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Do you ever feel like getting your students to adequately answer comprehension questions is harder than pulling teeth? Somedays I think it would be easier to put underwear on a baby calf whose tail is on fire. Seriously y'all, there has to be an easier way to get GOOD, SOLID answers to comprehension questions from our students that is not only pain free, but also enjoyable.

The Journey

So, a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with our Instructional Coach about why I feel like the comprehension conversations at my guided reading table are harder than I think they should be. Her question to me was simple, "Are you effectively modeling how you want them to answer those questions?"......Hmmm..... well....kind of. I mean, I do whole group reading lessons EVERY DAY that range from good reading habits to modeling my thinking during the text, BUT I haven't been so great at modeling correct comprehension responses.

Which is where I'm starting my "Guided Comprehension Questions" journey and I'm inviting you along with me.

Every week, my goal is to create a solid, but short and simple planning sheet for each of my read aloud that will give example questions AND possible answers. Questions will be broken into the "Big Three": Within the Text, Beyond the Text and About the Text.

Help Me Help You

Below is a link to my file. It will be a growing file that I will update each week with new lessons. I am posting this product for FREE initially and would LOVE your feedback in return.

I am going into my seventh year of teaching and every year I learn something else that I truly didn't know that I didn't know. It's always something that I thought I was doing a pretty good job at, but I could really be doing so much better! This summer I attended the First Grade Reading Academy at my local region center. And let me tell you, there is a lot of things that I truly that I was doing okay at, but I can be doing TEN TIMES BETTER!! So, I thought I'd share a few of my biggest takeaways with you to help you become a better teacher, too!

Model, Model, Model

The more you model your thinking process, the more kids will learn. You need to model EVERYTHING. You need to model how to "think aloud". You need to model your expectations. You need to model how to read with a partner. You name it, you model it. You honestly cannot model enough.

I think one thing we often take for granted as adults, is how easy it is for us to problem solve and visualize things through in our head. A lot of students don't know how to do that yet. You tell students to "tell me what you visualize when I say ____", well some students honestly don't know how to create a picture in their mind, and then we ask them to transfer that thought to paper and.... BAM now they are totally frustrated.

Then come the behavior problems. Chances are, if you have behavior problems in your classroom, they may have (not always), stemmed from a lack of modeling clear expectations and procedures for your students.

So, how do you avoid all of this? MODEL!! Modeling brings invisible thinking to life.

Retell for First Grade Should Be So Much More

Part of our reading academy was spent comparing first grade skills to kindergarten and second grade skills. When discussing comprehension skills, we looked very specifically at story retell. Our presenter was very adamant that by October of first graders students should not longer be expected to do a story retell with a simple beginning, middle and end. Instead, she emphasized that students should be doing a four part story retell using First, Next, Then, Finally. Her reasoning for this was to build a strong foundation for summarizing. Now, summarizing is not a skill that is required in first grade, but it is a key component and a low scoring section of our state assessments. If we can take that extra step and help our students build a really good foundation in first grade, we will be helping them out exponentially in future years.

And, if we are being honest again, how hard is it to retell a book in just three parts? It sounds like more work, but adding that fourth element actually makes the story retell easier. Another thing she emphasized was that a story retell has four "parts", not necessarily four "sentences". So if you want a way to really challenge your higher students, challenge them to write eight sentences or more.

One last tip, she said to pick five graphic organizers to use those organizers the entire year and do not change them. I know we always think we need to change things up to make them fun, but every time you introduce a new organizer, you are not only have to teach or practice a new skill, but now you are teaching a new organizer and new expectations for that organizer.

Make Time for Oral Language

When I think of oral language, even the state says that oral language should be mastered Pre-K. But the reality is, many of our students do not attend quality Pre-K programs and in the state of Texas, they aren't even required to attend Kindergarten!! So when do they build those oral language skills? You got it, FIRST GRADE!! Oh my heavens... I'm supposed to have a student on a Level J by the end of the year and they came to not even able to spell their own name?? But we pull our superhero capes on and we do whatever we need to do to help that baby succeed.

You build oral language with the same questions you use to build comprehension skills, but they have two entirely different purposes/outcomes. When reading a book or telling a story, ask "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How". When building oral language, you are asking those questions to "pull" or extend their story and get them to tell you more. If a student can extend a story orally, then we cannot expect them to do it in written form, or understand or extend their thinking when reading a story.

Need some resources?? The Florida Center for Reading Readiness has TONS of great resources for K-1 for FREE!!!!

>>>Check it out here!<<<

Welcome to the Simple Stations Series, the series for teachers who want solid stations that are quick, easy and cheap to make!! Check out full series below: 

Alliteration Station

Alliteration is a skill that is introduced in Kindergarten, but emphasized more in First Grade. This is an activity that I used to always do on an anchor chart. I know you've seen them before. You write the student's name and the whole class helps you come up with a matching adjective. For some reason I decided to do it a little bit differently this year. 

Instead of an anchor chart, I had my students write their own names on index cards (with marker because I wanted to be a cool teacher...not really, but it's hard to read pencil on colored index cards). Then, I wrote their matching adjective on a different index card and put the cards in a pocket chart during our whole group lesson. 

The students loved it, like they always do. Well, when I was taking it down I thought, what a waste to just throw these away, I'm going to put them in a basket and let them try to rematch them as a station.

Let me tell you, this station kept their interest ALL. YEAR. LONG. We made the station in September. I finally took it out in April and you would have thought the world came to an end. Every day the kids asked me, "Where did our alliteration station go? Is it coming back? Why not?" I'm telling you, these kids seriously had everyone's alliteration adjective memorized and were calling each other that on the playground!!

So needless to say, your students will absolutely love this station.

Welcome to the Simple Stations Series, the series for teachers who want solid stations that are quick, easy and cheap to make!! Check out full series below: 

Sight Word Sentence Sort

I walked into a neighboring teacher's classroom where I saw this activity and immediately said "Ooh, I'm going to steal that!" I always struggle with good ways to incorporate sight words into our daily routines in a way that students read and practice them in context. This station does all of that and MORE!

The idea behind this station is very simple. We focus on five sight words per week. I have students help me generate a sentence using one of the sight words and I write the sentence on a sentence strip. I write the sentence in one color, but I always write the sight word in black. Each sentence gets its own color to help students sort the words into the right sentences, but because the sight word is in black, they have to figure out which sentence it belongs with.

After we have written our five sentences (and practiced reading them together SEVERAL times) I cut the sentences apart and put them in a station. The great thing is, you can limit this station to the five new sentences a week, or you could keep adding sentences to the basket and build a set of 10-15 sentences. 

To use the station, students can sort the sentences individually or with a partner. If you have students who really aren't challenged with this station, you can have them try to create longer sentences using only word cards from the basket. Make sure the students understand that the sentences can be silly, but they still have to have correct syntax. If you really want to commit to this station, students could write and cut their own sentence cards. 

I absolutely love to teach writing. I feel like it is the one time of day that I can truly reach every student on THEIR level EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It is also the one time of day that I can honestly say at least 90% of my students are fully engaged for 30+ minutes. It is also the only time of day that I tell my students to clean up and they moan and groan because they want to keep going.

The way I really keep my students engaged and striving to new heights is through writing conferences because I can really customize our conference to fit their needs and it provides immediate feedback during the middle of their writing process instead of having them go back and fix something they are already finished with.

Why Give Feedback?

Students need immediate and corrective feedback. And yes, there is a right and a wrong way to provide feedback. I know it is way easier to simply say "no, that isn't right", but what does a student really learn from that? Nothing. Instead, provide feedback to the student that lets them know their answer is incorrect, but lead them to learning why that answer wasn't right. Try something like "Well, if we were asking a question we would use a question mark, but read this sentence to me. What type of punctuation do you need?"

Why is feedback so important? It takes 16 to 21 days to reverse a misconception. If you translate that into school days... that's approximately 3-4 weeks!! That's why IMMEDIATE and CORRECTIVE feedback that allows a student to learn from their mistakes and learn WHY they made a mistake is so incredibly important.

How to Give Feedback

The number one thing about feedback that you need to remember is that your goal should be to enhance the "writer", NOT the "writing". Handing back a writing with a bunch of red circles does not show the writer what they can do better. Feedback needs to be interactive and WITH the student! If you want to use a red pen to show errors, let the student use the pend to make the marks, etc.

When giving feedback to a student during a writing conference, I like to use the 2 to 1 method. I have the student share their writing with me, then I point out two things I really liked during their writing (I usually try to find a skill we've recently had a mini-lesson on) and then I share ONE thing that I want them to try or keep in mind for next time. Let's be honest, there are about ten things on every writing that are going to drive you insane. But remember that your writers are only 6 or 7 years old. You can't expect them to retain ten lessons or skills in one day. Find one thing that you think will benefit them the most and work on that ONE thing.

I try to make a note of their 2 to 1 comments so that the next time I meet with them I can say "last time, we talked about doing ___ and I love that I see that on page 2". Documenting those comments also helps me plan ahead in case I want to pull a group of 3 or 4 who all really need to work on capitalization, etc.

Advanced Writers

Sometimes you will only have good things to tell a student about their writing and that's OK! They deserve a full on win every once in a while without the "you were great, but you need to work on this".

But, if you really want to push that student, here are a few of my favorite advanced writing skills that I use with my first graders:

  • The Seven Up Rule: Powerful sentences are seven words and up!
  • Sparkle Words: instead of I "went"... I "wandered", I "drudged", I "chased"
  • Sensory Details: "The hot sun made the sweet ice cream melt into a sticky puddle".
  • Dialogue with quotation marks and correct punctuation

Beginner Level Writers

The Writing Conference is also a great time to really meet your beginning writers at their level. I like to pull a strategy group of 3 or 4 students who need substantial guidance.

The Highlighter Trick

  1. I talk to one student while the rest of the group listens. 
  2. The student provides a sentence and as a group, we count the number of words in that sentence. 
  3. Then I use a highlighter and mark that many spaces on their paper. 
  4. As a group, we help that student restate their sentence as I help them match the words to the spaces. 
We repeat this process for each student at the table. After a while, you will be able to help that student plan a page at a time rather than a sentence at time.

Track Your Feedback

There are so many different ways to track feedback and there is honestly no right or wrong way to track feedback. It's all about what works for you. I used this tracking sheet from Crescent City Classroom that I purchased for $1.00. Let me tell you, it was well worth the money!

(TPT Link: Writing Conference Logs)

Analyze Your Feedback

Another reason I really like to track my feedback is to use it to plan my writing goals and strategy groups. A strategy group is a group of students who need to work on similar skills such as capitalization, punctuation, adding details, etc. I like to get my entire class writing independently, then pull my strategy group back to my table for 5-10 min, then let them go back to their desk while I return my focus back to the rest of the class. You can pull students as a strategy group or pull them independently. 

My Writer's Workshop Binder

I keep a binder with 22 dividers in it. I numbered them 1-22 so that I did not have to keep changing names each year and I assigned a number to each student (I usually do this anyway). This was a super easy way to find notes on a student. Everything went behind that divider, whether it was a nice, neat conference log, a sticky note or even a writing sample that I needed to save a copy of for documentation. 

I also kept a scheduling sheet in the very front of my binder where I could track which students I had already seen and who I needed to "SIT" with. I tried to see every student at least once a week, and then I had my special friends that came to me two or three times a week. Again, I will go into more detail about this later.

The First Grade Writing Series

Mentor Texts and Mini-Lessons
We Can Write... Now What?
Writing Stations
Interactive Writing: Go Cross-Curricular
Make Time to Celebrate and Share

As a new teacher, I did not realize how important poetry actually is to reading fluency. To me it wasn't worth spending a lot of time on because poems are short and most of the time, students just memorize them anyway, they aren't actually reading them. I now know that the very reason I did not want to use them was the reason that they are so effective. Yes students often memorize them, but that allows them to focus on their speed, the intonation and the rhythm. I saw a HUGE difference in how my students were able to read with expression after a couple of months using this poetry station. 

Poetry Packets

I cannot take credit for these awesome sight word poems. They were given to me by a veteran teacher, but you can find grade level appropriate poems just about anywhere. I should really start by saying that my students have a copy of each of these poems in a folder at their desk and we practice one or two of daily. 

I keep all of our poems for the year in one basket. I really love the idea of giving the student's choice at the poetry station and I love that they get to choose which poem they want to work on. It also works well because they have plenty of things to choose from if they finish a poem before the station is over. 

I keep our poems in colored poly envelopes that I found at Dollar Tree 3 for $1. They work so good because they are easy for students to open and close. I also really like that they are colored, but you can easily see what's inside. 

Our poetry packets include:
  • a copy of the poem with highlighted sight words and circled rhyming words
  • a copy of the poem on sentence strips
  • separate high frequency words that can be matched to the sentence strips

When a student gets a "poetry packet", they have several options of activities to do with it: 
  • read the poem by themselves
  • read the poem with a partner
  • sequence the poem using the sentence strips
  • match the high frequency words to the sentence strips
  • use the printed poem to find high frequency words and rhyming words on their own copy of their poem that is in their desk
  • respond to the poem in a poetry response folder (explained later)

Poetry Response Folders

Our poetry response folders are something that I started this past year. We were doing the same activities in a regular journal, but I found that my students did much better when they had a little bit more structure to follow. I chose to have my students focus on two kinds of responses to their poems.

Word Ladder

The first thing my students had to do was to choose their favorite line from the poem and create a word ladder. A word ladder is so great because it really works on reading fluency. Then, students illustrate that line. The kids love it because they see it as a time to draw and color. What they don't realize is that they are actually communicating what they visualize when they read the poem. Since they are only responding to one line of the poem, they can generate 5-6 or more responses to each poem so I never have to change anything in the station, yet they still have a TON of options to choose from.

Saving Our Spot

So what if a student starts a response, but doesn't finish it during the ten minutes they are given for the poetry station? We use post-it notes to mark our spots if we are not finished. The students have to write their name and stick it at the top of the page. They know that before they start a new journal response, they have to check the sticky notes for any unfinished work first.

Welcome to the Simple Stations Series, the series for teachers who want solid stations that are quick, easy and cheap to make!! Check out full series below: 

Author's Purpose Sorting Station

Author's purpose is such a hard thing to teach in first grade, but it is SO important that kids set a purpose for reading before they start a text! This author's purpose sorting station actually started as a whole group lesson. It's something that I do every year. I give each student one book and I make sure I have a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, hardback and paperback, magazines and newspapers. We make our labels for inform and entertain (I hold off on persuade until we are a little more comfortable with author's purpose). Then, I have each student come to the front of the room and sort their book under the right label and we go over the results as a class. 

Not only is this a super easy mini-lesson that lets the kids learn hands-on how to set a purpose for reading, but it is SO easy to transition it into a station. I took all of our books from our mini-lesson and put them in the bucket you see above. I also put our two labels for "inform" and "entertain". I demonstrated to the class how they would partner up and check each other's answers as the sort the entire box of books under the two labels. They LOVED it!!

A Bonus Mini-Lesson

Below are two different anchor charts that I have used to help teach author's purpose. The first one is my favorite. We built it over the course of several weeks. Every time we read a book, we added a picture of the book or a sticky note to the chart. I really think it helped my students make connections between different types of books and different reasons you would read a book! 

This second anchor chart is one we used as more of a checklist to determine which category a book best it under. This was a really good activity to show that books often show characteristics in more than one category. It helped teach the lesson that sometimes the answer isn't easy to choose, you have to choose the one that is the best fit! 

Happy Teaching :)

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