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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Favorite Read Aloud Books

The Research Based Classroom's Favorite Read Alouds for Fifth Grade

One of the most difficult tasks in upper elementary classrooms is finding books that are brand new for your students.  I LOVE to read aloud books that no one has read and that can be pretty difficult by the fifth grade.  Here are a few of my favorite read alouds from the past year.  (Clicking on any of the covers will take you to Amazon.)

I start my year off with Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate because it's the recommended text for the Units of Study in Reading for Grade 5's Interpretation Book Clubs.  So while we are reading Home of the Brave together, I'm teaching whole class mini-lessons that deal with comprehension strategies.  After about the second week of school, I try to get my students into their book groups using realistic fiction.  There are a couple of things that I really love about this novel.  It's written in prose, so there's few words but so much food for thought.  It really provides a common ground for deep discussions and growing thinking.  The main character, Kek, is a refugee who escapes his own war torn county and joins some of his extended family in Minnesota.  The book moves seamlessly from funny misunderstandings as he tries to adjust to live in  America to scenes that help students build empathy as the reader learns more about Kek's previous life.  It is a fairly quick read that will have you hooked.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill was the last book that I read aloud to my fifth graders last year.  My poor class was worried sick that we wouldn't finish before the last day. But we did.  This is a fantasy novel that makes a great read aloud for fifth and sixth grade.  The tension builds up toward the end of the book and my students were begging to read more.  The book creates a lot of great discusssions centered around who the "bad" witch really is.  What happens when evil is called good and people are struggling to survive?  Would you stand up for something that's right, even if your life is in danger?  This is definitely one of my new favorites.  It's also the 2017 Newberry Award Winner.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio was absolutely one of my favorite books when it first came out.  The first year I taught fifth grade, no one in my class had read it and it was a fabulous read aloud with lots of great discussions. It's a little too popular now.  But because the movie is coming out in the fall, I am definitely going to read it to my class at the beginning of the year before they have a chance to see the movie.  I have to admit that the trailer looks good and I usually hate movies that are based on books.  In the book you never fully understand what Auggie looks like and the movie will definitely ruin that aspect so I won't be showing the trailers until after we finish reading the book.  Wonder is perfect for talking about issues such as disabilities, how we make others feel both intentionally and unintentionally, kindness, friendship and empathy.  Just make sure you finish the book before November 17.

I would love to read A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen during our historical fiction unit, but then I also want to read it at the end of the year when it fits into our social studies timeline.  So for the past two years it's ended up somewhere in the middle.  But regardless of when you read it, this is a great read aloud.  The story is about the Berlin Wall and how it affects one family who gets split up.  It brings out questions about government control, free speech, Communism, bravery, and the importance of family.  It's a fifth grade favorite at my school.

I was looking for something funny to read and Ungifted by Gordon Korman was the perfect book for my class.  This is a light-hearted book about a boy who doesn't find trouble, but makes it himself.  My students were hooked when Donovan gets himself in trouble and accidentally ends up in the gifted academy.  It's a story about self-discovery, friendship, and learning to help others all mixed into a hilarious mayhem of events.  

I hope there's a new book here for you to try.  Leave a comment with your favorite read aloud for upper grades.  Happy Reading! 


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Building Fluency in the Upper Grades

How do you get your upper elementary kids to reread for fluency practice?  Ideas that students love to do from The Research Based Classroom
If your students are like mine, there are a few that need some serious fluency practice.  And they're the ones that don't love to read in their free time and definitely don't want to spend their time rereading.  Then there's the majority of your students who are great readers, but they really lack when they read aloud.  Last there's that student who is trying too hard to put expression into his/her reading and it's so distracting, plus a few who really do have great fluency.  So how do you help all of these students become more fluent readers?  Even more importantly, how do you get them to do repeated readings without hearing all of those complaints?  And what about those students who really do have good fluency, what will benefit them too?

Fluency in the upper elementary classroom is too often neglected. But here is an easy to implement fluency practice that your students will LOVE.

Picture Books

Go to your school library and pick out 30 repetitive and fun picture books.  I'm sure your librarian can help with titles.  I just went down to the basement and looked for the books my own children loved when they were 3 - 6 years old.  I picked out the books I've read so many times that I practically know them by heart even today.  Most of them are short, repetitive, and just fun.  I brought them to school and put them in a tub.  Right away my fifth graders wanted to know why these books were here.  They were so curious, but I waited until the afternoon to tell them about the books.  I figured a little anticipation wouldn't hurt.  

When our guided reading time finally came,  I gathered them around me and explained that I was worried about the students in the younger grades and how they really needed good reading models to help them learn to read.  We talked about how reading out loud is very different from reading to yourself.  I barely got past the fact that you need to slow down so your listener has time to think and my students were already thinking of people who were good at reading out loud and those that weren't.  They were thinking of adults who were good and some who they didn't like to have read to them.  (Ok, I promised, I won't let any substitutes read our read aloud anymore.  I had no idea they hated that!) I let them help start a list of what good reading models would sound like and what they would do.  I explained that we were going to practice to make sure we're good models for the kindergarten and first grade classes. Then I started pulling out the books one by one and giving a quick one sentence summary about each book.  

My students took 5-10 minutes each day for the next four days practicing for our first class.  Each student picked one book.  They read to themselves, they read to partners, some even read to their families.  They graded themselves, graded each other, and worked hard to make their read aloud perfect.  Click on the picture below to grab my grading sheet.

On the fifth day we met up with a kindergarten class.  I had more students, which actually made it easier to move around my fifth grade readers.  Each fifth grader took a kindergartener to a spot in the library.  They sat side-by-side and my fifth graders read their books.  The extra students stood in a line by me.  When a fifth grader finished, they raised their hand and one of the extras ran over and took their place.  Then the fifth grade reader hopped into line and waited to read again.  Most of my fifth graders read their book 3-5 times in the 20 minutes and they loved it.  We did it again with a first grade class the next day.  My fifth graders thought it was all about helping the younger kids and really enjoyed it. 

 Any picture books that aren't too long will work.  I especially liked rhyming or repetitive ones because they were easier for my students to get the flow of the reading. Remember that when the books are a little on the easy side, your students can focus on the fluency.  Here's a list of some of the books I used (clicking on the titles will take you to Amazon):

The Day the Goose Got Loose
Hip, Hip, Hooray for Annie McRae
I Need My Monster
On the Morn of Mayfest
The Seven Silly Eaters
Big Pumpkin
If You Take a Mouse to School
If You Take a Mouse to the Movies
If You Give a Moose a Muffin
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (If You Give...)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Task Problem Tuesday

This is a task that I found while walking in New York City last fall.  I took pictures of the parking structure and prices, but didn't pull it together in time to use it during the school year. I've never posted a problem that I haven't used, so I hope you like this one and I will definitely use it next year myself.  I love that this problem can be used in my unit for volume or multiplying decimals. It also includes adding and subtracting with decimals.  Anytime that I can review one concept while teaching another, I just can't let the opportunity pass.  So let me know if you like this one.

Unparalleled Parking

Unparalleled Parking Task by The Research Based Classroom

The parking structure is 14 sections long, 4 cars tall, and 2 cars deep.  Living in the west, I had never seen anything like this.  I immediately began thinking of all the math involved in this picture and started snapping pictures.

Task Problem Tuesday at The Reseach Based Classroom

When I got home, I looked up their actual prices to create the chart below.

Unparalleled Parking Math Task by The Research Based Classroom

The questions for this math task are endless.  Here's a few that I came up with:

  1. If the parking structure fills up for an event, how much money would the parking attendant collect?
  2. Wednesday is street cleaning day and it is illegal to park on the street during the hours from 5:00 am until 5:00 pm.  All of the residents of the local apartment buildings need to get their cars off the street.  How much would it cost you to park at Unparalleled Parking during this time?  
  3. You enter Unparalleled Parking every day at 6:30 pm and leave at 8:00 am.  What day of the week will be the cheapest?
  4. How much would the parking attendant collect if the parking structure only filled up three-fourths of the spots during an event?
There's no end to the questions that could be asked about this picture. You could even let your students write questions of their own.  To grab my photos and a pdf of the pricing sheet, click here.

Happy Problem Solving!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Reading & Writing Poetry

For my last writing workshop unit in the spring, I taught a poetry unit.  I have to admit that teaching poetry makes me nervous.  And for a good reason.  I quit teaching for 7 years after my second baby was born and when she went to first grade, rather than go back to teaching full time, I decided to take a creative writing class at a local university.  We had three major writing assignments for the semester and then for the final we picked our best two assignments to revise and turn in.  One was a short story, one a memoir, and the third was poetry.  When I received my poetry assignment back, I also got a short note from the professor encouraging me not to use the poetry assignment in the final.  So it's not just my opinion that poetry is not my thing.   That note just keeps popping into my head every time I think about teaching poetry. I'm not sure how well I can teach something that I can't do myself, so I knew I really needed to enlist some good poet mentors for this unit.


I started by finding 12 different poem types to teach: couplets, quatrains, cinquains, alphabet poems, limericks, ubi sunt poems, doublets, free verse, found poems, acrostic poems, picture poems, and villanelles.  I typed up small definitions for each poem type that my students could glue into their writing folders and my plan was to explore a new poem type each day and have the students work on writing one of each.  I used the R is for Rhyme by Judy Young book for many of the examples.
Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
Then I started looking for poems we could use as shared text to read and analyze.  Because of where we were at in U.S. history, many of the poems have a civil rights theme.  I put these poems on chart paper, but you could easily throw them up on the screen with a projector. 

Then I went through lists and lists of literary devices and picked out some that I thought would be good to teach.  You can see my complete unit plans by clicking on the picture below.  Links are also included on the document.


I ended up adding a few days to the plan for writing the more difficult poems.  A day was fine for the couplet and quatrain, but free verse, found poems, and especially the villanelle needed more time.  I also threw in a few writing days where students could work on any poems they needed to finish up or any poem type they wanted.  I threw in a day after  3 or 4 poem types were taught and then again after another 3 or 4 types were taught.  I checked off poem types as we went to make sure that all of my students were completing at least one of each poem type.  I split it into two check off periods, but next year I will check off on a weekly basis just to make sure that no one gets behind.

Final Projects

For our final project, each student had to pick 5 poem types to include in their book of poems.  These are the poems they were required to edit and revise.  My students were required to also put a text box on each page explaining the type of poem, so they got points for the poem itself and for the explanation.  Bonus points were given if any of the literary devices were used.  You can grab my assignment sheet and grading sheet by clicking on the picture above.

This young poet not only integrated social studies into her writing, but was determine to use all the literary devices she could.

I was surprised that I didn't get more free verse poems put into the final projects.
Many of my poets liked having some rules when they wrote.  I think this poet was creating her own rules.
Limericks were one of the class favorites.
Unfortunately this happened while we were writing villanelles and this young poet created a limerick within 5 minutes of the fall. I think it was everyone's favorite poem.  

Doublets were created by Lewis Carroll and they can be very difficult to compose, but my students loved playing with the words to change one letter at a time.
I know he says he hates them, but this poet had a lot of fun sharing this poem with the class.  He thought he was so clever.
This ended up being a really fun way to end our year of writing.  While I usually write along with my students, this time I just shared mentor poems and that worked out great too.  Who knew that a poetry unit would be so fun?  As you start planning for next year, remember that April is National Poetry Month and Tuesday, April 24, 2018 will be Put a Poem in Your Pocket Day.  You can grab my student assignment for the day here.