Thursday, April 30, 2009

5 Hands-On Word Families Activities

Learning word families is so powerful. Once kids learn even one common rime (word ending), they're suddenly able to build many new words. They simply add a different consonant or blend onset (word beginning) and then swap it out with another and another--voila! How motivating for beginning readers!

Because they are highly motivating and rely on the use of consistent patterns, word families activities are also ideal for English language learners or kids with special needs. Increase the engagement and effectiveness even more by making the activities tactile and kinesthetic. Here are a few ways to do just that:
  1. Word Family Bug Swat--Cut large bugs out of construction paper. (Better yet, have your students do this as part of an insect-themed unit.) Then, print various words on the bugs or just the rimes. Have students use a Word Swatter to hit the words that belong in a word family that another student calls out. Or, you can tape a consonant on the opposite side of the swatter and have kids swat a rime that makes a word when combined with the letter on the swatter. Don't have a fancy Word Swatter? Just take a pair of scissors to any old (but very clean!) fly swatter.

  2. Carnival Toss--Same as #3 except use bean bags that kids toss into hula hoops that are placed on the floor. (A great way to recycle hula hoops--seriously, have you ever tried to cram one into a recycling bin? BOING...ouch!!!)

  3. Realia Sort--For practice of multiple word families, bring to class several objects whose names are in the same word family. For example, for the AT word family, bring in a plush cat, plastic mat, baseball bat, rubber rat, and an old hat. For AN, bring in a can of food, paper fan, saute pan, and an action figure man. (Hey, this is where you put to use those little garage sale purchases. Yeah, there really was a good reason why you dug through all those "anything for $.25" boxes of junk over the years!) Have kids work together to sort the objects by word family. Kids love trying to figure out the name of each item, and they really have to put their oral skills to use when listening for the rhymes. They can also practice writing the words to label the objects.

  4. Pocket Chart Word Sort--Kids love pretending to be the teacher! Once in a while, let them use the tools, like pocket charts, that YOU usually use at the front of the class for demonstration purposes. Have them sort (by rime) words written on pocket chart cards. Consider color coding the words at first for any kid who's really struggling. Use any pocket chart you already have on hand, or go all out and get this really cool one already filled with all the right word and picture cards: Word Families & Rhyming Center Pocket Chart.

  5. Spinner and/or Consonant Dice Games--Print onsets on a blank spinner. Kids can spin it and combine the onset they spun, with the word family rime they're studying, to build a word. For the more advanced, print multiple rimes on the spinner. Have one student spin while the other rolls a consonant die. Together, they can see how many words they can build.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Making Science Cross Curricular--10 Tips

When I was a young teacher (so, not too long ago!), I had a "Eureka" moment (vroom, vroom). I realized that in life, we don't use each subject area skill in a VACUUM. For example, if I have a problem with my bank statement, I gather some information (science), crunch some numbers (math) , and prepare an arguement (language arts) to present to the bank. Real-world issues require you to think and work in cross-curricular ways.

So, if school is really about preparing kids for life, why do we often teach each subject independent of the others?

Cross-curricular instruction is an efficient way to cover all that you need to teach. (Sign me up for anything that makes my life as a teacher easier!) Plus, it helps students build some synapses between topics--critical thinking that improves comprehension and retention of information taught. (Ooh, when my students actually LEARN a lot too, that's a win-win for both the "teach" and the kid!)

A couple of years ago for a popular teacher publication, we created this list of tips on how to make science cross-curricular. I thought there might be a nugget or two here that you could find helpful...

1. Science is the perfect vehicle to teach writing.
Keeping a science journal can help students build daily practice and encourage descriptive as well as expository skills, like compare and contrast, process, and cause and effect.

2. Use graphic organizers every day.
For example, you can do a lot with a simple Venn diagram--compare math formulas, events or people in history, story elements or scientific observations. Children build key critical thinking skills when they find and explore relationships in any subject. Use graphic organizers in a variety of formats including books and pocket charts.

3. Get students in the habit of reading informational text.
But, don't assume that kids come with built-in strategies in their brains for understanding this kind of text. Explicitly teach them the structure of expository text and how to pick out main ideas and details.

4. Embed math in science inquiry/experiments.
When math solves a real-world problem, children apply what they know and gain deeper understanding. Operations, data and measurement are three topics that are usually easy to mix into science inquiry activities.

5. Make science come to life with biographies.
Have students read true stories about great scientists and their discoveries. Then, read some science fiction on a similar topic. Compare how the real stands up to the imaginary.

6. Turn kids into social scientists.
Once students are comfortable collecting data, encourage civic responsibility by studying an environmental issue in your neighborhood. Have them write to local governments and businesses and see if they can make a positive change in their community.

7. Teach science inquiry from a creative perspective.
The digestive system is more fun when students travel through it from the perspective of a piece of food. (Kids are always soooo grossed out by the way that lesson ENDS!) Or, when students have to persuade you to live on one planet over another, you’ll see how much they really know about the solar system.

8. Reinforce science themes early with theme-based counters.
Bright and engaging, they encourage sorting, classifying, patterning and counting skills that can transfer to math, social studies and language arts.

9. Play a pocket chart game with artifacts.
Hide artifacts inside pocket charts. Leave written clues in the outside pockets and play 20 questions until students guess the identity of the artifacts. It’s never too early to teach inference and investigation skills with clue words like who, what or how.

10. Let students invent their own games!
Some kids think scientific thinkers are so stiff and serious. Prove them wrong! Mix up the pieces of any science game to make them laugh and show them it’s okay to throw out the rules once in a while. Have them write new game rules that can be placed in a center with the game compoments so their classmates can enjoy their new creation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Helpful Test-taking Tips

Guess what time of year it is for many schools? Time to take those high-stakes tests! Of course, you want your students to get a good night sleep and eat a balanced breakfast before testing day. But here are a few tips that can help students do their best once they're staring that test directly in the face:
  • First, complete those questions for which you already know the answers.
  • Make sure you truly understand each question before you try to answer it. For clarification, try rereading the question, finding the key words, or turning the question into a statement.
  • Read all answer choices before making a selection.
  • Decide where you will look for the answer. Use information from the text--find key words in the text that match key words in the question. Don't forget to also use information from the graphics.
  • Eliminate incorrect answer choices.
  • If you're allowed to do so, utilize other tools (pencil and paper, calculator) for assistance.
  • Choose the best answer.
  • If you're spending too much time on a single question, skip it and return to it later if time permits.

Good luck!