Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trading Spaces Tuesday- Using Graphic Organizers for Reading

Today's a special day where I'm trading blog spaces with some friends. You can find me over at Comprehension Connection, and Lauren is borrowing my blog with some great tips for using graphic organizers to scaffold thinking.

It is my absolute pleasure to be here today at Luckeyfrog's Lilypad with you, as I am participating in a "Trading Spaces Tuesday" with a few of my blogging friends!

I am Lauren from the elementary literacy blog~


Just like Jenny, I am an elementary reading specialist, although I have also worked in middle and high school.  In addition, I am a literacy coach, having coached and mentored teachers at the middle and elementary levels.  And, yes, I have three children and will soon have three furbabies!

I have used graphic organizers in the classroom since the late 1980's.  In fact, a large collection of graphic organizers for reading and writing was included in my county's ELA middle school curriculum in 1991.  Based on the work of Jay McTighe, we were encouraged to model their use, display in our classrooms, and use for both instruction and assessment.  Ever since, I have used graphic organizers with students of all ages and abilities, from the learning disabled to the gifted.

For this post, I will provide a review of implementing graphic organizers in reading instruction.

Frames by:  Teaching in the Tongass.  Fonts by KG Fonts

One of the best features of graphic organizers, in my opinion, is how versatile and flexible they are, as they can be used with any content area.  In fact, teaching the older learners to transfer their understanding of using organizers to another content area besides ELA, is important and effective learning. Moreover, applying reading skills and strategies to content area and independent reading is critical for reading to learn, which is the purpose of reading for students in grades 3 and beyond.  

For the primary age learners, the organizers are used as tool for understanding letters, sounds, word families, comprehension strategies, as well as learning to retell and summarize.  However, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg!  Not only can they be used to aid reading skills, strategies, and comprehension, but they can be used for note taking during reading and for brainstorming and pre-writing a written piece.  Students need to know the flexible uses and purposes of graphic organizers and that they are not just another worksheet, but an actual tool that can make learning easier, more effective, and more engaging!

Frames by:  Teaching in the Tongass.  Fonts by KG Fonts

How Can I Use Graphic Organizers?
  • To scaffold reading comprehension by presenting a visual framework of the text (e.g. a story map, or problem-solution text structure organizer for informational reading)
  • They can be used with students in kindergarten for learning the alphabetic principle, learning letters and sounds, phonemic awareness, and phonics (e.g., use a simple four-square organizer for the /k/ sound.  Draw a picture in each square of a word that begins (or ends) with that sound.
  • Can be used at any time during the reading process:  before, during, and after reading.
  • For before reading, they can be used to activate schema, set the reading purpose (read to find out the author's purpose, or message,theme), build prior knowledge, and front-load instruction (e.g., show them the story map they will complete after reading, giving them a visual map of the story's structure).
  • Use for assessment after reading independently, in Guided Reading, Shared Reading, or after a read-aloud.  For instance, students could complete a story map that asks the reader to write (or draw and label) the sequence of events and other elements of the narrative structure such as the characters and the setting.
  • Can be used with all grades from preschool to college!
  • Students can develop their own graphic organizer when note-taking or during a literacy circle (either literature or nonfiction).  I have had students as young as nine (grade 4) design their own organizers 
  • Can be used as a foldable. For example, take a piece of paper, fold in half hotdog/shower style.  Have students cut the top sheet to make flaps.  (See Diagram #1 below)
  • In a similar manner, they can also be used in an interactive notebook; in fact many of the interactive templates you will find are the same if not very similar to typical graphic organizers.
  • To further visual and tactile interaction, students can color code their organizer, not just to make it look pretty, but to aid in learning.  For example, when working on a cause-effect organizer, color all the "cause" squares blue and the "effect" squares green.
  • Fosters motivation, engagement, and active reading.  Completing an organizer during and after reading is usually much more interesting and a better use of time than answering questions on a worksheet. 

With all this being said, graphic organizers are not the end goal of instruction. The idea is to use a gradual release model, eventually having students use the organizers independently and then internalizing a variety of them so they do not have to use them at all. Of course this requires much modeling, explicit teaching, and time for guided practice.  Let me give you an example.
My middle son is in second grade.  One day a month or so ago he brought home a half sheet of paper to write a summary of a chapter from the book he was reading in Guided Reading. However, he could not just sit down and write a summary even though he appeared to understand the "gist" of the chapter.  So, I whipped out a "Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then" organizer that I had laminated. I gave him an Expo marker and he dictated to me the ideas for each section.  I then showed him how to use the first block ("somebody") to write his first sentence and how to transfer his ideas from the organizer into sentences.  Next time, he wrote his ideas on the organizer, and now he is to the point where he just has to look at the blank organizer to write his summary.

Graphics by Creative Clips.  Font by KG Fonts

This illustrated the "cognitive load", where the teacher is doing most of the work at the beginning and then it transitions to the student working independently.

As a final thought, there are many ways that organizers can be differentiated to offer more of a challenge or to simply concepts for students who are not ready for an in-depth look and analysis of a text.  Just making the shapes or fonts larger and deleting some components can be a simple way to differentiate for those in reading intervention groups.
And the bottom line?  Eventually students will not need to use an organizer at all!  That is the ultimate goal, whether the organizer is being used in reading, writing, or another content area. 

As I write this, I am almost finished with a set of graphic organizers I created for reading literature that has a Christmas and winter theme.  It is perfect to use this week with your holiday reading, or to use when you return after winter break.  You can check out a sampling of this resource and download two FREEBIES by clicking the pictures below.  Enjoy!

When Readers Struggle:  Teaching that Works by Pinnell and Fountas, 2009

Wow! Lauren, thanks so much for stopping by today. Her blog includes lots more useful information just like this, so be sure to check it out here:


Today, you can find me blogging (with a freebie!) about teaching kids to read punctuation. It's such an important part of fluency and comprehension, so if you'd like a free PowerPoint presentation to help (and some tips!) stop on over to Comprehension Connection.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Pizza Box Jenga Game

You might remember that I’m subbing for our ESL teacher in the afternoons for a few weeks. She is an amazing teacher and introduced me to a simple but fun learning game!

She often uses it to review vocabulary, but the great part about this game? You can review just about ANYTHING with it!

To get started, you need a few pizza boxes and four times as many cups as pizza boxes. Some pizza places will be happy to give you a few fresh boxes as a donation, and any kind of plastic cup will do.


You’re going to stack them sort of Jenga-style- four cups holding up each pizza box. Ask a question to a student, and if they get it right, they get to pull a cup out of the stack.


Of course, you can pull out a few cups and have the tower keep standing. But after awhile…


… the tower falls!


If you want the game to go on longer, you can keep points for how many times each team makes the tower fall.

Of course, the kids LOVE when the tower goes tumbling everywhere! This is such a simple review game… perfect for those last few days before break : ) It’s also perfect for test prep in a fun, active way!

What kinds of things do you review before kids go on winter break?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winter Product Swap

I am so excited to share a friend’s product with you today!

I am one of those teachers who refuses to let holidays mean that my kids stop learning. I’m stubborn like that :) Instead, I do whatever I can to incorporate learning into the holiday.

If you’re looking for a game that’s sure to keep your kids reading and building background knowledge even on those last few days before break (with little prep for you!) be sure to check out the Ho, Ho, Ho! Holiday Trivia Game from The Extra Energetic Educator.

Ho! Ho! Ho!: A Christmas Trivia Game {Intermediate}

The game comes with 36 trivia cards and even extra cards to add your own questions. She suggests keeping them in an envelope, which is normally how I store my center games, but I decided to try a Santa hat for this one to add the fun factor!


To play, kids draw a card and write down their answer on this recording sheet.


One of the other students plays the “Expert” and checks the answer on the answer key (included).  If they get it right, they get to keep the card.


If, by chance, students draw a Ho, Ho, Ho card, all of the players say, “Ho, Ho, Ho!”- which I know my students will LOVE.


One of the things I love most about this game is its versatility. I plan on using it as suggested with my small groups on the day before break. (They’ll see it as a game, but it’s still great reading practice!) Next year, if I’m back in the classroom, this would make a great game for the whole class to play at our winter party- either drawing out the cards, or by posting the trivia cards around the room and letting kids go find them and write down as many answers as they can. (Of course, the one who got the most would win some sort of prize!)


Some of these were easy- and some were tough, even for me, to remember! It would be a fun challenge for your kids and an easy-prep Christmas party game, so be sure to stop by The Extra Energetic Educator’s TpT store and check it out! :)

You can also read some of the other great “swap” reviews here!

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One last note- be sure to check out my Facebook page if you haven’t hopped through the Freebie Frenzy yet! There’s one for almost every grade level and it’s full of FREE resources!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Text Detectives- December & More!

You would think that by fifth grade, kids could find proof in the text for their answers… but not all of my intervention kids can! They are really improving with practice, though. If you love using Super Text Detectives like I do, be sure to check out the brand spankin’ new December edition!


This pack will be especially useful if you do a Holidays Around the World unit because I include lots of passages about winter holidays. Check out what’s included here:

Super Text Detectives- December Preview

I’m currently working with a lot of kids who really need any extra schema I can give them, so I have really tried to integrate science and social studies content to help build your students’ background knowledge.


Be sure to check out the preview in my store here- it includes a freebie passage for you to try out! My kids really love the color-coding- even the older ones think it’s more fun when we get out crayons and colored pencils, but it’s really giving them terrific practice too.

Of course, like everything else in my store, it’s on sale until midnight tonight. Make sure you use the code CYBER for 28% off!

Reach for the stars fluency folder cover

This is also a great time to pick up my Reach for the Stars fluency folder if you’re thinking of adding it in next semester (or if you put it on your wishlist!)

In other news, it’s DECEMBER already!


{Linked up at Oh Boy Fourth Grade}

I think I may have more Christmas CD’s than I do non-Christmas CD’s. It’s ridiculous- but awesome. And the Candy Cane Kisses that Hershey puts out this time of year? So delicious!

You will also want to make sure you have liked the Luckeyfrog’s Lilypad Facebook page because this weekend will be another Freebie Frenzy! That means a chain of Facebook pages offering free goodies for our fans, so be sure to check it out!

One more thing before I go… time to announce the winners of my giveaway! I will be contacting them tonight :) Congratulations, Lori Schafer-Lee, Gina Hutton Underwood, Melinda King, and Cecile Henderson!

Don’t forget to stop by TpT before midnight to pick some things up on sale! :)

sale promo 3