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Vocabulary – a key to reading October 20, 2010

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This year in my fourth grade classroom, one of my goals is vocabulary development. I am a huge believer that children should be exposed to interesting and precise vocabulary rather than the watered down word that we think they’ll understand. Reading helps develop a larger vocabulary. When a reader encounters a new word he should stop, find the meaning of the word and record it. By recording the word, the reader takes ownership of understanding that word and using it in his daily language and writing.

I love using index cards for collecting vocabulary words. Even at home, when your child encounters a new word, he can write the word on the card followed by its dictionary definition. Then, you can keep the cards in an index card file box or punch a hole in the corner of the cards and keep them together with a ring fastener.  Once you compile a stack of fascinating new words, you can use them to play word games, create sentences, or simply knock the socks off of the grandparents at Thanksgiving.

* Just tonight…

My second grader referred to an event at school as “dramatic“.  Then, he said that a part in the book he was reading was “breathtaking“.  And if that’s not enough, he told me that a particular boy at school was his “nemesis“.

My work is done for the night!!

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Ideas for Building Literacy October 17, 2010

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It sounds crazy, but I am constantly waking up in the middle of the night thinking of new ideas to help children learn to read and write. (Not too exciting, huh?) Oh well…here’s a new idea that was born around 3:00a.m.

Children love to run around and play. As parents and teachers, we should capitalize on this energy and combine it with the learning process. Here are some thoughts on how to use a bouncy ball to make learning active and engaging for kids.

*Choose a letter of the alphabet. Each time you bounce the ball back and forth, you and your child take turns saying another word that begins with that letter. See how many words you can come up with!

*Practice spelling words! Have your child review his spelling word list by dribbling a ball as he says each letter of the word. Or, he can throw the ball up in the air and catch it as he says each letter in the word.

*Make up silly sentences! As you and your child bounce (or throw) the ball back and forth, each of you can say ONE word in a sentence. You never know what you’ll end up with, but your child will start to understand what a sentence needs to be complete. This could also be a great activity for the whole family. And after making up sentences, you could try to “bounce and build” a whole story!!

New Now I’m Reading Books! October 15, 2010

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The next two books in the Now I’m Reading “readers theater” series have been released. The  plays are Jack and the Beanstalk and The Three Bears. Each book contains six little  books: One story book and five script books for the five roles in the play. The plays are perfect for beginning readers, but they are a blast to use with third, fourth and fifth graders too! They not only develop reading fluency, but they encourage reading with expression and voice. I am starting to think about writing plays for kids 10 years old and up. This format is creating great excitement with the teachers and students at my school. What a fun way to build reading skills and stamina!! Oh, and the other night we  performed the Now I’m Reading  Cinderella play as a family.  My fifth grader, Luke,  played the role of Cinderella and my second grader, Owen, played the role of the evil stepmother. It was hilarious!!

Share your own writing! October 11, 2010

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You wouldn’t believe the energy, the questioning and the motivation that stems from me sharing my writer’s notebook with my fourth graders. Almost every day, I read an entry from my personal notebook aloud to them. I believe that children need to see and hear models of writing in order to grow as writers themselves. Of course, they do experience good writing models when they read or hear picture books, poetry and novels.  But, if we as parents and teachers can share our own writing, we will encourage children to write with a quality that is real and heartfelt.

Try to find the time to write with your children. Share a thought, a wondering, a memory, an observation, or just a silly story that pops into your mind. Then, ask your child’s advice on what to “add” or “change” to make your piece of writing even better.  When the students in my class write, I write along with them. When the students share their writing aloud, I do the same. They see me make mistakes and they help correct those mistakes too. Writers of all ages need powerful role models.   We all kept journals and diaries as kids. Now’s the time to dust off your pen and paper and let the creativity flow.

Let me know if you need more ideas for writing activities at home!!

Writing Off A Word…. October 7, 2010

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Writing off a word is a great strategy for young writers to use when trying to build stamina. The other day, my fourth grade class put the word IF at the top of a page in their writer’s notebooks. Then, they wrote – totally stream of consciousness for 10 minutes. (We’re working on growing that time to 20 or 30 minutes!)  The writing that came from that little word IF blew me out of the water. Really! It’s amazing what one little word can inspire.

 I snagged a few lines to share.  Enjoy.

If lightning touches fire…

If love could be held….

If frogs croaked butterflies…

If books never ended…

If valleys looked like rainbows…

If hugs cured diseases…

Reading and Writing through LISTS October 4, 2010

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List writing is a great way for emergent writers to brainstorm ideas while practicing the art of writing. Not only that, but making lists is a fun, non-threatening way to write every day. The topics for lists are endless: First there are all the “favorites” – books, candy bars, foods, movies, etc. Next, there are categories such as animals, states, countries, colors, shapes, flowers, sports, etc. Then, there are personal lists such as family members, rooms in the house, birthday wishes, likes, dislikes, etc.  My point is, wouldn’t it be fun to keep a journal just for lists?! Children of all ages can benefit from daily writing practice and what better way than to write about the things they know and love. Writing lists develops creative thinking and spelling. It develops writing skills while removing the pressure of writing complete sentences. Lists are a fun way to encourage young writers or to build writing stamina in writers of all ages! In fact, I think I’m goingto sign off right now and  write a list of all the things I need to do tomorrow!!

A New Idea September 29, 2010

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Ok, so here’s my latest idea… Flashcard Toilet Paper!  Really. Just think about it. Kids love to READ in the bathroom – on the potty. My fifth grader has read endless chapters of numerous novels in the bathroom and my second grader gets through two to three books at a sitting!!  My point is that the bathroom setting provides for a captive audience. What if I designed toilet paper with sight words on each square. And why stop there? There’s no reason that the bathroom has to be limited to literacy. Why not a roll of toilet paper containing math facts? The possibilities are endless – excuse the pun. I think I need to give this a bit more thought. Let me know what you think.  Oh gosh, I think I just thought of a name for this product…Flash and Flush.  (Maybe that’s going a bit too far.)

Back to School – Part 2 September 25, 2010

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So I’m back to teaching fourth grade for the second year and now that I have a few weeks under my belt, I’m ready to get back to writing.  I do write every day in class with my students.  It’s a great way to model writing and it’s important for my students to see me make mistakes and need revision. In fact, they love to take on the role of teacher and try their hand at editing a piece of my writing.  Likewise, it is great for beginning readers and experienced readers to be surrounded by good reading models. When we read aloud to our children, we are showing them how to use expression and how to pause for punctuation. You can even have some fun with your children at home by reading monotone or without paying attention to punctuation and see how quickly they pick up on it. I am a firm believer that the more animation and excitement we put into our read alouds for children, the more likely they are to become expressive and enthusiastic  readers themselves.

Now I’m Growing September 5, 2010

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Exciting news!

My first two books in the Now I’m Growing series – I’m a New Big Brother and I’m a New Big Sister won the National Parenting Publication (NAPPA)Honor Award!  The announcement will officially be made in November on NAPPA’S website.  I am really excited about this.  I hope these books reach a whole new age of readers and that they help families navigate through the many big steps in their little child’s life.

On Being a Writer… August 30, 2010

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I can’t wait to share my writers’ notebook with my fourth grade students.  All of the writing I did over the summer will soon take on a new life as mini lessons in my classroom.  From my favorite writing entries to my silly wonderings and my genuine attempts at humor, the value of sharing my authentic pieces of writing with my students becomes one of the most valuable lessons I can teach.  For my students, they see me taking the kind of risks as a writer that I am asking them to take.  Sometimes, if I share a piece that is personal to me, it allows my students to feel empowered to write with a similar passion and emotion.  Writing is an expression of myself.  I want my students to feel that same connection with the pen.  I want my students to feel like writers!