I thought I'd share with you today a great exercise we did to kick off a big writing project.  For this project, students need to be able to read each other's writing and DRAW from their details.  I wanted to set the stage for how important it is to explain clearly in your writing!
I started by writing a very simplistic description of "Mitzy", my monster.  I gave the students paper to draw what THEY thought Mitzy looked like!
After the students finished, we did a little gallery walk to look at the HUGE variety of interpretations!  Students got a little agitated when they saw the "real" Mitzy!
 "You didn't tell us where the eyes went!"
 "You didn't tell us what her body looked like!"
 "What does it mean to look like a fish?"
 "How can legs be round?"
 Mission accomplished.

<insert fiendish laughter here>
The REAL Mitzy!
 So...the next steps were to read to them a description of ANOTHER monster, Priscilla.  
Time to draw again!  Students were SO excited..."We know what to draw this time!"
I loved watching the students referring back to the text as they drew.  They checked, and rechecked, and drew and erased, and checked off details as they went.  You could have heard a pin drop!
Here are a few of their samples!
The REAL Priscilla!
So guess what was next? That's right--student designed and drew their own monsters--and wrote matching descriptive pieces.  After that?  Exchanging with a friend in another class to see if they can use their great descriptions to draw their monsters.  Stay tuned!

Want a super cute book to use with it?  I kicked off the project with...

If you want a closer look...check it out here.  My kids LOVED it--and I had a blast making all the different monster voices.  I think it really got their creative juices flowing!
Helping my students organize their thinking and learning in different ways is very important to me. One method I have found to be very successful is to ask students to take work samples or problem types and sort them into categories.  People who use Words Their Way do this all the time with students as they look for sound or letter patterns that help them understand how words are put together.
I find concept sorts particularly useful in math and the content areas as well--and I really believe it helps students make connections among ideas. In fact, two of Marzano's effective teaching strategies--cooperative learning and identifying similarities and differences--are utilized with this activity.  If research has shown solid evidence that categorizing and finding similarities and differences works—I’m all for it!

Here is how I tend to use these sorts—although please know that there is no RIGHT way!  Get creative and let the students guide you as you go.  Here is one example of a sort I did with my students. I started by splitting my class into groups of 3.  (I like trios for lots of reasons…because it allows for better dialogue, it helps strugglers, and also
allows for one extra person in case a third person gets pulled out of the group or has to leave for any reason!) For this sort, I gave each group a small piece of bulletin board paper for them to do their sort.  They grabbed their sort cards, cut, and started to organize them!

As my students sorted, I simply walked around and eavesdropped! It was a great time to listen for math language, to listen for any misconceptions, and to see who was feeling confident and who was not.

Students begin to question each other, ask questions of each other, and help one another come to higher levels of understandingMy role is simply to be an observer—I really don’t get involved at this point…even if I see errors. Trust me on this!
Check out the order of the headers...that led to a great discussion!
This sort was a review sort for my students:  They needed to sort the multiplication
facts by product.  We had great discussions about what the different headers meant and how students could best organize their work.  In fact, many teams put the headings in random order at first; we talked about how the dictionary is arranged in alphabetical order to help us find things easily.  In math we often put information in numeric order. Now…it would be plenty easy to have the students stop at this point, but I am
working hard with mine on to get them to think more deeply so I had them also use the blank cards to make some additional facts that would fit in each category.  This is a GREAT way to extend each sort—especially for students needing enrichment.

Some of my students even asked if they could use fractions.  I granted permission to one team once they proved they understood what they were doing.
I gave the students a total of 15 minutes to do this job—and there were a few groups that did not get every card sorted.  That’s okay.  If I gave some groups 45 minutes, they may not have finished!  I like to keep things moving—I even had a visual timer up on my Smartboard so they know how much time they had left.

After time is up, I typically continue the activity with a gallery walk.  Although actually DOING the sort is a valuable activity, gallery walks can add a whole new level of critique to the lesson!  Each trio can take a post it note and cut it into three “tags”.  They then are allowed to “tag”  up to three spots on other groups’ papers where they felt an error was made.  I did not do this gallery walk with this sort because it was a review sort.  Here is what it would look like! (This is from one of my fraction sorts.)

Were we finished?  Not yet!  Each group then went back to their “home base” and looked at the results.  They then discussed any “flagged” items and we went through some of the most challenging ones as a class.  The entire activity took us 25 minutes from start to finish!  Are you ready to give it a try?  This new resource includes FIVE different multiplication sorts for you—including the one pictured earlier in this post. From sorting multiplication facts to prime numbers to extended multiplication facts to estimation, this set of sorts should help deepen your students' understanding of multiplication.

It's always fun to link up with other bloggers who are as passionate about teaching math as I am...and a bunch of us are joining up to bring you a series of GREAT blog posts to get YOU thinking!

This month we want to get you thinking about place value...and one thing I love to do with my students is to get them comfortable "playing" with numbers.  We play guessing games, look for patterns, estimate, and more.  We often do this kind of "number play" to get us warmed up for our lesson and to get our creative juices flowing.  Math may be concrete, but the more we can help our students feel comfortable manipulating numbers, the more capable at problem solving they will be. 

In order to build this sense of place value, I love to give students mystery numbers where they have to use what they know about place value and other math concepts to find possible combinations of numbers that "fit" all the rules.  As the year goes on, we can make these more and more difficult and address different math topics that we cover.

The other day, I wanted to give my students a problem that would challenge them and force them to work together to really talk about the numbers, the concept of "digit", and to be able to "guess and check" to find numbers that would meet certain rules.  To be honest, I really thought this problem would be a WARM UP, but quickly realized that my students had some challenges with the task that needed to be addressed!

Here was the task:

I thought we would have no problem...we have talked extensively about estimating to help us get started with problems, we have tried problems where students need to "Guess and Check", and we have worked cooperatively.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  My students had a number of different problems that we needed to address to make this problem accessible.  

First of all, despite our work on "perseverance" this year, this problem sent many of my students right back into that "I don't know what to do!" state of mind!  I let them stew a little and then we came back together as a class to break it down a little bit.  We did a quick review of the terms "digit", "sum", and "difference" and then I sent them back to work a little bit more.  A few partnerships really dug in, but several others were still stumped.  I brought those groups back together and we talked about place value, what the problem tells us (that we need to find 2 three digit numbers that fit two different rules), and we tried two numbers as a group.  The numbers didn't fit, but they now understood the problem enough to dig in.  I sent them on their way and told the entire class to be on the hunt for what they could discover about the problem...and how understanding the relative size of numbers could help them!  

Some students never made it past the guess and check part of this portion, but others really started to tap into their understanding of numbers and relative size to be more strategic with their work.

What did I learn?  Never make assumptions about what might trip students up.  Never underestimate how deeply students can think about a problem if you give them careful coaching.  Giving students the chance to play with numbers can lead to a better understanding of our place value system!  It might not be EASY, but it's worthwhile!

This student labeled each attempt as he went...
I stress with my students to NOT erase so that I can see the tracks of their thinking...
This partnership started to notice some patterns...that their three digit numbers need to be relatively close together in order to keep their difference under 100.  Once they figured that out, they were able to find several other sets of numbers that worked!
Want to try that problem?  Here it is for you!

Want to see more great posts about place value?  Visit the next post on our hop!  Just click HERE or on the button below to go there!

Kids Math Teacher
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If you teach "summarizing" in your classroom, you know that it is a REALLY tricky skill.  Students often struggle to know what the most important details are...sometimes write down every single thing that happens...and usually miss that "heart of the story" piece.  Because it is one of our assessed skills all year, I knew I wanted to do a better job modeling and scaffolding for my class this year.

To get started, we talked about summarizing, how it differs from retelling (which is oral and detailed), and how it not only has to capture the key elements of the story, but also that "theme" or big idea the author wants you to carry with you.  That's pretty complicated stuff!

I took some time and wrote 5 sample summaries for our most recent read aloud, Shredderman.  I asked the students to work in pairs to read them, discuss them, and then decide if they were "oh no!", "decent" or "wahoo!".  They had some great discussions...


...then we came back and each group placed their summaries where they felt they belonged.  We had a LOT of variation!  We read each one aloud and talked about the strengths and shortcomings of each (ex.  One was well written and many students gave it a "wahoo!" until I pointed out that it was an OPINION piece, not a summary!), and I think it set us up well for tomorrow's lesson where we are going to try to write our own summaries on some simplistic short texts.  Stay tuned!

It's time once again to link up with the "Bright Ideas" link up, and today's post is about a great trick I tried with my class this week to try to make those writing lessons really stick!

We are working on realistic fiction and I have taught a number of lessons..."Showing not telling", infusing dialogue, using action words, and--this week--adding setting details.  As a part of my unit, my students are helping me write a story at the same pace they are going (modeled instruction), and I asked them to help me revisit the text we had written so far and to look for setting details.  I scrolled the text on the Smartboard as I read aloud...here is part of the story.

As I read, I asked the students to keep track on their fingers each time they heard a setting detail or where they could really "see" the setting in their mind.  When they finished,
I sent them off with their writing partner to try the same thing with their story.  To keep track, I gave each team a stick of unifix cubes. Each time they heard a setting detail, they snapped one of their stick and added it to their pile.

When they finished, the partners decided if their pieces had enough setting details--and if they didn't, they used their "purple pen power" to go back an infuse some more details. The concrete manipulatives forced them to really take stock of the writing and was a great visual to see how well they had applied that skill.  I think there is a lot of potential for using counters or other "idea holders" to represent writing concepts...how many times they see indenting, how many action verbs, how many descriptive phrases, and so on.  Give it a try--the students loved the visual impact!

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It's time for October's "Loved That Lesson" linky and this month I am sharing a lesson we did last week that I am hoping is going to make a huge difference ALL year with my students!

This lesson started in my mind a few weeks ago when I realized just HOW much work we need to do with organizing our math work, working precisely, labeling our work, and so on.  I spent some time with my students brainstorming a list of what "quality" math work would look like--and what "precision" means.

We spent some time looking over our work and thinking about which of these are the trickiest--and each student set a goal for themselves to try to improve the level of precision of their math work.  We have been really digging into the Standards for Mathematical Practice, and it was time to raise the expectations a notch!

I knew that in order to really help them "see" what some of these components looked like, we would have to go on a hunt for samples, so over the next few days I kept my eyes open and asked my students to keep THEIR eyes open.  I started to find examples and made copies.  As I did, I started to hang them up to use as "mentor math".
I hung them up on one of our closet doors in clear view.
I LOVED watching my students start to take some of the ideas students used and apply them to their own work.
I asked students to help me identify what they saw that made the work "precise"
The students started really tuning in to work quality--and I heard them complimenting each other and DEFINITELY raising the bar for quality.  I LOVED it!  Make sure to stop by and check out the other links below for more lessons people loved!

As my students are building their confidence and learning more and more daily routines, I am starting to push their thinking in math more each and every day.  Of course, with "pushing" comes resistance--and even complete standstills.

Many students are still at the very beginning level of understanding "perseverance" and have not developed a good sense of how to dig into a challenging situation.

Time to brainstorm!

As a class, we worked to create a chart that listed some suggestions for what to do to keep from getting STUCK when we work.  Here's what we came up with together!

Several students immediately suggested that a great tip is to look for important word hints like "take away" and "put together".  I agreed with them and said that those, indeed CAN be great hints as they work--and can help them VISUALIZE what is happening in a problem.  I did caution them that there are times these words can fool them...so to be careful!

We were in full agreement that often you will need to read.  And reread.  And reread a problem.  I told them even I read through problems more than once to make sure I am crystal clear about what the problem includes.

One suggestion was to hunt for the question-and we agreed that the question tends to be toward the end.  I mentioned that some students in the past have actually found highlighting the question to be useful--and we made note that some problems may actually ask MORE than one question!

Similarly (and this took a little probing on my part!), we recognized that the FIRST part of a problem often gives very valuable information and data needed to solve the problem.  Sometimes circling that information can help them get started. One student mentioned that sometimes there is extra information in problems that can be tricky so we made note of that.

We also talked about how sometimes the process of taking information from the problem and putting it in our notebooks leads to inaccuracies, incorrectly copying, or mistakes.  We talked about how double checking all of that can keep us from getting stuck.

Finally, we agreed that trying to visualize a problem and, if helpful, to draw a picture or a diagram (like a number line or a chart) might make all the difference in the world.  Finding a way to represent a problem visually can often "unstick" a problem solver!

LAST but not least, we decided to leave a little space at the bottom of our chart in case we came up with any other brilliant ideas!  So what next?  Time to practice!  I saw lots of students reading and rereading...circling information...highlighting...and NO one gave up on our fun fall word problems!  

Want to check out some of the HUNDREDS of word problems in my store?  Here are just a few of my favorites to challenge your students!

That's all I have to say.

Yes.  That's a first.  
As many of you might have seen either here or on Facebook, I am one of the twelve collaborators on a new blog called "Upper Elementary Snapshots".  Yesterday was my first official post over there, and I'd love to have you stop by and check it out!  Just click our great logo to take you right to the post.  While you are there, if you haven't followed us on Bloglovin' or Facebook, take some time to do that to make sure you don't miss a post!

It's all about how I dug into our realistic fiction writing unit--and made sure I really slowed down so we end up with a great project at the end!

As for me, I am getting ready for another busy week of school--and I am sure you are too.  We are wrapping our our huge mapping unit pretty soon, and I have started working on my MEGA mapping resource that is going to take me forever to make!  UGH!  Still, I think it will be unlike any resource you have ever seen, so I hope you will all like it when it's finished.  Stay tuned...and stop back often this week to check out the other goodies I have going on in my classroom!

Also, don't forget to check out YESTERDAY'S post about BizWorld--and your chance to win a kit of your own! 

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