The Three Pigs and Big Bad Wolf

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To end the school year, I wanted to do something fun to help keep my students motivated and engaged during the last few weeks. From Twitter, I saw that @missmac100 had done a project based on the 3 Little Pigs and Big Bad Wolf with her second graders. This project included a real-life application and incorporated different subject areas. I read her blog posts about the project and started a discussion with her as I began planning. I met with the Instructional Coach to figure out how to tackle this task. We looked at the standards I needed to include to end the year and how the different aspects of the project met the standards. I also researched on Pinterest, and found other versions of the project. I took all these ideas and modified them to best fit the needs of my students and the time frame we had.


First, I read different versions of the 3 Little Pigs to my students. They looked forward to the books! After each story, we created a story map about what happened, and they began noticing the differences in characters, building materials, and endings. We also were able to discuss whose point of view the story was written from. After reading multiple stories, students compared and contrasted two versions and also wrote their own story!

I also introduced the topic of architecture to the students. We brainstormed questions to research that would help us build a strong house. We also discussed, researched, and modeled different architectural structures, such as columns, domes, bridges, and arches.

After, students formed groups and started brainstorming and creating a blueprint of their house design. They were not happy when I told them their budget was $600 after they saw the price of the materials!! They added up the cost of their materials, being careful not to go over, and drew their design before purchasing materials from me. While building, I let them return or trade materials, as long as they had not been used.




Once students finished their houses, we tested them using the Big Bad Hairdryer. Students were quite nervous, but cheered when their house survived! Amazingly, none of the houses fell apart! One blew off the table, but that didn’t count! I was going to give them additional money to revise their house, but that turned out to not be needed.


We then moved on to the next part of the project. We talked about advertising and how to sell your house. Students needed to create real estate ads and posters why other Pigs should buy their house. They continued working in their groups to create these. We talked about descriptive and persuasive language to be the best sellers.



Finally, students presented their posters. They then chose which house they would buy and one.



Phew! This project took the last few weeks of school, but it was definitely worth it.   Students were engaged and excited to build. They needed to work together and share ideas in a small group, which wasn’t always easy, and problem solve when things didn’t go as expected or they went over budget. These skills are just as important as the reading, writing, math, and science standards that this project entailed. I’m proud how this project turned out and hope it is something the students remember for a long time.

Building a Diorama

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As a fun concluding reading activity, we had the students create a diorama of one of our reading stories.  They picked their favorite story from the year and chose one scene to recreate.  I also created a simple rubric and a place for them to write the title, genre, and sequence of events of the story.

Students enjoyed being creative and designing the characters and setting.  They needed to use a lot of details, which helped some of them take their time and show their artistic side.  This project was challenging for those students who are not as strong in creativity, but it was a good experience to expose them to thinking outside the box.

This was a multi-day project, but the students really enjoyed it.  It took a lot of work to create the diorama and write about it!  This was a good, culminating activity for the students to demonstrate what they’ve learned throughout the year about all the literary elements.  A lot of choice was involved in picking the story and deciding how to best represent it.  The sequence writing was also a good way for students to use a lot of details to describe what happened in the Beginning, Middle, and End of their story.

After the dioramas were done, students did a gallery walk around both classrooms to share and see others’ work.  I was very impressed with their creations and would love to have students build dioramas again!

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Exploring with Technology

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As the year winds down, we’ve started exploring-it’s the perfect time to learn new technologies and figure out the kinks so we can implement them at the beginning of next year.  Students love using the iPads, and it has helped them stay motivated at this time of the school year.

The app we focused on is Explain Everything (though you do have to purchase it).  We tried it at the beginning of the year during math, but now we’ve been using it for reading strategies.  Students can write and show what they’re thinking in a more engaging way.  Explain Everything is a great tool because it allows you to go back into your project and continue at a later point, which has been helpful as students learned how to use the app.

I explored the app-how to use it and some features-so I was prepared to teach students how to use it.  So far, we have used the app for 2 reading skills: Drawing Conclusions and Compare and Contrast.  Students first chose a picture from their weekly story to use to show their thinking.  They wrote out their sentences, for example, what happened in the picture and what their conclusion was.  We increased the challenge by having them use an amazing vocabulary word.  Separating the writing from the app helped them focus on each part of the project without overwhelming them.

We demonstrated and taught the app during guided reading groups.  We showed them how to take a picture, resize it, and add text.  After showing them the basic features, they were able to create their own project fairly independently.  They caught on quickly to how to use the app, and they wrote amazing sentences.  As they get better at the app and explore it more on their own, they can figure out how to change the text color, label pictures, underline vocabulary words, and record their writing.  We can extend their projects by adding more pages, so they can have all their work in one file or show multiple parts of the same story.

I know there’s more to learn about the app, but I’m excited to start using it, and the students are excited to try something new.  At EdCamp Chicago a few weeks ago, a lot of people mentioned using the app in the elementary classroom.  Also, Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker) described all the different ways he and his students use Explain Everything in the classroom.  I’m amazed by the different ways it can be incorporated into all concepts in the curriculum.  So far I’ve done math and reading comprehension.  I can’t wait to try more ideas and am open to suggestions.  I’d love to see others’ projects and ideas!

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Assessing Reading Comprehension

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As part of the reading curriculum, there are comprehension tests at the end of each story and a benchmark test at the end of each unit.  These tests ask questions about comprehension, phonics, high frequency words, and vocabulary.


At the beginning of the school year, we completed these tests as a whole class to introduce the students to the tests.  This was really their first experience taking a test, coming from Kindergarten, so we modeled reading each story and question, going back into the story if you don’t know an answer, and marking an answer.


Recently, we have started taking these same tests on the computer.  Students work independently, and we encourage and remind them to take their time; fortunately, the students can listen to the questions and answer choices.


After a few times, the students are completing these tests independently.  They try their best and overall do a great job.  I help monitor and also sit by certain students to provide encouragement and remind them to read before just clicking.  While I am amazed at the students’ progress and demonstration of their understanding, I also wonder if this is the best form of assessment.  We view these as practice and a check of their understanding, rather than counting them for a grade; if students don’t score well, we will go over those specific questions.  The teachers also view these as practice for MAP testing, and eventually PARCC, to give the students practice taking a test on the computer.  I know these tests are “easy” for teachers and the computer grades it for you; and there’s always the “time excuse”-there’s no time to do anything fun with everything needed to fit into a day.


I’m just observing, thinking, and evaluating…what are your thoughts?  What other forms of assessment have you used for reading comprehension?  Are they more constructive and meaningful?

An Authentic Purpose for Reading-Reader’s Theaters

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It is extremely important for students to have an authentic purpose for their learning.  While typically we think of literacy as being reading and writing, speaking and listening are also important components.  Coincidentally, I had two groups of students perform Reader’s Theaters in the past week.  While performing Reader’s Theaters, students have a purpose of reading: to perform for an audience, act out a part, and be a fluent reader.

To end my tutoring program, I promised the students we would do a Reader’s Theater.  They worked very hard throughout the program, so it was only fitting to end in a fun way.  I gave the students a couple options of scripts, and they chose an African Folktale: The Clever Turtle.  They picked parts, practiced their lines, and created costumes and scenery.  We discussed why it is important to practice their parts, be focused during the performance, and read fluently.  Students worked hard creating their props; I didn’t give them guidance or restrictions, so their performance was truly their creation.

We practiced, then the students performed for a small audience.  The students worked well together, and they helped each other during the performance to make sure everyone remembered his lines.  I also recorded the play to share with others, and we watched it afterwards so they could see their performance.  This was a fun and special way to end the tutoring program.  Students were able to perform as a character and be an expressive reader, an important component that is sometimes forgotten.

At the same time, the first grade story of the week was a drama.  To end the week, we assigned an each student an animal character; they were put into small groups.  Again, after practicing their parts, they made costumes.  Students were extremely creative making wings, tails, masks, and pictures of their characters.  Then, they helped make scenery to create an autumn classroom forest.  the room was a complete disaster of paper, costumes, and props, but the students were motivated, engaged, and creative so it was worth it.

Finally, the students performed in full costume for an audience.  They were so excited and did a great job.  Reader’s Theaters really create an authentic reading experience for the students.  They had a true purpose and audience for their reading.  I don’t think the students will forget this experience any time soon, and one I hope to be able to recreate this year.


Let’s Sequence a Story!

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Reading and comprehension are two of the most important skills taught in school.  Students need to read in every subject, and they need to learn different tools to check and demonstrate their understanding.  Sometimes, activities need to be consistent to continue practicing the same skill.

I’ve learned that sometimes, especially with struggling readers, activities need to be changed often to make reading fun.  When these students practice the same thing over and over, they get bored and frustrated; these are the readers we need to motivate the most to keep trying and read!

Often during small reading groups, I’ll play games with fluency, do different activities reading words and sentences, or have them create a journal or mini-project.  They need to do something engaging to see reading can be fun!  Currently, I’m working with a group of second graders on different comprehension strategies as part of an after-school tutoring program.  Everyday, we read a story and answer questions focusing on a different strategy.  To end our unit on sequencing, I decided to do something different.  Students picked one of the stories from the book and sequenced the order of events.  They wrote each step of the sequence on a notecard and then had to illustrate a picture.  Finally, they glued the cards on a strip to show the sequence of events.

The kids really enjoyed this activity; it was fun and different than what they normally do in school.  Also, since they were applying the sequencing skill to an actual activity, they truly demonstrated their understanding of the skill.  Usually, students read and discuss the ideas or strategy, but that doesn’t always mean students can apply the skill, especially with struggling readers.  When students can apply their learning and do something different, they make connections and are more likely to remember concepts.  This motivates readers to keep reading, which is our goal-to create life-long readers and learners!

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Sharing the Love of Reading

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I love reading.  Losing myself in a story and connecting with the characters is a great way to relax and enjoy myself.  I could spend hours in a bookstore browsing, including in the children’s section.  I believe it is my responsibility as an educator to inspire a new generation of children to become life-long readers.


Last year in 2nd grade, I loved sharing my favorite authors and stories with my students.  It gave my joy watching my students go to the classroom library and pick out some of my favorites, or what had become their favorite series.  When I introduced Amelia Bedelia stories, one of my favorite characters, the students laughed a lot and then those books were flying off the shelves.  I loved when students asked me to read a book during Daily 5 that I had read during a Read Aloud or introducing a reading strategy.  It was very rewarding at the end of the school year to hear from parents how much their child loved to read all the time, even compared to some of their older siblings; they attributed the love of reading to the teacher.  It helped me realize that I had accomplished my goal of sharing my love for reading with my students.


This year in 1st grade, we have an Author of the Week.  Each day, we read a different book written by that author for a read aloud.  We talk about the author and illustrator, and sometimes they’re the same person, if the book has a dedication page, and styles and similarities between the authors.  This theme really helps students understand the purpose of writing and the parts of a book.  When it is library check out time, students love finding books written by the current, or past, Author of the Week, and they proudly share these with their teachers!  The librarian loves having a theme because she can more easily direct young readers to good books, and she creates a stack of books by that week’s author for the teachers to use.  So far this year, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Jan Brett, and Mo Willems have been the favorite authors.  I helped introduce Mo Willems using the Elephant and Piggie books; I have never had students laugh out loud as loudly as mine did when hearing these stories.  Even at this young age, students have a joy for reading and hearing new stories, and I think we are successful at instilling a love for reading in them.


What are some of your favorite authors and stories?  How else do you share your love for reading in the classroom?

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