Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher
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Upper Elementary Math Teachers Facebook Group

Y'all, I am so excited I can't stand to hold it in any longer! I am embarking on a new math adventure and it's all for you! For about a year now, I have craved, obsessed over, and imagined a community where upper elementary teachers feel comfortable asking math questions and are excited to discuss math topics.

I have hung out in a number of Facebook groups for 4th grade and 5th grade teachers, and while I have enjoyed the dialogue about teaching strategies, how to respond to parents, student discipline, and more, I have also realized that there is a great need for an upper elementary group that brings together like-minded teachers who want to support one another in the pursuit of better math instruction.

Well, if you are 3rd grade, 4th grade, or 5th grade teacher or a curriculum/math specialist who teachers all of the grades who's been looking for a group just like this, you have found it! Read on to find out how you can get involved!The Upper Elementary Math Teachers  Facebook group is the perfect group for 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers who want to "be the math teacher you always wish you had," to learn from a community of teachers who are passionate about improving their math instruction and passionate about sharing their experiences, ideas, and insights about teaching math to upper elementary students. Come join us!
In true fashion of my personality, I've decided to create the group I crave! Lucky for me, I am not going this journey alone!

I am partnering with my beautiful friend Brittany Hege who blogs at Mix and Math and who is an experienced 5th grade math teacher. Her personal mission is to spark creativity in math teachers and to grow teachers' confidence in facilitating high-level math instruction. That is a mission I can get on board with!

Brittany and I are so excited to work together to create a community of upper elementary teachers who simply want to be the best math teachers we can be!

The Upper Elementary Math Teachers Facebook Group is now a real thing and the doors are opening in May 2018!


Brittany and I are passionate about teaching upper elementary math (did you know this about me?!?) and about sparking the love and perseverance for math learning in students. This means we get ridiculously giddy over math topics and love to stimulate this part of our teaching brain.

Let us tell you more about the Upper Elementary Math Teachers' Facebook Group so you can see if this is something you want to be a part of!


Do you love to teach math and to share your ideas with colleagues?

Is math NOT your favorite subject to teach but you want to try to love it a little more?

Do you just need a community where your #mathmind can be stimulated?

Want to get ideas for math topics that your students are struggling with?

Want to get ideas for making your math block more engaging?

Want to find answers to, “Why in the world do we teach this?!?” or “How can I make this topic more relevant for my students?!?”

Need a place to celebrate your MATH WINS?!?

Well, THIS COMMUNITY IS FOR YOU, teacher friend!

We want to support one another and celebrate awesome teaching moments together!

We also know that math is not everyone’s favorite subject to teach--and if it’s not yours, but you want to be "the math teacher you always wish you had," this community is still for you!

We hope you find the inspiration and support that you are looking for and that you no longer feel alone in that pursuit!

We believe that better math instruction can come in the form of hands-on activities, using manipulatives, connecting concepts to the real-world, differentiation, rigor and relevance.

To be honest, we don’t believe in tricks and shortcuts as strategies for helping students mask mastery of math concepts.

Our desire is to help teachers feel confident in teaching math, understand the standards and how to teach them, with a focus on how to support students’ thinking in their many phases of learning.

We want you to feel supported AND inspired!
The Upper Elementary Math Teachers  Facebook group is the perfect group for 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers who want to "be the math teacher you always wish you had," to learn from a community of teachers who are passionate about improving their math instruction and passionate about sharing their experiences, ideas, and insights about teaching math to upper elementary students. Come join us!

And, just to get this out of the way, we want to keep our community a JUDGEMENT-FREE ZONE by remembering that we teachers are in this group BECAUSE WE WANT TO IMPROVE OUR TEACHING OF MATH and ENGAGE WITH LIKE-MINDED colleagues, not because we are already perfect.

If you are ready to Be Postive, Be Supportive, Be Collaborative, Be Open-Minded, and Be Ever Tenacious in the pursuit of being the best math teacher you can be, we want you to join us! 

And, if you think the surprises are over, just you wait! Being on the guest list, you will be the first to hear all that we have in store. If you are ready for a summer of energizing yourself to teach math like a boss, stay tuned for more about all the plans we have for the Upper Elementary Math Teachers' community!

Multi-Step Word Problems on Standardized Tests

About 5 years ago, Rachel Lynnette wrote a blog post titled "Why I have Stopped Creating Test Prep Task Cards." At the same time, I had been working on a set of much needed multistep word problems task cards to support my students prior to taking the NC Math EOG.
How can we prepare our students for standardized math tests? Multistep word problems are one of the biggest challenges for 4th grade and 5th grade students on when taking state tests. Read about the beliefs I have and how I go about  helping my students be successful when encountering multistep word problems. Includes the problem solving method for math. (state test prep, math test prep)

I so applauded Rachel's stance on not getting caught up in being a task card generating machine in the name of "test prep" that Rachel's post inspired the blog post below. I'm sharing it with you today because it contains my "truths" about the importance of math test prep for standardized tests.

(first published March 2013 on my original blog, Life, Love, Literacy.)

I spent a late night working on a set of multi-step word problems like none I've ever seen before. Yes, it is my spring break, but I have all but decided to discontinue use of my districts adopted textbook. (I just fantasized about moving the stack of textbooks in my storage cabinet to our storage closet when I get back from break).

The textbook just isn't engaging and when I use it, I have to send students to so many pages with SO LITTLE practice on the same type of problems that it is a futile use of my class time. I have used it all of 3 times this year I bet, but that's mainly because of the strong love for task cards that I have developed this year.

Yesterday I was reading Rachel Lynette's post about (not) making test prep materials. Rachel says she has decided to quit making task cards specifically for test prepping and I can only applaud her for this tough decision.

I personally don't mind testing season too much. (Maybe it's because I work in an environment where "the test" pressure is kept to a minimum with administrators who trust us to do our job well.) During 4th quarter, I keep a cool head, prepare questions that look and sound more like the test, and do my best to encourage students. Note, I said 4th quarter--not all year long.

After reading many of the comments on Rachel's blog post, I actually have to be so APPRECIATIVE of my district this year. We have moved away from multiple-choice benchmarks in ELA and Math to open-ended assessments. You know, the kind you might actually design yourself if you had the time and had not been brainwashed by a system of multiple choice (easy to grade) assessments? #didIjustsaythat? #yesIDID.

Our benchmark assessments are created by a team of teachers (not getting paid extra, not trying to make money off of testing kids), who are not giant test-textbook corporations. And these assessments are constantly going through a revision process so that they will be better for next year.

So, Rachel's post put me through a little personal reflection as my goal this weekend was to create some similar multiple-choice math questions to help my 5th graders get ready for the NC Math EOG's.

Although you can call it test prep, I feel I am really polishing the skills my students learned earlier in the year based on Common Core Standards. As "Test the Season" is upon us, my goals remain the same--provide challenging, relevant, fun math work for students.

And after years of doing this, I know testing and prepping comes down to a little bit of skill and a lot of time spent orienting ourselves to "the test".

When I am faced with an EOG problem that makes my eyes go crossed a little (see below):

How can we prepare our students for standardized math tests? Multistep word problems are one of the biggest challenges for 4th grade and 5th grade students on when taking state tests. Read about the beliefs I have and how I go about  helping my students be successful when encountering multistep word problems. Includes the problem solving method for math. (state test prep, math test prep)

I can only imagine how my kiddos will feel looking at a problem like this. First of all, too much information, are you trying to trick me into picking 12? (The answer is 15 if I did my math right).

This problem catches me off guard because I know my grade-level has been challenging our students all year with multi-step problems and by creating rigorous unit tests. (Here are the 4th Grade Released Problems and 5th Grade Released Problems for the NC Math EOG if you want to check them out in more detail or use them in your classroom.)

However, never have we put them in front of 4 hours worth of questions, said "Don't ask questions," "Don't talk to each other," "Don't ask to go to the bathroom unless it's an emergency," "Don't even think about eating a snack or getting a drink of water," and then made what feels like almost all of the test questions multi-step.
Upon closer look at the released test questions, one would find that not all of the problems are multi-step, but I think that students will be so stressed by the other problems they will hardly breathe a sigh of relief when they get to the easier questions.

Unless...
   Unless...
       Unless...

Combine Rachel's post with word from my new principal that we shouldn't be "drill and kill test-prepping" as the year winds down (Thank you, Lord), and here I am.

Here's what I believe:
  • As the ones with the most experience, we teachers must unlock the secrets of the test and unveil that for students. We must not allow students to sit in a fog of unpreparedness during the week of testing.
  • We do not need to cheer for the test. We do NOT need to call it SURVIVING the test. We DO NEED to constantly mention HARD WORK, PERSEVERANCE, BELIEF IN ONESELF, and remind students of how hard they have worked all year and how much they have grown.
  • We can teach (most) test-prep skills in a way that is transferable to many environments. (YAY!)
(If you want more of my testing season beliefs, I wrote about them in full detail last year in a post called "Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?")

How can we prepare our students for standardized math tests? Multistep word problems are one of the biggest challenges for 4th grade and 5th grade students on when taking state tests. Read about the beliefs I have and how I go about  helping my students be successful when encountering multistep word problems. Includes the problem solving method for math. (state test prep, math test prep)

In many states, testing failure results in re-testing (sometimes 2 more times before the last two weeks of school are over #fun #notreally). When faced with these unfair consequences, I believe we have an ethical responsibility to do everything in our power to help our students achieve.

This includes teaching with a sense of urgency ALL-YEAR-LONG, maintaining an engaging learning environment, and not betraying out students' trust with DRILL-KILL-SNOOZE as we get closer to the test.

If things were different for our students, some of my beliefs might be different. But, the status of high-stakes testing in our schools is not different yet. So while we "teach in the trenches" and keep fighting for it to change, we have to prepare our students for these tests while maintaining our CORE beliefs.

I also believe there is a time and a place for putting-pencil-to-paper with strategic packets of practice work, mainly because of the beast of testing that our society enforces on our students, but I don't believe that that mode of reviewing math or reading skills has to (or needs to) happen every day up until the test.

Multistep Word Problems for 4th grade 5th grade for math test prepSo, it hit me (like it's hit me all year in waves), I need to focus my math word problem sets on themes that are relevant to students. I will try my best to make sure the resources I am creating for "test-prep" usage are just as engaging as the resources I create and use with my students all year long.

Keeping it relevant and fun, I have worked on these multistep (lots of information to engage with) word problems with a "School Supply" company theme formatted like the NC EOG problems shown above.

And, keeping with my math teaching conviction, you actually won't find multiple choice answers on these task cards. I want my students to KNOW THE ANSWER before choosing an answer so I use multiple-choice math problems ONLY when we are working in our released EOG booklets and our math test prep booklets, which I use only for a short block of time during my math block 2-3 days during 4th quarter.

PS: I also wanted to share with you the comment I left on Rachel's post.
Testing is such an emotional topic once we really get into it, and I think a lot of people who make comments about testing might not quite understand the realities. (Like principals saying we shouldn't be "test-prepping.") I think mine was envisioning kids doing nothing but drill and kill test-prep every day up until the test, but our test prep follows more of a "Test Talk" approach. In reading, it still looks like reader's workshop, we just analyze the types of questions we will see and talk about what those questions mean in our language, connecting with what we have already learned this year. I never want to feel like I could have done more to help a child be successful, and making sure they understand what the test is going to look like is a big part of that.
Want to grab all ten of the multistep word problems to use in your classroom? I've also included the steps to problem solving graphic organizer that I use to teach students to ANALYZE word problems and make a plan for how they will solve the problem.
   Multistep Word Problems for 4th grade 5th grade for math test prep
"School Supply" Themed Multistep Word Problems
or Grab them in a bundle with an Around the USA Themed Multistep Problem Set
Multistep Word Problems task cards for 4th grade 5th grade

Want to Read More about my Test-Prep Perspectives? 
→ Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Tests--Math Edition (#yourock!)
→ Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Reading Tests without Mentioning the Words
→ Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
→ How and Why to Have Students Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions Mini-lesson and other Testing Tips

Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Math Tests without Mentioning the Words

How do we prepare students for standardized math tests ALL YEAR LONG without a heavy focus on "the test" and multiple choice questions? That's a great question and I'm ready to list many ways out for you today. As you read these ways we prepare students for standardized tests in math without a direct focus on "the test," pat yourself on the back for me! You rock!
Good math teachers prepare students for standardized math tests all year long and in so many ways. It's not all about the drill and kill or over use of multiple-choice questions in the best classrooms. This blog post celebrates all you have done in your math block and includes ideas and strategies for how you can support your students to grow in math ALL YEAR LONG. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, read and enjoy!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how teachers prepare students for standardized reading tests WITHOUT MENTIONING THE WORDS! It was inspired by a Facebook post where I asked teachers when they started prepping students for state testing. (Then, my sarcastic brain responded--"Wait, we do that all year.")

Because I believe we literally prepare our students in a million intentional ways and a million small ways that we often would not even think of directly connecting to our students' performance on state testing (well, we are smart in our ways, so maybe I mean OUTSIDERS wouldn't think of connecting the dots?). 

So, I decided to write two posts--one for reading and this one for math because we just do sooo much---to share some of the ways we teachers prepare our students for standardized testing without a HEAVY FOCUS on THE TEST. 

1) We are wise planners.


✔ We ensure that we teach all required standards.

✔ We create pacing guides that allow us to spiral back to challenging concepts later in the year AND that save room for review/test prep so that WE and STUDENTS are not stressed about not having enough time to review.

✔ We stay in tune with our pacing guide to make sure we will hit all of the priority standards before testing time.

✔ We save our more engaging concepts for the end of the year to keep students engaged while also incorporating review and test prep. For me, this means measurement and geometry are taught 4th quarter.

2) We are advocates for our students AND we take it upon ourselves to figure out new strategies and implement what children need. 


✔ We differentiate to help raise learners who need more time to learn and to engage those who need more challenge (through projects, real-world math connections, incorporating technology, math centers, task cards, classwork, differentiated assessments and homework, and differentiated small groups).

✔ We can use technology that motivates our students and gives them instant feedback. #winwin (I've recently been using Boom Learning and love the self-checking aspect of the task cards.

3) We emphasize variety, rigor, collaboration, and problem-solving.


✔ We incorporate word problems all year with all concepts whether we feel our students are "ready" for them or not. (All of my differentiated math assessments include 3 sets of real-world themed word problems for every standard!)

✔ We provide a rigorous curriculum where we teach the basics but challenge students and help them achieve greater ability than what they will see on the test.

✔ We allow students to work together and collaborate on math thinking so that activities are in students' "zone of proximal development."

✔ We ensure that math assessments are varied and do not over-rely on multiple choice tests.

4) We encourage growth mindsets in our students.


✔ We believe that ALL STUDENTS CAN LEARN MATH and we do not buy into the myth that being good at math is a gift that some people just don't get access to--we will not put this curse on children! 

✔ We make solving really challenging problems together as a whole group or in small groups a frequent thing throughout the year. We model the process of working through something that seems impossible, getting it wrong multiple times and still sticking with it, building a perseverant and confident attitude towards math from day 1 for all students.

5) We know that math and understanding math is important for our students' success and we are growth-minded with our approach and our assessments.


✔ We create excitement towards math learning so that students WANT to learn!

✔ We know that math success is a really important indicator of career and college success, life success, and money management.

6) We familiarize students with any question types that they have not yet been exposed to prior to testing.


✔ We use resources that provide opportunities for students to answer multiple choice questions similar to the math questions on the standardized test questions. (I believe this should be done sparingly. 4th quarter works well for me, but you have to do what feels right to you).

✔ We incorporate testing language in our math problems from the beginning of the year--during whole group lessons, classwork, centers, homework, etc. #approximately, anyone?

✔ We know that a majority of our math assessments should be open-ended where students have to come up with the entire answer themselves, rather than having a year-long assessment diet that is focused on multiple-choice testing. Structuring your year-long math assessment plan with open-ended questions ensures that students are unable to mask math misconceptions and inaccuracies by accidentally choosing a correct answer. This develops students’ accuracy in math and attention to detail as they must be more careful in their work.


MOST OF ALL: We make a difference for our students--and know they are MORE than a TEST SCORE! 


We are our students' cheerleaders and support systems. We find ways to help students see their growth, whether we use personal data trackers, end of unit reflections, or simply remind students that they previously did not understand how to solve a problem, use a math skill, or perform a specific concept so that they are aware of their growth and develop the ability to believe that they WILL LEARN future concepts.
What other ways do you make sure your students are prepared for the state math test?!? Let me know! I really believe the number one thing we need to do to prepare our students for "the math test" is to ensure that we have taught the standards at a high level of mastery and rigor.

If you are looking for an assessment system that you can use all year, I'd love for you to check out my differentiated math assessments. These assessments contain three levels--below, on, and above grade level, include three versions of each assessment (so you can pre-assess, post-assess, assign extra practice/homework, or have another version to assign during stations or use in small groups), and include word problem sets for every computation standard.
Differentiated Assessments/Practice Sheet Sets

4th Grade Place Value Concepts
4th Grade Multiplication
4th Grade Division
4th Grade Fractions and Decimal Fractions
4th Grade Geometry
4th Grade Measurement
4th Grade Algebra
5th Grade Decimal Place Value
5th Grade Add, Subtract, Multiply, Divide Decimals

These assessments were created to give teachers the tools to encourage students to have a growth mindset and to help you document that math growth throughout your units! Happy math teaching!

Reading Test Prep Minilessons

Last year, I wrote a blog series about how to prepare students for standardized reading tests. In NC, we take the North Carolina End of Grade tests (EOG as we say), usually in late May. One thing that I KNEW I wanted to include in my "Thinking Through Reading Tests" resource were some outlined minilessons that would help teachers with preparing students and teaching standardized test taking strategies. Unfortunately, I could not get those minilessons written last year, but they are here now and I'm so excited to tell you about them!
It's possible to help yoru students learn to "think through reading tests." These minilessons for teaching your students to take standardized reading tests without using drill and kill practice will allow you to continue running a readers workshop while preparing your students for end of grade tests or standardized tests. Free reading minilesson included!
The goal of the “Thinking Through Reading Tests” unit is to help students move from what they already KNOW about reading in general to HOW THAT APPLIES to reading for a reading test. (NOTE: If you purchased this unit last year, go re-download it from tpt to get your new goodies!)

This method of preparing for standardized reading tests considers “test prep passages” to be another genre of reading that students need to develop an understanding of.

Together, you and your students examine and discover how your benchmark and/or state tests are put together AND how what you have taught them to do all year as intelligent readers still applies in the setting of “test reading.”

I encourage you to make your reading test-prep unit as inquiry-based and constructivist as you can, like a "regular" readers workshop often is!

How I Set Up My Test Prep to Be “Inquiry Based”

  • Prior to launching my test prep unit, I print all of the reading tests and questions that my state has released as a “sample” test. I put these together in a booklet for students and have students refer to them often to spark ideas and discussions during our “reading test” lessons.
  • I often prompt students to think about a specific aspect of how the test is put together, ask them to jot down some notes independently, then have students discuss their findings in partners or small groups. For example, a question I may use to launch my work with test passages is, “What do you notice about how the test is put together?” Students can merely flip through the passage booklet to come up with a number of great ideas. 
To hold together my teaching and review of strategies and skills that will be beneficial for students on the standardized reading test, I use a framework that I have developed to structure my reading test prep minilessons. This framework helps me connect what students already know how to do from our regular reading lessons to why that strategy or way of thinking will be important on the state end of grade reading test.
  1. How Do I Do this for regular reading? 
  2. Why Should I do this with a book I want to read? 
  3. Why should I do this with a passage I have to read?
  4. How might I do this differently on a test passage?
The “Thinking Through Reading Tests" notes that I have added to the resource are meant to be a guide to support teachers as they lead students to think about and respond to four main questions stems. As we move through those 4 key questions, I take notes on a large white board that I have blocked off just for my test prep lessons. (Anchor charts also work!)

I also order the sequence of my test prep lessons with a B-D-A focus--before, during, and after reading--because that just makes good sense for how I want students to engage with any text (or test prep passage) they are reading.

I added the minilesson notes to the "Thinking Through Reading Tests" resource to give teachers an idea of the direction they are going with their test prep bulletin board responses. For the most part, I don't intend for the notes to be recited to students, but to help teachers guide their discussions.

So, let's take a look at what you will find in the minilesson notes. 

It's possible to help your students learn to "think through reading tests." These minilessons for teaching your students to take standardized reading tests without using drill and kill practice will allow you to continue running a readers workshop while preparing your students for end of grade tests or standardized tests. Free reading minilesson included!



One of the first skills I review when I launch my test prep unit is the importance of previewing a text before we start to read. (I can't tell you how many "struggling readers" I've turned around by ensuring that they understand the benefits of previewing the text, what that really entails (not just reading the title and looking at the cover!), and applying that step to all of their reading choices).

So, first, we discuss what it means to preview a book.

1) HOW DO I “PREVIEW A TEXT (BOOK)”?


To preview, we should:

• Read the title
• Read any extra info (like the back of the book, any taglines or comments on the cover)
• Think: Fiction: What are some of the problems I may read in the story? Nonfiction: What is the main topic? What might I learn about?
• Preview the table of contents if included
• Look at how the book is designed—Does it have a prologue or epilogue? Is it organized by chapters? Does it contain subheadings to break up the text? 

Then, we move on to discuss why we should preview books we want to read.

2) WHY SHOULD I DO THIS WITH A BOOK I WANT TO READ?


"Readers should get an idea of what the book is about before beginning to read. This helps us set expectations for what we will read in the text. Understanding how text is put together helps us make a plan for how we will read it."

We follow with why we should preview a testing passage that we have to read.

3) WHY SHOULD I DO THIS WITH A PASSAGE THAT I HAVE TO READ?


"Previewing the text prepares us for what we are about to read. It can make us more comfortable as we begin to read a test passage."

Then, we discuss how our preview may be different for a test passage versus a real book or text.

4) HOW MIGHT I DO THIS DIFFERENTLY ON A TEST PASSAGE?


"On a reading passage, we will not have as much information to preview.

With a test passage, we should:
• Read the title
• Examine any extra information that is included
• Figure out how the passage is designed (subheadings? paragraphs? chapters? stanzas?)
• Examine any pictures, illustrations, diagrams, or photographs that have been included"

After this discussion, which may take 1-2 days, I have students apply the test prep skill or strategy with an expected action. This action then becomes something they are expected to do any time we are doing test prep with our reading passages. I move around the room and monitor students as they work to see who follows through with the expectations.

5) STUDENT ACTION STEP FOR "PREVIEWING" DURING STANDARDIZED TEST PRACTICE SESSIONS:


→ Write out previewing notes and ideas on a sticky note (or at the top of practice test passages).

Now, for me, a big part of previewing the text is picking up clues that help you identify the genre. Since this is such an important part of previewing (because it really helps you know what to expect from the text AND can help you predict many of the topics of the test questions you will see), I pull this "skill" out as it's own separate test-prep topic and lead that lesson discussion the day after we go through the 4 questions for previewing a text and practice that skill with our reading passages.

To be honest, many students WILL identify the genre of the text when they do their preview work. However, I like to make the importance of this step very explicit for students. Their action step becomes writing whether the text is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry at the top of the passage. (Students can get more specific than this--fable, how-to, fantasy, etc. but I find if they can just tap into their expectations for fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, it triggers their memory on how they should engage with that type of text.)



What other reading test-prep notes and minilessons have I included? 

NOTES ABOUT TEST-PREP

↗ Why I do not recommend teaching students to read all questions before starting to read a passage


It's possible to help yoru students learn to "think through reading tests." These minilessons for teaching your students to take standardized reading tests without using drill and kill practice will allow you to continue running a readers workshop while preparing your students for end of grade tests or standardized tests. Free reading minilesson included!

"WHILE READING" MINILESSONS
↗ Jot Down Thoughts/Track My Thinking
↗ Underline (or highlight) as I Read (I teach my students to "highlight effectively" earlier in the year)
↗ Use CONTEXT CLUES strategies for Unknown/Unfamiliar Words

It's possible to help yoru students learn to "think through reading tests." These minilessons for teaching your students to take standardized reading tests without using drill and kill practice will allow you to continue running a readers workshop while preparing your students for end of grade tests or standardized tests. Free reading minilesson included!

"AFTER READING" MINILESSONS
↗ Use labels to break the text into chunks
↗ Think about the main ideas/what the text is mostly about
↗ Read the question and decide if it requires Literal comprehension, Interpretation, or Thinking Beyond the Text (I teach this thinking method with a Question-Answer Relationship strategy with lots of modeling!)
↗ Go back to the text to COLLECT EVIDENCE to answer the question
↗ Show EVIDENCE for or against EACH answer choice
↗ Mark out OBVIOUSLY WRONG choices
↗ Make AN EDUCATED DECISION about the answer (based on proof from the text)

In the "Thinking Through Reading Tests" resource, I've included more than these minilessons. Though this unit is focused on preparing students for the End of Grade standardized reading test, I teach it through readers workshop-style minilessons, which allows me to
> > > honor my teaching style,

> > > maintain the integrity of my classroom environment,

> > > and maintain student engagement while also ensuring that students are prepared for testing day.

Want to go ahead and check out all that's included in the full resource?
→  Thinking Through Reading Tests Resource

♥ Test Prep Minilesson Notes (14 pages)

♥ Test-Prep Minilesson Bulletin Board Materials
(a “Before, During, After Reading” structure for Test Taking Mini-lessons)
♥ Thinking about Question Types (to understand how to think through and answer the question): a Question-Answer-Relationship Method

♥ Q-A-R Posters, Student Handout, and Bookmarks

♥ a 4 Step Method for Thinking through and Answering Questions--Reword, Obviously Wrong, Collect Clues, Educated Decision (includes one model minilesson for this question/answer procedure)

♥ 4 Steps Posters and handout for students

♥ Reading Test Question Types Sorts for 3rd-8th grades

Missed the blog post series last year? For more details about each step of my “Thinking Through Reading Tests” Unit, see these blog posts:

Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
How and Why to Have Students Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson and other Testing Tips

And just for fun #becauseyouROCK:
→ Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Reading Tests without Mentioning the Words
Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Tests--Math Edition

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Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Tests without Mentioning the Words

How do we prepare students for standardized tests without a heavy focus on "THE TEST" and multiple-choice questions ALL-YEAR-LONG? Today, I'm sharing a multitude of ways we teachers prepare our students for end of year state tests.
Good teachers prepare students for standardized reading tests all year long and in so many ways. It's not all about the drill and kill reading test prep in the best classrooms. This blog post celebrates all you have done in your readers workshop and includes ideas and strategies for how you can support your students to grow as readers ALL YEAR LONG. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, read and enjoy!
What inspired this post? A few weeks ago on my Facebook page, I asked teachers this really innocent question.

"When do you start prepping students for state testing?"

And then, I got all bent out of shape waiting for someone to respond, "I prep my students for the test ALL YEAR LONG. That's what GOOD teachers do." 

Word. I agree. 

Someone did respond, "I honestly thought I was doing that since day 1, Lol."

No one responded in a way that hurt my feelings or made me feel dumb for asking, but it did get me thinking...how do teachers really prepare students to be successful on the end of grade, standardized state tests ALL YEAR LONG without actually saying the words "the test."

Because we literally prepare our students in a million INTENTIONAL ways and a million small ways that we wouldn't even think of directly connecting to state testing, I decided to write two lists--one for math and one for reading.

Today, I'm focusing on how we prepare our students for the READING TEST all.year.long without mentioning the words "the test."

{NOTE: Throughout this list, I have linked to blog posts and resources that support that specific reading effort. If something in the list "speaks to your reading heart," be sure to click the link to find out more about my perspective or resources on that topic.}

✔ We are aware of our struggling readers from day 1 and we make it our mission to help them fall in love with reading. (That first link is a blog post that includes a free download of Series books organized by level so that you can match readers to series they CAN READ and ENJOY.)

✔ We help all readers match themselves to books they can read and want to read by teaching them to read "just right books." We know that a focus on time spent reading just right books helps children improve and grow as readers.

✔ We build a community of readers who have learned to love books and can sustain silent reading. Along with this, we also build in accountability for our reading expectations. (One way I do this is through "Status of the Class" share-outs each morning.)

✔ We help our students develop stamina to read for longer stretches of time.

✔ We help our students grow and see their growth as readers--whether in fluency, stamina, a love of reading, being able to choose a book, learning how to make inferences, describing characters, or tackling nonfiction texts! #growthmindset is our test-prepping jam!

✔ We intervene with research-based strategies AND instinct to try to help students who are not reading on grade-level. These include all the things we as classroom teachers do--after school tutoring (usually without pay), lunch bunch tutoring sessions, creating differentiated homework, and more!

✔ We differentiate our stations, classwork, guided reading groups, and word study groups to match the students' level and help them grow to higher levels.

✔ We fight for the kids who need modifications, 504 plans, interventions, IEP's, etc. so that they get what they need to get a fair chance at a year of learning and testing in their best environment. 

✔ We teach character traits and other academic vocabulary so that students have a better vocabulary for LIFE and when encountering words on the test. (Emoji-style character traits)

✔ We use exit-slips or reader response notebooks as informal assessments.

✔ We use student performance to know when to PIVOT our teaching and elaborate on our lessons so that our students are successful. 

✔ We are purposeful in incorporating “test talk” language when discussing or questioning students during read alouds, guided reading groups, and one-on-one conferences. We use similar language as our state tests when reading aloud and prompting students to discuss a story or text. Here are some examples: 
  • How did {the character} change in the story? 
  • What was the main idea of that {second paragraph}?
  • How does the title connect with the text?
  • What is the meaning of the word ____ as used in this sentence/paragraph/story? 
(My "Thinking Through Reading Tests" unit helps teachers and students bridge the gap from "what we've learned how to do with reading all year" to "how that applies to our end of grade test".)

✔ We pause when needed, whether the pacing guide says to or not. 

✔ We maintain a "sense of urgency" within our reading environment. We have no time for wasted time. When students are slacking at independent reading, we show them the math on how many minutes per day, per week, and per year they are losing that could help them become better readers. We make sure students know that focusing during reading time and honoring their reading lives is greatly important. 

✔ We vary the opportunities students have to respond to text so that they have many ways to demonstrate their comprehension (multiple choice, short answer, discussion, illustrations, graphic organizers), but we are purposeful about the use of the different methods.

✔ We have a way to document the learning in reading that has happened throughout the year so that it is a constant reminder of what students have learned and can be referred back to often throughout the year. We do this with frameworks like CAFE walls or Reading Minilesson Menu Boards, I can statements and bulletin boards, or anchor charts.

✔ We know the CRITICAL STANDARDS for our grade-level and are sure that we weave those throughout our year, ensuring that students receive multiple exposures and opportunities to master those literacy concepts. (Some examples might include identifying and supporting themes in literature, describing characters, noticing character changes, making inferences, and identifying main ideas.)

We encourage our students. I believe that teachers who continuously point out how much progress students have made and praise them for their efforts create students who are confident about reading and their skills to show their knowledge about it. We can appreciate the questions they ask during read alouds and guided reading groups, the observations and inferences they make about texts, and how eager they are to continue reading or listening to a read aloud. Encouragement and praise should happen all year long, not just during testing season. Kids who see that their teacher is confident in their knowledge and progress are much more willing to feel confident in themselves and take risks.

It's important that we are able to see our year-long reading instruction for what it is---more than a test score.

Your students' scores on a test ON ONE DAY OF THEIR LIVES should not diminish the hard work that you've encouraged them to put into learning to be better readers this year. It should not diminish your efforts either--the GOOD teaching you have done and the ways you have protected children from methods and madness that do not coincide with the way learners learn.

If you want to learn more about my approach to test prep and how I maintain an environment of normalcy all the while teaching my students to "think through reading tests," the blog posts below may be of interest to you:

→ Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?

→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style

→ How and Why to Have Students Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)

→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson and other Testing Tips

→ NEW!!! Reading Test Prep Minilessons (an overview and now included in the resource!)

You can also check out the full "Thinking Through Reading Tests" unit in my tpt store. (In March 2018, I added 14 pages of minilesson notes to the resource!)

I'll be publishing "Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Tests--Math Edition" soon, so stay tuned for that one!

Want to remind yourself of all of these AWESOME things you do for kids? Pin this post for later!
Good teachers prepare students for standardized reading tests all year long and in so many ways. It's not all about the drill and kill reading test prep in the best classrooms. This blog post celebrates all you have done in your readers workshop and includes ideas and strategies for how you can support your students to grow as readers ALL YEAR LONG. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, read and enjoy!

Interactive Activities and Ideas for Your Science Word Wall

Looking for ideas that will take your science word wall from classroom decor to WOW OH WOW WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THIS SOONER?!?! I have some ideas for using your word wall for more than a wall of posted vocabulary terms. I hope you find some you love and if you have some ideas I haven't thought of, I'd love for you to share in the comments!
Looking for ideas and activities to make your science word wall more interactive and engaging? Hlep your students master their content area vocabulary with these fun word wall ideas, games, and activities. Use your word wall for introducing your science unit and reviewing key science vocabulary! Your upper elementary, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students will LOVE these ideas and get so excited with science as you put these science vocabulary activities into your routine!
I've included word wall activities to use at the beginning of a unit. I believe activities like these engaging word wall ideas "prime the pump" for students to pay more attention when they hear and use the words during our science activities later on. And, after a few days of these activities and discussions, none of my students can continue to stay at a "level 1" exposure for our vocabulary terms.

I've also included word wall activities that are strategies for reviewing vocabulary terms. Not only do I think it's important to give students multiple exposures to the words that they are expected to learn for a unit, I believe ensuring they truly master the terms and can come up with them verbally and use them in spoken and written communication about a topic, content-area vocabulary mastery is critical to their current and future success in school. I've written more about why vocabulary instruction is important and how to identify the terms that require direct-instruction in this blog post if you want to learn more.

As for now, let's get on with those engaging ideas for your content-area word walls that you can implement right away!

1) Play a game of “4 Corners” using the 4 Word Knowledge Continuum posters 


Looking for ideas and activities to make your science word wall more interactive and engaging? Hlep your students master their content area vocabulary with these fun word wall ideas, games, and activities. Use your word wall for introducing your science unit and reviewing key science vocabulary! Your upper elementary, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students will LOVE these ideas and get so excited with science as you put these science vocabulary activities into your routine!
I like to play a Word Knowledge 4-Corners activity as on one of the first days of starting a new unit.
  • Post four Word Knowledge continuum cards in each corner of your classroom.
  1. Level 1: This word is totally new to me. 
  2. Level 2: I've heard or seen this word before, but I'm not sure what it means.
  3. Level 3: I know one definition or could use the word in a sentence. 
  4. Level 4: I know many ways this word can be used, can explain the word, and can give examples.
  • Call out the vocabulary words 1 by one and allow students to move to the corner of the room that describes how comfortable and knowledgeable they are of the vocabulary term. I use a bell to quiet them and signal to let them know I am about to call out a new word. We try to play this game silently! 

2) Create a Class “Word Knowledge Continuum” Bulletin Board

Looking for ideas and activities to make your science word wall more interactive and engaging? Hlep your students master their content area vocabulary with these fun word wall ideas, games, and activities. Use your word wall for introducing your science unit and reviewing key science vocabulary! Your upper elementary, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students will LOVE these ideas and get so excited with science as you put these science vocabulary activities into your routine!
  • Prepare a bulletin board with 4 columns using the Word Knowledge Continuum Cards.
  • Using the vocabulary words from your science word wall, post each word under the level of comfort demonstrated by a majority of students. I typically place the word on the lower end of the spectrum when I'm just launching a unit so that everyone feels like they have the opportunity to grow.
  • THROUGHOUT YOUR UNIT, return to your bulletin board to discuss and move any vocabulary terms that students have become more comfortable with. (Building this reflection into your closure routines is a great idea as you can move cards after you’ve taught a lesson AND the board can show you and students what they have left to learn more about.)
  • Students can also keep a personal list of these words and move them to different categories as their comfort level grows. 

3) CATEGORIZE/Group and LABEL

Looking for ideas and activities to make your science word wall more interactive and engaging? Hlep your students master their content area vocabulary with these fun word wall ideas, games, and activities. Use your word wall for introducing your science unit and reviewing key science vocabulary! Your upper elementary, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students will LOVE these ideas and get so excited with science as you put these science vocabulary activities into your routine!
  • You can shrink your science word wall vocabulary cards down to smaller sizes by printing 4-8 to a page so that students can have a personal set for activities like "Categorize and Label." 
  • In Categorize and Label, students discuss which words they think belong together and decide on a label/title to name the group of words. This can be done independently, in small groups, or whole group. (Personally, I like to have students think about the words independently, then discuss their groupings with a partner, and then we work together to create a class categorize and label display.)
  • If you do this activity at the beginning of a unit, I recommend allowing students to “misplace” words without telling them the right answers. As the unit goes on, refer back to the "categories and labels" groupings again and again, encouraging students to discuss any changes that need to be made.
  • I put magnets on the back of my word wall words so that it is easy to move them throughout the unit. This is nice if you have some whiteboard space to spare!
  • To make this activity even more engaging and MOVEMENT friendly, you can give each student a word and allow them to move around the room, silently grouping themselves. From this activity, I can quickly tack their groupings to a bulletin board.

4) Create Graphic Organizers/Word Relationship Maps


Have students create TACTILE vocabulary maps/graphic organizers to demonstrate the meaning and relationship between the vocabulary terms. This activity is similar to "Categorize and Label" in that students have to think about the meanings of the words and how the words for the topic fit together, but I'm sure you can guess that the Word Relationship/Graphic Organizers will require students to have more knowledge of the words.

This is a great activity to do towards the middle of a unit. It will allow you to see misconceptions students may have. I highly recommend having students do this activity in partners so that they have to discuss the organization of their graphic organizer. In addition, during all of these activities, I expect and encourage students to SAY the vocabulary words. Help them correct their pronunciation and ability to sound out the words. This will help with recognizing the word in the future and their ability to acquire the words as part of their own language resources.

  • Again, you can print the word wall cards in gray scale and multiple sheets on a page to shrink them down. I really like the size of 16 on a page (4x4) printed in portrait layout. This makes the cards a great size for students to construct graphic organizers that are manageable and can be glued to a poster board, chart paper, or in science notebooks.
  • Having students create a blank copy/"worksheet" to switch with another group is another fun way to extend the graphic organizer activity. The other student group can fill-in with the vocabulary terms and then discuss their answers with those who created the graphic organizer. Perhaps you place these in a slip cover and students can write on the sheets with an expo marker. Can you hear the collaboration and "students teaching students" that would ensue?!?! You can have students switch as much as you have time for!

5) Play WORD SWAT


Looking for ideas and activities to make your science word wall more interactive and engaging? Hlep your students master their content area vocabulary with these fun word wall ideas, games, and activities. Use your word wall for introducing your science unit and reviewing key science vocabulary! Your upper elementary, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students will LOVE these ideas and get so excited with science as you put these science vocabulary activities into your routine!
  • Create teams of students.
  • Place 4-9 vocabulary words on your whiteboard. Give two students a fly swatter. (You can use your science word wall cards or just write the words on the board).
  • Describe one of the words using examples and/or classroom experiences. Students try to be the first to “swat” the correct vocabulary word.
  • Use WHITEBOARDS for a modification of this game to allow ALL students to be involved. Students can write the word being described on their whiteboard.
  • After a vocabulary word has been used, you can remove it and replace it with another word.

6) Play Games like HEADBANDS

  • Print the vocabulary word wall cards 4 to a page on card stock.
  • Give each student one card face down and tell them that they may NOT look at the card.
  • Students hold the card up to their forehead (you may also find rubber-band headbands at the dollar store that are perfect for allowing students to attach the card to their heads).
  • As students rotate the room, you can give them a few rules:
  1. You may only receive 1 clue from each person you speak to
  2. You may only ask YES/NO questions about your word
** Students should be directed NOT to say the VOCABULARY WORD or the DEFINITION in their descriptions.

7) Student-Created Fill in the Blanks/Clues : 


  • Have students create fill in the blanks, riddles, or clues for one of the word wall words. (You can assign or allow students to choose). You can use these in a variety of ways:
  • At the start or end of each class, read a few clues and allow students to guess.
  • Create a Jeopardy type game with the clues.
  • Number each clue and use for a “scoot”/task card activity (great for review!). You can even type up the clues (or have students type them into a shared google doc) if you have time!

8) Laser Time!


Looking for ideas and activities to make your science word wall more interactive and engaging? Hlep your students master their content area vocabulary with these fun word wall ideas, games, and activities. Use your word wall for introducing your science unit and reviewing key science vocabulary! Your upper elementary, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students will LOVE these ideas and get so excited with science as you put these science vocabulary activities into your routine!
  • Give students finger lasers or flashlights and turn the lights off.
  • Describe words from your word wall using classroom experiences, examples, and clues.
  • Students try to shine the light on the correct term.
  • You could play this activity with each student having a light or in small groups so that students have to work together and it can be more of a competition where you can keep score for the group that identifies the words first.
WHAT ACTIVITIES DO YOU USE TO MAKE YOUR CONTENT-AREA VOCABULARY WALLS MORE ENGAGING? I'm looking for more! I believe we can do a lot more than hang these words on the wall in our classrooms! Share in the comments to help other teachers!

In need of the science vocabulary "Word Wall" work already done for you? I've created science word walls for the following topics:

Force, Motion, and Simple Machines

Weather, Weather Tools, and Clouds

Weathering, Erosion, and Plate Tectonics

Rocks and Minerals

Ecosystems and Biomes

Phases of the Moon

Conservation of Energy and Phases of Matter

In addition, I've also put the Science Word Walls and Vocabulary Mats/Study Slips into a helpful bundle that allows you to streamline your science vocabulary activities and strategies for student mastery. You can learn more about vocabulary mats in this blog post or check out the resources below. (The bundles also includes quizzes in two formats---multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank!)

Force, Motion, and Simple Machines BUNDLE

Weather, Weather Tools, and Clouds BUNDLE

Weathering, Erosion, and Plate Tectonics BUNDLE

Rocks and Minerals BUNDLE

Ecosystems and Biomes BUNDLE

Phases of the Moon BUNDLE

Conservation of Energy and Phases of Matter BUNDLE

Don't want to forget these ideas and activities for your science word wall? Pin it for later!

Looking for ideas and activities to make your science word wall more interactive and engaging? Hlep your students master their content area vocabulary with these fun word wall ideas, games, and activities. Use your word wall for introducing your science unit and reviewing key science vocabulary! Your upper elementary, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and middle school students will LOVE these ideas and get so excited with science as you put these science vocabulary activities into your routine!


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