Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Main Ideas, Poetry, & Responding to Historical Fiction

In reading we have been learning more about determining importance. In a previous lesson, students learned to put a red sticker next to piece of information that made them think, "Stop! This is important, essential information!" and a green sticker next to a piece information that made them think, "This is just a little detail that I can let go of..."

In this lesson, we continued on in our article called 'Doctor Bugs' from a National Geographic magazine (March, 2008). Rather than placing a single red and green sticker next to two spots in the text, I modeled how to use my pink and green highlighters to code every sentence. I did a think aloud to explain to kids why I made a sentence pink or green. It helped students see that everything we read in a text is either important/essential information or just little extra details.
After color-coding a section of my article, we looked specifically at where all my pink highlighting (important information) appeared in the text. I wanted kids to know that important information isn't just in the first sentence of a paragraph - it's hidden throughout the texts we read! It's our job as readers to really think carefully so we don't miss the important information. One student noticed that a lot of my green sentences started with the word "I" - in other words, many of the sentences I coded as an 'extra little detail' were the author's opinion or personal experience with the bugs he was writing about. We decided together that even though the author's personal experience and opinion give him credibility that he's seen them first-hand, an author's opinion and personal experience isn't essential and important to remember. We also discussed how important a header is to helping you decide what is important about a text! Students had a similar chart to this one in their Thoughtful Logs

For guided practice, I handed out this same text to the kids and had them code the last section on the page called, 'Bugs with Horns'. Students used their green and red markers to identify important and unimportant information.

Listen in to my conversation with one of my kiddos as he practices coding important and unimportant information.

Like we did in the mini-lesson, students tallied where they found important information while reading the 'Bugs with Horns' section of the article.

My hope was that students would code the text similarly to one another even though they worked independently. As I walked around to assess their progress, I was pleased to see most students highlighted both the entire second and third paragraphs green. Those paragraphs were mainly about the author's personal experience and opinion about the stagflies, which students learned were not important.. The kids discovered there was important information in the fourth and fifth paragraphs, with just one sentence in the fifth paragraph that wasn't important!

In a lesson earlier this week, we made the connection that important information can help us find the main idea of a text. You can see in this student's Thoughtful Log, I modeled for students how to find the main idea of two books we had read previously in the day. (I forgot to take a picture of my SMARTboard slide!) Then I had students read an article on fossils for independent practice. Students wrote in their Thoughtful Logs what they thought the main idea of the article was.

I always try to find ways kids to use technology during our reading block, so today I had students head to the computer lab to use a main idea website. On the website, there are several short stories for students to read, followed by a drop down menu of three choices for a main idea for the reading.

To keep kids honest and to slow down their often 'click-happy' fingers, I had students record what they believed the main idea was for each of the short readings before clicking the 'submit' button.

After writing down the main idea and clicking 'submit', the computer would tell students' whether they got the main idea right or not. Students recorded their progress by circling Yes or No next to each story title on the worksheet I created to coincide with the activity. This was a quick way to assess who understood main idea and who will need more support in guided reading.

Here's a short clip of this student as she reads the text, records what she believes the main idea is, submits her answer, then records whether she got it right!

In writing, we started a new genre - poetry! April just happens to be Poetry Month, too. I used Dr. Seuss' My Many Colored Days to help teach the following objectives (that I put on an anchor chart but forgot to take a picture of!):
  1. Poetry is compact writing expressing intense emotion.
  2. Poetry provides opportunities for word play.

I made a chart for students' Thoughtful Logs that they glued in their Genre Learning tab. As I read through each page of the book, we analyzed what emotions were represented by each color in the book. I had also copied a few phrases from the book to show how Dr. Seuss played with the size, font, and shape of his words as they related to the poem. Students recorded and glued their learning in their Thoughtful Logs.
At the very end of the lesson, I had students apply their learning in their own writing by asking them to respond to the following prompt: "Today has been a _________ day because ..." Students matched their emotions from the day to a color or colors. Some students even played with the size, font, and shape of the words in their responses. You'll notice the student below wrote the word 'great' in the shape of a smile!

Social studies is another excellent subject where students can grow as readers! You may remember a previous blog post about students using a Slaves' Stories website to infer important information about African immigrants' journeys coming to America. I used the book Now Let Me Fly by Delores Johnson to continue what students had learned from the website but to also extend what life was like for these immigrants once they were in America. In the book, many of the children get split from their mother and their lives take them in different directions within the U.S. Here is the anchor chart I started.

Students had a similar chart in the Genre Learning tab of their Thoughtful Logs since the text was historical fiction.

Students wrote down some of my modeled facts and thinking but recorded their own facts and thoughts independently once I got to the bottom of my anchor chart. You can see this student started with writing down my own thoughts but went on to record her own as I continued with the book.

In other fun news not related to literacy, Jaelyn was person of the week last week, and she brought in her cat, Candy, for us to meet! Candy was such a sweet but very nervous cat!

We also had four students get a black-out on their Genre Tic-Tac-Toe board for the month of March. Students who read 100 pages in each of the 9 genres listed on our Tic-Tac-Toe board earned a pizza party for lunch. Congrats to these eager readers!


  1. This is fantastic! I bet the kids love using the colors. Thank you for the idea with "Now, Let me Fly"..I am wrapping up my Civil War unit and this would be great for my kids.

  2. I always LOVE your posts - so many fantastic ideas and wonderful lessons!!! The important information / details lesson is fabulous! Thank-you for sharing so many pictures to go along with it. And I LOVE your thoughtful logs ... thinking I'm going to have to "steal" that idea for my classroom next year!!!

    Runde's Room

  3. Casey and Jen -
    So glad you found some ideas to use! In the words of many of the slaves we've been learning about, "Steal away!" ;)

  4. Fabulous, as usual!
    Somehow I am always tired when I come to the end of one of your posts.
    (Sorry I just had to shout... because everyone should be here marveling at all the great stuff you do!)

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  5. Thank you, Kim! Teaching IS exhausting, isn't it? :)

  6. Hi there! Another wonderful post :) How do you teach your students about "inner voice"? What kind of modeling and explicit instructional activities do you use?

  7. Just catching up on several of your posts. You always make me want to be a better teacher. Thank you for always showing me the way :)

    Fun in Room 4B