Using Mentor Text to Introduce Genre

April 6, 2018

Happy Friday, friends! I’m so glad that spring is finally here and the weather is slowly, but surely, improving in our corner of the world. Today I want to share with you a step by step process for introducing your writers to a new genre that is fun and engaging!

I am super excited to be linking up with some amazing teachers from The Reading Crew to bring you this idea and freebie! At the end of this post be sure to click through the links to find tons more great ideas and to enter the unbelievable giveaway.

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of these links. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

I’m not lying when I say that I use this strategy every time it’s time to introduce a new genre to my 5th grade writers. I’ve found it’s engaging and effective, which makes for a win in my book.

Step 1: Read and Record
First, I choose 2-3 texts that highlight the elements of the genre we are about to write. Depending on which genre, I either read the text aloud to the whole class or give them their own copies to read and mark up. (Usually, I read aloud narrative and poetry, while giving out copies of articles for informational and opinion.) While they are reading or listening, the students listen and look for techniques the author is using to achieve this writing style. They record their ideas on sticky notes, in their writer’s notebook or on this graphic organizer which you can grab for free in my TpT store.

If they are doing sticky notes (link to my favorite size) or notebooks, they make a bulleted list.

Step 2: Share and Create Anchor Chart #1
Once everyone has had the opportunity to read the text and write down their “noticings,” we gather on the carpet to share out ideas. Depending on the time we have, I will pull sticks in order for everyone to have a chance to share something they noticed. As each student shares, I record their idea on this anchor chart:

This gives us all a place to gather a ton of ideas, and helps us in the next step, which is to create a list of non-negotiable elements for that particular genre.

Step 3: Anchor Chart #2 (Built in Rubric)
After we have looked at 2-3 examples of the genre we are introducing, we start to use the previous anchor chart to look for similarities between each text. We use those similarities to build our “Elements of _______” anchor chart. This anchor chart serves two purposes: to synthesize our thinking from each mentor text and to create a built in rubric for our new genre. This anchor chart gives us everything we will need to create solid writing pieces – no mystery at all!

This has been the most effective and engaging way to introduce and explore a new genre in my classroom. These anchor charts stay up throughout the whole unit (and beyond) and not just because I hate to climb on a chair to get the staples out! Seriously though, my students refer to these lists throughout the year to remind them what their pieces need to include. They are the most referred-to references in my class!

Don’t forget to pick up the graphic organizers for free right {here}.

Keep hopping through all the posts to get some great ideas to keep your readers and writers blooming! Next stop: Sweet Integrations for some thoughts on digital book reviews! Happy reading!




Easy Ways to Find Partners!

December 27, 2017

I can’t believe that winter break is here already! This year is flying by, and I can definitely tell that it’s time for a break.

My students are moody. Chatty. Cranky. AND sick of each other. They have been seeing the same people day in and day out for the past several months and they need a break. (So does their teacher, by the way.)

Normally, I let 5th graders choose their partners. It’s fast and easy and I don’t have to worry about trying to avoid certain partnerships. Let’s be honest, I’m a lazy hands-off teacher when it comes to partners. But the couple of weeks right before winter break really made me rethink this laissez faire attitude of mine. In order for everyone to still be on speaking terms before the semester ended, I needed to intervene and help them work with some new people that they weren’t burned out on.

Here are a few ways I mixed it up – and will be mixing it up – for choosing partners this year!

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of these links. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

1. Pulling Sticks
An oldie but a goodie, pulling popsicle sticks with two names on them is easy and quick! One upside to this method is the fact that you can make partners, group of 3 or 4 or any size quickly and easily. A downside is that it is pretty random and you might end up with some people who can’t work well together. True confessions – sometimes I peek and adjust as I pull!!!

Upside: quick and easy, can make groups larger than 2
Downside: less teacher control over partnerships

2. Clock Partners
For years (I’m not kidding) I have been saying I wanted to try clock partners. But I never did. I thought it would be too time consuming to set up and so I always put it off. Not this year though!! I saw a blog post about this from Jennifer at Cult of Pedagogy and I decided to stop balking and just do it. AND I’m really glad I did. This method gives me a little bit of control over some of the partnerships and gives the students lots of choices when they are filling in their partners. (They can still avoid people who aren’t the right fit for them and have many other choices for partners.)

The basic idea is this: print out a clock or a table filled with times. Mine was a table with times from 12:00-11:00. They find a different partner for each time and write the name down on their paper. I had my students leave two times blank and I filled them in with the names of two people I wanted them to work with. (I based these partners on reading and math ability.) Then, they keep their paper at their desk and when I don’t want the hassle of 5th grade drama interfering with partners, I just tell them to find their 6 o’clock partner and voila! I don’t lose my mind and everyone has a partner.

Upside: teacher does not lose her mind, all students have lots of choices, less random than pulling sticks
Downside: only works for partners, students catch on when you call the same time consistently, takes a bit of time to set up

3. Playing Cards
Using a plain old deck of playing cards is a great way to mix it up when creating groups. This works really well if you want to mix it up for seating, group projects, etc. Students draw a card and then find the people who have the other cards in that set. For example – all the students with a 4 become a group.

Upside: relatively quick, will mix up students randomly to work with new people, can create groups up to 4 people
Downside: less control over grouping, need to make sure you have the right number of cards and matches before passing out cards

4. Partner Cards
Partner cards are a variation on playing cards, and work just about the same. Each student gets a card and then finds the person with the match. The difference is that with partner cards, students are getting a quick bit of practice with a skill. For example, my students are just getting started with fractions, so we are using fraction partner cards! In this case, they find the person who has the fraction and visual representation that match. Those people then become partners! There are also some sets that create a group of 3, like the naming numbers set. They have to find the standard form, word form and expanded form cards to form their group.

I have also used these cards for students to find a partner during Morning Meeting. I leave a card on each desk, then when they come in each morning then use their card to find the person they will greet. (You can have a little more control of who will become partners if you do it this way – simply lay the right matches out on those students’ desks.)

Upside: can make partners or groups of 3, students are practicing skills at the same time, will get kids working with new and different people
Downside: no groups larger than 3, some prep to make sure you have the right number of cards to match, less teacher control over groups

This partner card resource has many different sets of  cards to practice a bunch of different skills. There is a math one and one for ELA skills, or you can grab it in the money saving bundle!

I’d love to hear how you make finding partners easy in your classroom! Leave me a comment below with your awesome idea!


Better Word Choice Using Pinduli

September 8, 2017

Ah, beginning of the year writing samples. They are the best, aren’t they? {eye roll} It’s clear that most kids have not picked up a pencil all summer long, let alone written words, and you can forget about stringing them together into a sentence. Usually by the time I have finished reading them I have laid my head down on my desk and groaned MORE THAN ONCE.

BUT, the beauty of the B.O.Y. writing sample? Everyone has room to grow and you can see all the amazing potential in each writer sitting in front of you each day. I especially love using mentor texts at the beginning of the year so that everyone can try something new each day in their writing. These amazing examples give every kid something to shoot for. Whenever we use a new mentor text, I always ask my students, “Did you see anything you could try?” and every hand goes up!

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of these links. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

Mentor Text Idea
Whenever my students need a refresher on improving their word choice, I turn to a trusted favorite: Pinduli by Janell Cannon.

Before we read, I have everyone grab their writer’s notebooks and come down to the carpet with a pencil. (Yes, even in 5th grade I have them come to the carpet!) Each student finds the next clean page and gets their pencil ready. I ask them to listen carefully to the story and to record the words they hear that give them the best picture in their mind. At this point, they are only making a list, so they can use bullets to write the words down quickly. (Sometimes, I don’t even show the pictures so that students can really create their own images in their minds.)

After we finish the book, we do a think-pair-share about the words. I ask them to choose one or two words from their lists and tell their partner why they chose those particular words. After their conversations, I ask them to think about the words they chose and why. Most kids say they enjoy how the words make the story clear, and how the words help them understand even better!

The last part of this activity (a freebie for you!) is to take some overused and boring words, and brainstorm/find words from the story to replace them. This graphic organizer can go into their writing folders as a reminder of some much better words to use! The students can do this while you read, or after – it’s up to you! Click the picture below to grab your freebie.

I love to see how quickly these words appear in their writing. It makes the next writing sample MUCH easier to read.

Make sure you check out more mentor text lessons from The Reading Crew!

Building Student Confidence In Math

September 3, 2017
Every August, I take a poll in my 5th grade classroom. Everyone gets to vote for their favorite subject. Each year, hands wave for reading, science, writing and social studies.

But, inevitably, math is always the biggest loser. Maybe one or two hands shyly wave, but most kids avoid making eye contact at all costs.

One of the most concerning things I notice about 5th graders and math is the lack of confidence in their own abilities and thinking. At the beginning of the year it’s crucial to give students successful experiences to help them build their confidence and get ready to tackle harder, more complex mathematical situations.

Here’s one activity I use at the beginning of the year to help build mathematical confidence in my students.

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of these links. These commissions help support the blog. All opinions are my own.

Choosing A Problem

First, I choose a problem that I know every single kid (EVERY.SINGLE.ONE) can have access to. By this, I mean that the problem is open ended enough that even my most struggling students can participate and understand how to do something. (It doesn’t have to be grade level work here. Just a problem with enough entry points to let everyone dig in.)

One of my favorite resources for problems like these, is the book Eyes On Math: A Visual Approach to Teaching Math Concepts by Marian Small. This book is full of great visuals to help kids think about mathematical concepts. Each page has a visual aligned to a standard and a question to get kids thinking. The visual is also given as a pdf so you can print them or display them on your projector. There are teacher questions and ideas for extensions. Check it out {here.}

Working on the Problem
We started with a problem that is designed to explore factors.

At first, I give each student a copy of the picture. (Yes, I print them in color because my principal is nice, but you could print them in black and white and it would be just fine!) They have a few minutes to look it over by themselves. Then, I ask them what they notice about it and they record their “noticings” in their math notebook. They always notice the patterns and the colors – but they also notice that they are in three sections, there are 18 in each section and many kids notice that two of the sections have equal groups. I accept any and all ideas at this point, since I just asked them to “notice.”

Then I display the question that goes with the picture. In this case, it was “How many people can share 18 marbles?” They can use the picture to help them. I ask them to work alone for about 5 minutes and then they get together with a partner to share ideas. This also helps anyone who might be stuck to get on board and grab an idea. (In the years that I have done this, I have had very few kids who couldn’t engage on some level. If necessary, I get out beans so they can have a manipulative to work with.)

The best part about this section of the lesson is that many kids come up with one way to share – 2 people can each have 9 or 6 people can each have 3. But once they start talking to each other they quickly realize there are several answers! This is the best part in my opinion, because the conversations are amazing. Most kids think they are right (and they are) but to see that other people came up with different answers that are also right really gets them talking, thinking and proving their ideas.

After they talk to partners about their ideas we share out to the whole group and talk about all the different answers there could be. By this point, most of them have come up with all the possibilities, but just in case we discuss it and if there are any questions we use pictures of manipulatives to prove whether their ideas work.

Reflection
The last step in this process is reflecting. I ask each student to make a bullet list in their math notebook with the title “What Helps Me Learn Math.” I ask them to think back to the problem they just worked on and write down things that helped them be successful.

After everyone has made their lists, we use one idea from each person to create my absolute favorite anchor chart of the year. We do it together and it is a great way to honor all the different ways kids prefer to learn in math. I do this every year to show my students that I care about their learning as individuals, and that we can respect the fact that not everyone will learn the same way.

I leave this anchor chart up all year as a reminder.

Starting the year with an easily accessible problem and some reflection on how we all learn really helps build the climate for mathematical learning in my classroom. When students feel like they CAN do it, the confidence can be there right from the start! I love starting off with this before we jump into our prescribed mathematics resource.

Labeling the Library: A First Day Activity

August 22, 2017

One of the best things about 5th graders is their ability to adapt to a new situation and make it theirs in a heartbeat. AND I love using that to my advantage when it comes to setting up the classroom.

This year, I couldn’t get in to set up my room as early as I might have liked, so that meant that several jobs went unfinished before the students arrived. One of those jobs was labeling the library. (Which I of course leave to the last minute every year, but this year I just flat ran out of time.) Instead of freak out and stay at school until midnight, I decided to see if the 5th graders could give me a hand finishing up the library labeling task.

Library Labeling Activity

On the first day of school, I explained the situation to them and asked them if they could help. It was the first day of school, SO they said yes. They were still trying to get me to like them. (Spoiler alert: I already liked them!)

They put themselves into groups of 3 and pulled an unlabeled bucket off the shelf. I asked them to peruse the contents and decide what an appropriate label would be. They looked at titles, authors, series, and topics to decide what the label needed to say.

Once a decision was made, each group created a label from a 3X5 index card and we stuck it on the outside with book tape. To get every bin labeled only took about 35 minutes! Once they were done with a bucket, they grabbed another one and repeated the process.

In most cases, they were spot on with their descriptions and it has already saved me a ton of time and sanity when it comes to my massive amount of books. Not to mention, their labels are cute and unique and made by THEM! They have taken ownership of that part of our classroom already. YAY for 5th grade capabilities!

This will definitely be a first day of school activity for my classes in the future! How about you? What’s your favorite first day of school activity?

Field Day Survival Guide

May 14, 2017

I am not a huge fan of Field Day.

There. I said it. I know I’m probably in the minority here, but it is not one of my favorite days. Yes, the kids have fun. Yes, they run around and get their energy out. BUT they also act nutty and don’t listen and I lose my voice by the end of the day. Hmph.

So, just in case I’m not the only person who is a Field Day cranky pants, I came up with a Field Day Survival Guide for all of us.

Ok, ok…I know. Not possible. So, let’s get real.

Tip #1: Get Comfy
Luckily for me, my principal is totally cool with us getting comfy. IF you can, make sure you have a floppy hat, your most awesome pair of sunglasses, and your comfiest pair of shoes. I prefer tennis shoes, but flip-flops seem like a good choice too.

Tip #2: Stay Hydrated
Even though it might be tempting to fill that water bottle with margaritas, that is probably not a good idea. Since you don’t want to get fired, make sure you have a water bottle full of cold water. Staying hydrated makes me much less cranky AND saves my voice a little. (Don’t get too carried away though, because you know you can’t pee until Field Day is over.)

Tip #3: SUNSCREEN
This one is in ALL CAPS for a reason. It’s because I always forget. Every. Single. Year. And then I am even more cranky because I’m hot, tired, no voice AND sunburned. Don’t forget the sunscreen. And if you have Field Day for the WHOLE day, don’t forget to reapply. Maybe twice, just in case.

Tip #4: Popsicles
Our PE teacher makes “Popsicles” a station. Because she is awesome. I used to feel a little guilty getting a popsicle, since I am NOT a 5th grader, but I’ve gotten over it. So, tip #4 is – get yourself a popsicle. Relish it.

Tip #5: Let It Go
This tip is the hardest for me. If you are anything like me as a teacher, I like it when it’s quiet. When kids are working and learning and things are pretty under control. I’m not saying I don’t like having fun – and we have plenty of it – but chaos is not my thing. Field Day feels like chaos. Over the years, it has stressed me out and freaked me out to the point of exhaustion at the end of every field day. So here’s tip #5 – LET IT GO. (You can sing it, if you want to.)

Lauren is bonking Xavier on the head with a rogue pool noodle? Let it go.

Manuel cheated at kickball and never touched homeplate? Let it go.

No one knows the rules to the game in the gym so they are pretty much just running around like crazy people? Cover your ears and let it go.

Everyone is running amok and dumping water on each other’s heads? Let. It. Go.

Once I realized that there is no point in trying to wrangle 25 5th graders who are intent on whacking each other senseless with a pool noodle, Field Day was a much better day. I decided it’s a great day to talk to parents, play with younger siblings and just generally make sure no one punches anyone or gets seriously injured. (Side note: There is no crying on Field Day. This is an important rule for students AND me.)

Last, but not least…be prepared. We only have a half day for Field Day, so I always like to have something planned for the afternoon that keeps kiddos busy and lets them rest and relax. (Because they are tired, cranky and sunburned too…)

You can check out the activities I use to keep kids engaged after Field Day right {here}. Or click the pic below…

I hope everyone has a great, stress-free, not-too-hot, delicious popsicle, hydrated, no sunburn, no tears Field Day. If you have any great ideas to keep sane on Field Day, please leave them in the comments!

Using Sorts to Improve Sentence Writing

March 7, 2017

If you know me, you know that a good sort is one of my favorite instructional strategies. I actually think my grade level colleagues get sick of me saying, “Let’s use a sort to start that lesson!”

BUT I really believe in the power of classifying to help students develop their ideas and hone their meta-cognitive skills. (If you haven’t read Classroom Instruction That Works: Research Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, I highly recommend it. This is an affiliate link!)

Improve Sentence Writing with a Sort

When I realized a few of my students were struggling with writing complete sentences, I immediately thought a sort might help them identify what a run-on sentence is and then we could work on fixing it! I just knew a good sort would help improve sentence writing in my class. This activity took 1-2 days with my class, and one day when I worked with a small group.

Materials

To do this activity, we used:

  • a set of cards with examples of complete sentences, run-on sentences, and sentence fragments
  • vocabulary posters
  • individual whiteboards and markers

You can make your own cards with sticky notes or index cards, or you can grab the ones I used in this resource.

Set Up and First Sort

First up, I spread all the cards out on the table. Instead of telling my group the categories ahead of time, I asked them to read the cards and see if they noticed anything they might have in common. They took turns reading each card aloud. The kids noticed that there were some cards that were “missing something” and some cards that were missing punctuation. They weren’t quite sure about the others. We put those into a separate pile.

Naming Categories

After reading aloud each card and sharing what they noticed, I asked them to think about how they would group the cards. They settled on “missing something,” “missing punctuation” and “not missing anything.” As a group, they sorted all the cards into their chosen categories. Once they were finished, I showed them the three vocabulary posters with the “proper” names, and asked them to decide if any of them fit the categories they made. They decided that “missing something” was a sentence fragment, “missing punctuation” was a run-on sentence, and “not missing anything” was a complete sentence. We then added the posters as the heading to their categories.

Fixing Up Sentences

At this point in the lesson, I was able to tailor it slightly toward the specific students in my group. This group happened to be writing lots and lots of run-on sentences, so I chose to focus on that skill for the group. (Depending on your students you could focus on fragments at this stage or a little of both!) We chose one of the run-on sentences from the cards and I wrote it on my mini-whiteboard. The group discussed where the punctuation should go to make it “sound right,” and then we fixed it up.

We did two examples together and then I asked them to fix two with their partner. They shared the ones they chose and how they fixed them up. Reading the run-ons aloud really helped them to hear where the punctuation was missing. They even created some compound sentences using conjunctions once they got the hang of it!

Whole Group Sentence Sort

When I did this activity with my whole class, we kept pretty much everything the same. The only differences were that they did the initial sort and discussion in small groups, and then each group shared about where they placed one (or more) of the sentence cards. They explained their thinking and then added the card to a category on the board.

This was a great way to get the class up and moving, as well as facilitate some great discussions about what fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences were. After this activity, the whole class moved on to some independent practice.

Independent Practice

On this particular day, we were writing a response to some articles and videos about our science unit on weather. I asked the group to go back to their writing, look for any run-on sentences and use what we just learned to fix them up. And luckily for me, Google drive saves any and all changes the students make, so I was easily able to see if they could apply their learning!

I noticed that this student was able to find some lengthy run-ons and add the correct punctuation! Certainly not perfect, but I was happy to see some transfer into their everyday writing.

Another option for some independent work would be these practice pages. There are quite a few options for kids to practice! You can find them (along with the cards) here.

Wrap Up

After this lesson, several of the students in the group reminded me about their learning and showed me how they used their new skills in their writing! I could see students using the vocabulary posters and helping each other edit and revise their sentences. I’d call that a win!

Resources

It’s totally possible to do this activity with sentences you create or with your students’ own work! You can copy sentences onto index cards or sticky notes, and have students sort those.

If you are ready to give sentence sorts a try, grab this free guide to get you started! It has all the directions, as well as a few cards to get your students started sorting!

The resources below are simply time savers for you! They have everything you need for the sorting, the independent practice, a quiz, and even some bonus resources for creating complete sentences with subject and predicate. Each one has a different theme so you can use it during different times of the year.

You can also save yourself a bit of money and grab all three in the bundle.

This activity was a game changer, especially for some of my struggling writers! If you try it with your class, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave me a comment below! And if you are interested in more teaching ideas delivered straight to your inbox, make sure to sign up for the Craft of Teaching newsletter. We’d love to have you join our community!

Happy sorting!!

Pin this idea for later!

Top Teacher Gifts

November 27, 2016

Whether you are a teacher, parent, or student, Christmas can be a tough time of year when you are looking for that perfect gift. Here are a few fun ideas for that special teacher in your life!

Holiday Gift Ideas for Teachers
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1. Books: Any additions to the classroom library are always welcome! Parents, you can always ask your child which book they would like to have in their classroom library and pick that one. Another great choice would be a Barnes and Noble or Amazon gift card. These help teacher round out that library with new and fun titles for the whole year!

2. Personalized Notepads: If the teachers you know are anything like me, I love a cute set of stationery or an adorable notepad! Having extra notecards around the classroom is handy and helpful when you want to jot a quick note of praise or a thank you card. Personally, I think the notepads from Doodlebugs Paper are so adorable!

 3. Fun Post-Its: You can *literally* never have too many Post-Its. We use them for EVERYTHING and it doesn’t hurt when they are in a fun shape!

4. Dry Erase Markers (the fun colors): In my classroom, I end up “loaning” all my pretty dry erase markers to students and pretty soon they are nowhere to be found. Your teacher friend would probably love to have a dry erase recharge in the middle of the year!

5. Stickers, Stickers and more Stickers! Cute stickers can always find a good use – from the top of papers to the bottom of a planner! I happen to think the little round ones are the best!

6. Target Giftcard: Any teacher will tell you, Target is the best place to get, well….anything!
 
7. A Good Book: If you are looking to buy for a colleague, think about your favorite professional development book and give them a copy! Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler has been a game changer for me.

8. Handmade Gifts: My absolute favorite gifts? The ones that students make. The love and care that students show in their gift making and gift giving always astounds me. And years later, these are the gifts that always bring a smile to my face and a great story to my lips.

9. Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card: Who couldn’t use some money to spend on TpT during the holidays?

10. A Wishlisted Item: So many teachers have huge wishlists on TpT. Maybe you could find out something they have been wanting to grab on TpT and send it to them? The most wishlisted item in my store is linked up below! You can see how I use this daily routine in my classroom by clicking here.

Word A Day Vocabulary Builder

Good luck on your holiday shopping this season!

Do They Really “Get It?” {3 Ways to Check During Math Class}

April 17, 2016

Has this ever happened to you?

You teach a lesson, let’s say, about adding fractions. As you’re walking around the classroom, lots of kids have correct answers – even a few that you wouldn’t expect. You’re patting yourself on the back and decide to give them a problem that’s just a little bit harder. (At this point, I always think to myself, “They’ve GOT this! We are FLYING through this lesson!”)

After a few minutes, you realize: they don’t really know what they’re doing yet, and you wonder what happened just a few moments ago.

Over the years, this has happened to me so many times that I wondered if there was even a way to really know if they “get” a concept before they crash and burn and I want to cry.

Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.

Here are some ideas I’ve tried to see if kids are really “getting it” in math class:

1. Can they draw a picture or make a model?

Even in fifth grade, the power of visualizing a math problem is, well…powerful! With younger students, I encourage the students to draw exactly what they see when a problem is presented. With older students, I teach them how to use models to represent the parts of the problem they are working on. (Sometimes, they still draw the actual picture, and I think that’s ok too. I just try to get them working towards something that won’t take quite as much time!)

Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.

Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.

If they are having trouble drawing a picture or creating a model or representation, that tells me a lot about how they are processing the problem.

You can see this adding fractions product by clicking here.

2. Can they write a word problem?

This is ALWAYS eye opening for me. I can usually tell right away how students are understanding a problem or equation by how they write their word problems. (I can also tell if they can actually visualize the problem from their number story!)

First, we have to define how to write one – this is key!

Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.

Once the students know what a word problem looks like and sounds like, I can start to see understanding through their stories. This mainly helps me assess whether they know how to properly apply their knowledge of different operations. It’s fairly evident that they aren’t sure what subtraction really means if the story problem written will result in an addition situation!

This student was writing a word problem for 1/2 + 1/3.

Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.

When I read his problem, I could see he understood that he was combining the two fractions since he used the word “altogether.” He also uses an object that can easily be split up into fractions, telling me that he has some understanding of what fractions actually are! (Not to mention he uses cupcakes – which makes his teacher very happy!)

Writing word problems is one of my favorite ways to see if students truly have an understanding of the type of problem they are trying to solve.

3. Can they clearly explain it to someone else?

We’ve all been there, right? You are obviously explaining something in the clearest way possible and the person you are talking to is looking at you with an expression of utter confusion. And this happens to students all. the. time. They think they are being clear, but the person listening has no idea what they are talking about. (This includes me sometimes!) In the upper grades, I think getting feedback and reflecting on their work is essential to learning how to be clear and concise with their mathematical explanations. Besides being clear with their speaking, they also have to learn how to be clear and concise in their written explanations.

One way we accomplish this is by using museum walks to provide feedback to each other and reflect on our own work.

Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.

Each team completes their own work on a poster, then we hang them up and use sticky notes to provide comments and questions about the work on the posters. Each team gets their own poster back and uses the comments and questions to revise their thinking or make their explanation more clear. This has worked wonders for my students! Through this process they often find small mistakes (and big ones) and it helps them to see what others see when they look at their work.

It gives me insight into two things:
1. Can students look at others’ work critically in order to provide useful feedback?
2. Can students use constructive feedback to revise their work?

I know this has been a hit in my classroom, because now they demand request time to get feedback on everything from their math work to their science notebooks! And I can see that they are becoming more clear in explaining and showing how they got their answers.

Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.

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Sometimes, it can be really tough to know if kids are really “getting it.” I have used these ideas to help me gather information about my students for several years and I have learned more about them and their mathematical ideas as a result! It really helps me to inform my teaching – or possibly reteaching depending on what I find out. How do you assess your students to find out if they are “getting it” during math? I would love to hear from you in the comments.
Check out this post for ideas to see if kids are really understanding mathematical concepts.
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