Thursday, December 20, 2012

Exploring Characterization with Pinterest + Fan Fiction

Our post-Outsiders work with characters was hugely inspired by some resources in my learning network.  At NCTE, I had the pleasure of hearing author Lindsey Leavitt speak about her character creation process.  She mentioned using Pinterest to develop rich ideas for characters, so I thought that, as a wrap-up, my kids and I could go into that idea backward, pinning some of the things we wanted to remember about Ponyboy.  I started with a few pins to introduce them to the idea of Pinterest (moms, I think you are well familiar with it ... sixth graders, not so much :)), and then each class added to the board; students had to justify each pin they wanted me to add.

We also reviewed -- again, courtesy of some mental prompting from Lindsey Leavitt's
NCTE presentation -- ways authors reveal characters

Why did we do this?

Stolen idea #2: fan fiction.  After I read this Nerdy Book Club post, I decided that our waning days before winter break should be used to reinvigorate our appreciation for books, both our whole class novel (The Outsiders) and our independent reads.

We used Pinterest to talk about Ponyboy, because I wanted to emphasize to my students the importance of getting to the heart of a character we wanted to use in fan fiction.

Students could choose their narrator and their story line, but the spirit of their characters had to reflect SE Hinton's original gang.  I wonder if this might be an engaging way to prep kids for the next generation of Common Core assessments -- for Ohio, the PARCC narrative writing tasks, which are, of course, text dependent ;)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Points of Pride: Our Class Word Jars

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the need to re-invent word study in my classroom.  As with all Language Arts teachers, when it comes to word study, I'm balancing many different curricular and student needs, but the one commonality in my word study programming is that I need to help my students find -- or keep -- an interest in the power of words.

Fortunately, my friend and mentor Maria Caplin (you can find her @WonderLeadMaria and/or over at Teaching in the 21st Century) is one of my district's word study gurus, so I've been able to steal her ideas pick her brain this year.

One new idea to which I've been most consistently committed is the Word Jar.  Maria has had a lot of success with individual students collecting words in word jars; students find these words in their reading and all over the place.  It gives them an awesome awareness that fun words really are everywhere!

I decided to try out the Word Jar idea on a class level.  In September, each of my three blocks took a great deal of pride decorating its Word Jar during Study Center time.

3/4 loves its mascot -- on top -- "The Fuzz" (new nickname courtesy of The Outsiders).
5/7 is big on duct tape, and 8/9 could NOT get enough glitter on theirs.
We started collecting interesting words in our notebooks back when we were enjoying Wonder as our class read aloud.  Students drew mini Word Jars in their readers notebooks and collected as we read, and then we chose a few words from most chapters to add to the jar.

A peek into the 8/9 jar.  I'm told that the jars still smell vaguely
of frosted animal crackers.
Every few nights during our Outsiders unit, for homework, I survey students about their reading.  One consistency is that I ask students to identify for me a sentence with an interesting or unfamiliar word that they would like to go over as a class.  Based on survey results, we choose three to four words every other chapter and spend 15-20 minutes talking about meaning, practicing application, and talking through in detail how readers could use the text to try to figure out the meanings of those words on their own.

This had made much more meaningful -- and lasting -- our vocabulary study for the book.  There's a crazy amount of rich and tricky vocabulary in The Outsiders that I could drill (and, ahem, have in the past drilled) in to them 100+ words and drag the unit out for weeks on end ... but instead, we've been much more successful with a smaller word list and a heavier emphasis on how to use context clue strategies to figure out the other words.
"The Fuzz" says, "We heart our Word Jar, Mrs. Caplin!"

Next step: I'm now trying most Fridays to open up our Word Jars and revisit the fun new words we've been collecting over the last few months.  My goal by the end of the year will be for all students to be able to use all words flexibly -- meaning they could change the part of speech of the word -- in new contexts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Problem Solving Words

Check out the answers you gave when I asked, What you do when you come across an unfamiliar word?

What do you think about these answers?

Now, let's break down this answer a little bit more: "What do you mean when you talk about using context clues?"  I plugged your answers in to Wordle, which shows us what some of the most common responses were.

Sample answer 1: Using words around the word you don't understand to understand the word you don't understand.  Example: if you don't know what ajar means: The door was left ajar and a little bit of light poked through.  You would know it wasn't all the way closed because a little bit of light poked through but it's probably not all the way open if a little bit of light pokes through because it's only a little bit so I would be able to figure out that ajar means opened only a little bit.

Sample answer 2: To continue reading to see if you can figure out a word means just by the sentence or paragraph it is in.

What do you think of these sample answers?

Now, check out some specific context clue strategies that we'll practice (and have already been practicing, actually!) over and over again, not just with The Outsiders, but with all texts we read and with your own independent reading, as well.