Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Visual Method for Teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details

This is a "throwback post," but since I just used this method to teach main idea again I wanted to share...

Raise your hand if you struggle with teaching kids how to find the main idea in a text?

I think it's one of the trickiest things for kids to grasp.

Last week the main selection in our reading curriculum (Treasures in case you were wondering) was a non-fiction article and the focus skill was main idea. We had completed an overview of all genres at the start of the school year, but it was time to roll up our sleeves and really dig into some non-fiction. 

To keep it all focused and feed into their craving for all things Halloween(ish) I planned a week of bat research...but you already knew that because I wrote all about it yesterday {if you missed it you can read it here and check out some cool bat craft activities to make with your kids}.

Between teaching it in school that day and helping my own 2nd grader with his main idea and details homework that afternoon, I had main idea on the brain.

Even later in the evening when I was building blocks with my twins.

And that was when I had an "Ah ha Moment!"


The next day I grabbed some blocks from my math manipulatives, an index card, a pair of scissors, some Post-It Notes, a marker and a non-fiction text. I placed the sticky part of the sticky note onto a block, folded it over and cut along the crease. This gave me sticky papers that were the exact same size as each block.

Next, I wrote sentences from the text that would be considered "supporting details." The students read the details and decided what the main idea of all the blocks together would be. That was written on the card....which was then literally supported by the details.



It seemed like the visual really helped some of my friends to gain a better understanding of the concept. 

I then created several collections of blocks and recorded sentences onto each. I placed them out on my back counter with colored cards that coordinated with the blocks. The kiddos then worked in pairs to write out cards with what they considered to be the main idea.

They loved the hands-on aspect and the visual and did quite well with identifying the main idea. I'm planning to add this in as a READer's Workshop station throughout the year and will use this approach backwards in Writer's Workshop as well.

Do you have any tips or tricks for teaching main idea and details?

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Monday, October 27, 2014

FREE printables Pumpkin Carving Math and Language Arts Activities {Descriptive Writing, Rounding, and More}




As we work our way through October the kids become more and more excited about Halloween. I’ve worked in a school where everything stopped and all focus was put on costume parades and classroom parties. I’ve also worked at a school where you were not allowed to even mention the word Halloween. 

And between both ends of that spectrum you’ll find some amazing learning opportunities. In my class we do Haunted House Writing Projects, October-Themed journaling, pumpkin book projects, graphing activities and thematic task cards {rounding and word problemsbecause harnessing that seasonal enthusiasm results in oodles of student engagement. I even introduce rounding using pumpkin-themed number lines and task cards.

So it should not have been a surprise when I spontaneously brought a pumpkin to school and it sparked a wonderful and fun day of learning. As a K-2 teacher, pumpkin carving was an annual tradition. I don’t know why it never crossed my mind to have my 3rd graders do it before, but I am so glad I did.

I was at the store on Thursday night. I saw a big bin of pumpkins. I thought, “My class has been awesome this week. I want to do something fun with them tomorrow. I’ll buy a pumpkin.”

And that is how I work best.

I am a planner at heart. In fact, I tend to be an overplanner.

But, my best lessons have always been the “scrap the plans and go with it” kind. This was no different.
I woke up the next morning and threw together a packet of printables to use with the pumpkin. We had been working on rounding so I was sure to incorporate that as well as a subtraction activity they could do indepdenently while I assisted with pumpkin dissection. We’ve also been focusing on descriptive writing so I simply tweaked the template I had recently made as part of an update to the Haunted House for Sale writing activity.

I didn’t want my kids to enter the class and go 5 kinds of crazy upon seeing the pumpkin so I covered it with a sheet. That’s when I decided to take it a step further. I put the pumpkin in a milk crate, placed a black cloth over it and taped a giant question mark on the front. The kids came in and instead went 10 kinds of crazy. But the excited buzz was the perfect activator to an unplanned lesson on inferencing.

We talked about using what we know to infer what could be inside. Each student made a guess. I began giving them “pieces of information” and they continued to infer what it could be based on that info.

Once the pumpkin was revealed we started talking about estimation and about how many seeds we thought might be inside. I took the top off (which I highly recommend cutting at home) and they looked inside and made new estimates. 

While they worked on the pumpkin-themed rounding and subtraction activity pages, I invited a few students at a time to come to the table and remove and count a handful of seeds. I had them generate descriptive words about how it looked, smelled and felt while they were doing so. This became the base of their descriptive writing.

We added up all the individual student seed amounts to find the sum of all the seeds inside. This was great review of our prior work with place value and addition strategies. The students used that info to complete the math page. Students who were finished early had the choice between rounding their classmates estimates to the nearest 10 and 100 or finding the difference between estimates and the actual sum. I’ll leave these charts posted throughout the week as easy extension activities for early finishers.

During our language arts time they began their work on the descriptive writing pieces by talking with their peers and brainstorming lots of adjectives. I guided them through a graphic organizer to plan ideas and then they worked indepdenently on a draft.

In third grade we do a comprehensive science unit each spring that focuses on the life cycle of plants. This year I did a mini-unit on the life cycle of an apple and will spend some time this week learning about the life cycle of a pumpkin. I am excited to see how that schema will enhance their understanding during our spring unit.

I love when everything comes together neatly. Are you looking for a way to entertain your students’ Halloween giddiness without losing time on learning? I highly suggest simply bringing in a pumpkin. 

And to show my gratitude for all you wonderful folks who follow my teacher store, facebook page, instagram, blog, etc I have added all the printouts as a FREE download which can be accessed through my online catalog or by clicking here.

P.S. You can still use most of the printables even if you don’t want to bring in an actual pumpkin.





Sunday, October 26, 2014

Haunted House for Sale Descriptive Writing Activity {Common Core Writing, Halloween, Craft}


I had been having my 3rd graders complete a Haunted House Descriptive Writing Project for as many years as I have been teaching 3rd grade. In fact it was one of the first packets I uploaded to my teacher store and is one of my all time best-selling products. I LOVE knowing that it is being used in so many classrooms.

With that being said, it was time for a makeover. I completely redesigned all the pages and added a bunch of new ones too (over 20 to be exact). 

If you are one of the 3000+ teachers who have bought the packet....
  • First of all...THANKS so much.
  • And second...Log in to your account and redownload the packet to access all the new updates (the original product is still included as well).







 This year, my fabulous student teacher guided the students through the writing process. It was even more fun to see how excited the kids were about this project from a different perspective. Because I was not the one focused on teaching the lesson this time I had the opportunity to observe their enthusiastic conversations. So fun!

The packet is now differentiated with a variety of choices of writing papers to make it easy to modify for multiple levels of ability and is appropriate for grades 2-5. This print and go, no prep packet would be a great addition to your plans for this week. Also be sure to check out all of the other products below that are great for the upcoming weeks including Halloween, Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving.

{Click to Access and Download}



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