Spice Up Your Novel Study, Part One: Virtual Field Trips

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Happy Thanksgiving break, everyone! It’s been a hot second since I have blogged (a new subject area plus larger class sizes has me struggling, y’all!) but I am finally making my triumphant return. Today, I’m starting a new series of posts that covers one of my favorite subjects: class novels!

Class novels (otherwise known as a chapter book read aloud) serve many purposes in my classroom. They are a mentor text that I use to teach skill-based mini-lessons. They are a way to expose my students to new genres, topics, and formats that they otherwise may not experience. They are a common literary experience that we share and refer back to all year long. And most importantly, they are a chance for us to pause our daily instruction and enjoy a really awesome book!

I think class novels are amazing, but I am careful not to turn them into an obligation. I want my students to develop a true love of reading, so I am cautious about assigning too much work that is related to our novel. I don’t want it to feel like another thing they HAVE to do; instead, I want it to be something they look forward to each day (and they do!). Plus, filling out character maps and answering comprehension questions after each chapter isn’t reflective of how real readers read. When was the last time you, a grown adult, paused between chapters to answer questions? Exactly. If we don’t do those sorts of things as adult readers, we shouldn’t be asking them of our students.

I’ve also found that most worksheets and novel packets are a time suck. I’m already pressed for time each day, so if I can eliminate one more task from our to-do list, I’m a happy camper. And finally, most novel companions are usually not very rigorous and ask students surface-level questions. When it comes to assessing student learning, they are never my first choice.

Instead of worksheets and packets, I use a few strategies throughout the year to help my students develop a love of reading; to assess my students’ understanding of skills; to incorporate current events, social justice, and the real world; and above all, keep reading fun! Today I will be talking all about Virtual Field trips and how I use them to build students’ background knowledge and get them excited about they books we read.

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Using Novels to Teach about Racial and Social Justice

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POP QUIZ! What is the purpose of education?

A. To give kids a solid foundation of academic skills

B. To help kids discover a lifelong love of learning

C. To help kids understand the injustices that negatively impact many groups of people in America

D. All of the above

Correct Answer: D, of course! Every teacher likes to say that we are preparing our students for the real world, but in my opinion, we’re not truly doing that until we help our kids recognize, analyze, and push back against the prejudices, inequalities, and racism that are very much alive and well in today’s society.

Now, this is a lofty goal, and one that sounds amazing but that can be hard to implement in an educational environment that is focused on test scores, passing percentages, reading levels, and about a million other data points. However, I am here to tell you that it can be done. It is possible for you to find time in your reading block to tackle these big issues that will ultimately make your students better people. Today’s blog post will give you three easy steps to help you use the class novels you are already reading to make your students more conscious of the injustices around them.

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Over 100 Diverse Chapter Books that Every Upper Elementary Teacher Needs

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A few days ago, a former student teacher reached out asking for suggestions of third grade chapter books. She is getting her own classroom in the fall and wanted to get a jump start on developing her classroom library. I absolutely LOVE talking about books and was eager to help out. I teach fifth grade, so I did a quick Google search to supplement the books that had instantly popped into my mind to make sure that I was giving her suggestions that were best for her grade level.

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I’ve Got Books…Now What? How to Organize Your Classroom Library

IMG_1344This is the chaos that you want to avoid! 

You’ve scoured thrift shops, browsed used bookstores, and asked family and friends for donations. You’re well on your way to having an amazing classroom library for your students to enjoy! But all the books in the world are useless if your library is a disorderly mess. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing some of the ways that I keep my classroom library organized and some library lessons I’ve learned from my first three years of teaching.

FYI: I am a departmentalized teacher, which means that I teach reading and writing to two different groups of students. These organization tips would definitely work for a self-contained teacher; you just might need to tweak the systems a little bit! I also teach fifth grade, so if you teach much younger students, your students will likely have different organizational needs.

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8 Ways to Build Your Classroom Library (without going broke)

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In my opinion, having a classroom library is one of the BEST parts of teaching reading. Maybe it’s because I literally played “librarian” when I was little, but I love adding new books, organizing them in a way that students find easy to use, and watching students discover the books they love.

However, making an amazing classroom library is no easy feat, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Because I believe that all teachers who teach reading should have a robust library, I’ve put together a list of tips to help you get your library up and running. I’ve given each tip a “time” rating and a “money” rating. Building a library can be SUPER expensive if you’re shopping from bookstores, Target, or even from Amazon. However, if you invest time each week or month to seek out books for your students, you will be able to have more books for less money. Read on to see how!  Continue reading “8 Ways to Build Your Classroom Library (without going broke)”

6 Things You Don’t Need to Buy In Order to Be a Good Teacher

My summer job of coaching brand-new Teach For America corps members has me thinking about what’s really important for new teachers to know going into their first year in the classroom. New teachers are under enough stress already, and the rabbit hole of Instagram and Pinterest can sometimes do more harm than good. While these sites can be a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration, they can also put pressure on your wallet and make you think that you MUST rush out to the closest Target(s) within a 30-mile radius and buy the latest letterboard…OR ELSE ALL YOUR KIDS WILL HATE YOU AND FAIL EVERYTHING! But I’m here to tell you to put down the credit card and back away from the online shopping. Take a breath and read on to see 6 items that have absolutely no impact on your effectiveness as a teacher.

**Disclaimer: This post is not meant to knock teachers who have any or all of these items. Even I have bought a few things on this list! If you like something and have the money to buy it, then by all means, knock yourself out. This list is just intended to be a guide for new teachers as they are trying to figure out how to navigate setting up their classroom, learning how to teach, and adjusting to the roller-coaster ride that is working in education.

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