children could really re-tell the story.




( The Araboolies TAKE ONE!! )




I gave colour copies of the photos we took to the teacher. She decided to make a book of their tableau.
It was certainly an activity that had students engaged and reinforced comprehension in many different ways. I will try this again!!