Dear New Student

Hey teachers . . . . What would your students highlight if asked to share about their classroom? I was delighted to see what my students mentioned when I asked.

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

The task? Write a note to a fictitious new student. What would someone new to our room need/want to know?

Dear New Student:

“My friends are so nice to me in this class. I love my teachers and all of our helpers and visitors. I love all of the books! They are special and calm. I play with my friends but not all of the time! We go to the carpet for read alouds. I love math. It is so fun and it makes me happy.”  Kelvin

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

“We are so nice that your heart will break. And we listen. We do art too. You will get smarter in this classroom. You will meet different students in Seymour School. You must have a big brain. We do singing at school.” Kala

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

“This classroom has lots of books like chapters, board books, picture books. So if you don’t know this, this is not the class for you! Get reading!” Ava

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

“We do mindful breathing three times a day. At the class meeting, we say something we are grateful for. Sometimes, I say I am grateful for my friends.” Vicky

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

“Be polite at people. Be nice. Do reading groups. Do your job like cleaning up if it is the end of the day. I love math. I love books too! Did you know that we do mindful breathing 3 times a day? You could read a book many times.” Kevin

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

“We always come to the carpet for a story after lunch. We do art every week. We do a gratitude circle. You say something special when you got the gratitude stone. Sometime I say I am grateful for my family. BLG readers come every Wednesday. There are lots of books in our classroom. I like to read Jack Stalwart series, Stink books, Owly and Captain Awesome.” Heman

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

“I’m Gracie. I just wanted to let you know that we do quiet time. And Ms. Gelson has a library in her classroom! She loves loves loves reading. We have an art gallery in our classroom too. On Thursdays we have class meetings. But what you really have to know is that . . . WE LOVE READING!” Gracie

 Dear New Student - There's a Book for That!

So while these letters started off to an imaginary new student, in the end they turned out to be little pieces of writing I treasure.

Yes, the book love is transferring! Students love a room full of books and time to read. Our daily mindful breathing features big. Math is fun! Learning and community are front and centre!

This is a classroom we are proud of and ready to share – so . . . Dear new student, if you arrived, we would welcome you!

Big Words, Little Readers

There is something about those big long words that for little readers seem somewhat out of reach. Until it is revealed to them that actually they have all the skills they need . . .

When I listen to many of the children in my Grade 2 reading group read aloud, I often notice that long multi-syllabic words stop them outright or at least slow down their fluency. Yet, when we approach the word together, it doesn’t take much for them to realize that they can read it aloud by employing a few strategies.

Strategies such as:

  • looking for little words inside a larger word
  • removing endings and then adding them back
  • asking ourselves if letter combinations look similar to another word we know (i.e. knowing the word gorgeous helped us figure out advantageous)
  • applying “rules” we know like “y” at the end sounds like “ee”, rules for soft “c” and “g”, tion says “shun”, etc.
  • if one vowel sound doesn’t work, try the other
  • break the words into syllables

So, my job? To make sure they approach these words with the skills and independent ability I know they have!

How did we strengthen our confidence in our ability to do this independently? With some guided practice – together and then on our own!

First, we looked at a big list of long words on the board and approached them together – finding words and syllables we knew, using the strategies described above (and named by the students as we worked) and tapping out syllables.

 Big Words, Little Readers There is a Book for That

Students then grabbed sticky notes and a picture book and began to read independently. They read and enjoyed the stories just like any day where we had picture book free choice reading ( I usually set out a large selection of new and familiar books I’ve grabbed from the library). My volunteer and I listen to different students read and discuss illustrations and plot. But, today the added job was to be on the lookout for multisyllabic words (we decided any word with four or more syllables should make the list) in the books we were reading and list them on a sticky note.

 Big Words, Little Readers There is a Book for That

The wonderful thing for me was to watch how intent students were on finding and decoding words all on their own. Not one child came and asked me how to read a word. They just came and shared statements like:

“I found another one! Listen: un ex pect ed ly , unexpectedly! That has 5!”

I’m finding 4 syllable words everywhere I look!”

These words can’t hide from us right Ms. Gelson! We are finding them in lots of books!”

Hey! We are really doing it! We can read these words!”

I think we all got smarter today. Or . . . maybe we already could do it? Did you trick us?”

My students are exceptionally keen and hilarious, I must admit 🙂 But, they are also very competent and with this little bit of encouragement to do what they already were capable of, they are approaching words that used to intimidate them with confidence!

Now, we can spend time slowing down to talk about meaning. I would rather them stop to be sure they understand what is happening in the story or to ask a question about what a word means, rather than be held back by a word that just happens to be longer than most. We have done lessons about how to handle new vocabulary and will continue to practice this important skill.

My little readers can handle many big challenges and I love being a witness to it!

Rainbow Bird

Sometimes, in a busy week, students will do some writing about a book we’ve read or an activity we’ve done and I don’t get a chance to read it that same day. When I open up the Response and Ideas books a few days later, I sometimes find absolute undiscovered treasures. The same feeling like when I find money in my pocket. It was there all along; I just hadn’t uncovered it. And when I do, wow! This writing has been hidden away in notebooks for a week and now must be shared!

Today, I began reading student responses to Rainbow Bird – An Aboriginal Folktale from Northern Australia by Eric Maddern and vibrantly illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway. Thank you to our Teacher Librarian, Ms. Sheperd-Dynes for recommending this title.

Rainbow Bird is a “pourquoi” tale explaining how humans acquired fire.

Long ago, Crocodile Man had fire and refused to share it with any of the other creatures. Bird Woman was able to trick Crocodile Man and steal fire from him. Proudly, she asserts, “Now I shall give Fire to the people.” She flew around the country putting fire into the heart of every tree. From this day onward, people could make fire using dry sticks and logs from a tree.

Students in our reading group loved this dramatic story and were eager to write and draw about it.

A few samples:

Gary is in Grade 2. His writing shows that he has learned to summarize stories using specific and descriptive language.

“Crocodile Man could blow fire. He said he is the boss of fire. The animals begged for fire but he won’t give them fire. Bird Woman asked Crocodile Man for fire but he still won’t give her fire. Then crocodile man went to sleep. Bird Woman took the fire and shared it. She put fire on herself and became Rainbow Bird. Now Crocodile Man is stuck in the swamp forever.”

Truman is a Grade 1 student who has delighted in learning idioms. These idioms snake their way into his writing and show that he understands their meaning very clearly. I laughed out loud reading this!

“Crocodile Man says he is the boss of fire. It was the time of dreams. Bird Woman is cold at night because she doesn’t have fire. One day, Crocodile Man was dog tired. Then Crocodile Man was green with envy because Bird Woman took his fire stick. Now Bird Woman is happy as a clam. She put fire in the heart of trees. Now Crocodile Man lives in the swamp forever. Bird Woman said, “If you come up here, you will die!”

Catriona is a confident thinker and writer in Grade 1. I love how she shares her predictions and questions in her response. It is evident that Catriona utilizes all of the reading powers when she reads or listens to a story.

“I predicted that Rainbow Bird would steal Crocodile Man’s fire and I was right. But Rainbow Bird wasn’t always Rainbow Bird. She used to be Bird Woman. I am still wondering if that story could be true if they took all the fiction out and replaced it with real life stuff. Then, where would Rainbow Bird put the fire?”

All such different responses to the same story shared together. I am delighted by them all!

Spilling Pickles (Idioms Division 5 style)

We have continued to learn about new idioms using the fantastic series of Idiom Tales published by Scholastic. Yesterday, we finished Over the Moon (Sayings about Feelings) written by Justin McCory Martin and illustrated by Kelly Kennedy.

I recorded the new idioms we had learned: happy as a clam; pleased as punch and green with envy on cards to tack up on top of the board. Students love trying to insert these idioms into everyday speech as often as possible and feel quite delighted when someone manages to use an idiom in the appropriate context.  It is quite fun! So as I was writing, students were reading various idioms to each other and giggling at how funny some are.

Don't spill the beans!

A few Grade 3 students were in our class last year when we also studied idioms. Every so often they remember one they learned and want to share it. Suddenly Hajhare got all exctied and called out:

“Ms. Gelson, tell me a secret and I will spill the pickles!”

Obviously, his memory didn’t quite serve him right as he was searching for the expression spill the beans. But said so excitedly and so earnestly this was pretty funny. Well, actually hilarious. Everyone, including Hajhare, burst out laughing.

I was probably laughing most of all and someone called “Ms. Gelson is in stitches!” Yes, idiom success – used correctly in context – yet, somehow we all laughed even more!

Then Catriona (looking at my red face from laughing) shouts out, “Ms. Gelson really is tickled pink!”

Such joyful moments sharing laughter, word play and connections.

Sergio had walked in during all of this quite tired and was a few beats behind.

“So what is it then – Spill the onions?”

Oh how I love these kids!