Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher
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Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests: Honoring Your Teaching Style

In my last post, I discussed my reading test prep attitude and the testing truths that infiltrate my classroom during testing season. If you are looking for a better way to prepare your students for standardized reading tests, I hope I share one with you today.
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!
Through readers workshop style minilessons, I believe that you can maintain the integrity of your classroom environment, climate, and student engagement while also ensuring that students are prepared for testing day.

You've undoubtedly spent most of your year helping your students increase stamina, fluency, word attack skills, and their ability to navigate nonfiction and think about literature.

If you've spent your year engaging your students in hands-on, inquiry based learning, working with partners, and discussing ideas in small groups, it can feel really forced to just move on to reading a bunch of passages and answering questions in the name of "test prep."

I believe that spending the last month or two before "the test" having students read passage after passage is not the same as teaching students concrete strategies for understanding and doing better on standardized reading tests.

ABOUT OUR STATE TEST

In North Carolina, our ELA/Reading test typically has 8 passages that students read. All questions are multiple choice. Students can expect to read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. We refer to it as the EOG (End of Grade test). If you want to see some released examples, you can find them here.

HOW I GET STARTED:
My test taking strategies framework for reading  is one of those "I can't remember what I did before this" routines.

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.

I learned a lot by reading the book Test Talk: Integrating Test Preparation into the Reading Workshop by Amy H. Greene and Glennon Doyle Melton. The approach described in Test Talk really aligned with the way I had learned to teach writing techniques with an inquiry-based approach where you guide students to notice how the text is put together, make a theory for why it is done this way, name it (so that you can capture its essence and talk about it), and connect it to other texts that you know of . {This structure is the foundation of the writing instruction approach described in Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray}.

Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!
When I launch my "Thinking Through Reading Tests" unit, my first task is to elicit students current feelings and memories about state testing in general. I have students jot down reflections on sticky notes or index cards quite a bit during testing season. I keep these for reference and notify the parents of any students who seem to be exhibiting unhealthy anxiety.

In my first discussion about testing and as we are getting closer to testing week, I want to take students' temperature. I want to be aware of any negative feelings (so I can patiently squash them and make students feel more confident) and I want to be aware of any anxiety that may be keeping students up at night.  


READING TESTS AS A GENRE

Many classrooms sequence their reading instruction with genre based units that build on one another. When testing season rolls around, I prepare myself to help students see testing as a "type of text" and another genre that we will read this year. Our job is to learn how our state test is put together.

When I launch my "Test Talk" test prep unit for taking ELA/Reading tests, my students and I turn our attention to understanding how our reading test is designed, learning what types of questions we can expect for different kinds of passages, and training our brains to remember to do what we know how to do (aka USE OUR STRATEGIES!).

I use a minilesson framework that helps myself and students keep track of and refer back to our test-taking strategies.

The framework helps me take what students already know how to do from our regular reading lessons to why that strategy or way of thinking will be important and helpful on the reading EOG. We discuss how and why they use certain strategies/skills when reading books of their choice and then apply the strategy to test taking.

To visually represent my minilessons, I have created a "Test-Prep" Minilessons Bulletin Board framework that helps us keep track of the discussions and tips for using each strategy. We build this bulletin board together during each "test-prep" minilesson.
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!

I frame my minilessons much like my "how to think about our reading" lessons that I teach at the beginning of the year--with a B-D-A approach. We consider what strategies and behaviors we should use before, during, and after reading a reading test passage.


"BEFORE READING" Behaviors/Strategies
↗  PREVIEW the text (this includes activating prior knowledge and thinking about what the text will focus on)
↗  Figure out the GENRE
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!

"DURING READING" Behaviors/Strategies
↗  Jot Down Thoughts/Track Your 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
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!

"AFTER READING" Behaviors/Strategies
 ↗  Use labels to break the text into chunks (Beginning, Middle, End for fiction; add headers for nonfiction that has not been organized with subheadings)
↗   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!)
↗  REWORD the question if it can be simplified
↗  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)

For each of these strategies, we:
  • REVIEW or learn HOW we do each thing
  • Discuss WHY we've done this with books we want to read
  • Discuss WHY we should do this with reading test passages that we have to read
  • Discuss HOW the strategy/skill may need to be implemented a little differently when applied to reading tests

Let's follow through that line of thinking with an EXAMPLE: 


One thing we should always do when we start to read a book is PREVIEW THE TEXT.

1) How do we do this with a book we want to read?
  • We read the title and any information on the front of the book. We read the summary on the back of the book or on the book jacket. We look for any little "extras" the author has included (a preface, historical information, pictures, etc) and take a look at those. 
  • See how long the text/chapters are going to be.
  • We think about what the book is going to teach us or what the story might be about.
  • We figure out how the text is organized--chapters? subheadings? sections? can we tell if it is sequential or in a step by step order?
2) Why should we do this with a book we want to read?
  • Doing a quality preview of a text helps us set expectations for what we are going to read. It also helps us prepare our mind for the topic and may make it easier for us to read the text because parts of it will already be familiar to us.
  • We also use what we have gathered from our preview to try to figure out the genre. Figuring out the genre helps us set expectations for what we are about to read! 

3) Why should we do this with a passage that we have to read?
  • Jumping into our reading without previewing is like jumping off of a building without a parachute--you might survive, but you could have been WAY more prepared for what you were about to do! 
  • Previewing helps us PREPARE for what we are about to read, learn, and be required to think about. It helps you make predictions about the text.
  • Previewing also helps us move on from a passage we just read to the new passage we are about to read.
4) How might we do this differently on a test passage? 
  • Sometimes you may  only have the title and the length of the passage available to preview. Try to look for dialogue, subheadings, or any other information that will help you learn what the text is going to be about.
  • You may have to rely more on the title of the text. Think about different things the title could mean and perhaps preview by reading the first paragraph and skimming through the rest of the the passage to get a better idea of the topic/content.
  • Does your standardized tests give students an introductory snippet? Ours used to, but it no longer does this on all of the passages. We used to have to teach students not to skip over that important information.

Note: I do not recommend that students read ALL of the questions for a passage as a previewing strategy.  I have found that for struggling readers this does 1 or 2 things--makes the test taking process longer for them and/or insinuates that their job is more focused on answering the questions than understanding the text. I preach to my students that their job is to UNDERSTAND THE TEXT. Answering questions about it is just part of what they have to do.

Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!However, if students ask if they should read the questions first, we discuss why they feel they might want to do this. ("Because last year's teacher told us to" is not an acceptable answer ;). )

I let students know that I will be teaching them two ways to think through the test questions and I share with them my reasons for NOT enforcing a "read the questions first" strategy. If students really want to use it as a strategy and feel it is helpful, I recommend that they only read 2-3 of the questions because they don't need to be trying to hold all of the questions in their minds.

I believe that you can honor your teaching style while preparing students to do their best on the reading test. During my test-prep unit, students still read their independent books and I still confer with them about their reading.

Yes, my students eventually work on reading some passages independently, but it happens much later than in most classrooms and after a lot of ground work for what the expectations are and how they can help themselves be successful has been laid.

Before we jump in to reading passages and answering questions, my students have "discovered" how a test is put together with me as their guide. This allows students a much greater opportunity to internalize test prep strategies and increases their mental engagement more so than simply telling them about the test and what they should expect.

I've got a few more reading test prep posts that I plan to share with you over the next few weeks. I know this is on many teacher's brains as they prepare for the remainder of the year and I want to share all that I know about doing test prep in a manner that "feels right" and helps students.

Make Sure You Haven't Missed Anything and Stay Tuned for these Upcoming Posts
Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
→ How and Why to Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
→ Two Methods for Thinking Through and Answering Reading Questions
→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson

Grab the materials to make implementing this multiple choice/standardized reading test-prep framework easy!
 Thinking Through Reading Tests test prep framework for 3rd 4th 5th 6th grade

Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?

It seems that testing season is just around the corner. Honestly, I hope you have another month before you begin teaching test prep strategies and working on reading passages with your students, but I know that many classrooms are already beginning to turn their focus toward end of grade testing.
3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, test prep and standardized testing season is right around the corner. I believe we can honor our teaching beliefs and style while still teaching our students strategies for taking state ELA/reading tests. Before we get going with our test preparation, let's make sure our attitudes are not broken.
If you are looking towards that season in your classroom with a little bit of dread (or this is your first year administering an end of year test), I hope I offer you some solutions, ideas, and activities that will be valuable for your students in my next few blog posts.

Today's post is focused on attitude. 

Your first job is to get YOUR test-prep attitude in the right state of mind. {As you know, attitude is everything!}

First, we all know that DRILL and KILL is not effective and it is really NOT developmentally appropriate for students of any age to sit for long periods of time reading passage after passage after passage answering question after question after question. This is a sure-fire way to have your students tune out when you need them to be engaged the most!

Students have to do this on testing day, but we can prepare them for testing without putting them through hours of dread every day until the test in the name of "test preparation."

If you've read about my approach to reading instruction and how I help my students build a reading life, my attitude and approach towards End of Grade testing shouldn't surprise you in the least.

However, I do want to say that no one really taught me a better way to prep my students for testing and maybe you have not been exposed to a better approach towards test prep either. Please don't take my words as judging. Testing and the expectations from our school leaders, district, and state departments put us all in tough positions when it comes to testing.

But, you know I believe we all are a part of the #changemakers movement, so we can do this and we can do it BETTER!

Make this your mantra: Reading passage after passage IS NOT TEACHING STUDENTS STRATEGIES FOR TAKING THE TEST. 

I want to encourage you to find another way. 

My first job as a test administrator and a classroom teacher is to ensure that the attitude around the test remains positive. I believe that children are very impressionable and look at us to show them the way. If our test-prep attitudes are broken, our students will mirror that.

Let's make sure our students mirror our positivity towards those things that we must do and that we spend our test-prep time helping them feel knowledgeable and confident towards the test.

These are "testing truths" in my classroom:
  • State testing is not something we are trying to survive. A survival attitude sends the message that something is being done to us. It sends the message that if we do not pass, we did not survive. It also sends the message that the test is just something we are trying to get through. Is that how you want your students to take "THE TEST" on testing day?
  • Students do not need to "GET USED TO" the real EOG. We WILL NOT TAKE A LONG PRACTICE EOG a few weeks before the REAL EOG. No one needs to learn to "get used to" sitting for 3-4 hours without a snack or drink of water. Really, what's the point? Should a marathon runner run a full marathon before their scheduled race? This article says no
  • I have built a community of readersMy students are wild readers. They have been wild readers all year. We have had sustained silent reading daily. (That was their "preparation," by the way.) They have developed stamina and a strong relationship with books and texts. Because of this strong relationship, they have grown as readers. EVERY SINGLE CHILD in my classroom has grown as a reader--I tell them all this and you should tell your students too! (Isn't that right, kids? Aren't you a better reader today than you were in August?) Therefore, every single one of us has already shown growth--whether in fluency, stamina, a love of reading, being able to choose a book or learning how to make inferences, describe characters and tackle nonfiction texts. Every single one of us will try to have the same attitude about the reading passages that we do towards our own books.
  • I teach my students that they should approach the test with a "What do I get to read about today?" attitude. They can actually be excited about the test. (Okay, I know not overly excited because, well, testing, but I definitely encourage students to think in their mind "What do I get to read about today?" on the day of testing.) 
  • Groaning about test prep (having to reading passages and answer questions, etc) is not acceptable. Just like with any other classroom assignment, I have made the decision that it's what's best for us to do at that time. Complaining is not allowed, it's not helpful, it's not productive.
On the pressure of being "the" teacher during testing season
3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, test prep and standardized testing season is right around the corner. I believe we can honor our teaching beliefs and style while still teaching our students strategies for taking state ELA/reading tests. Before we get going with our test preparation, let's make sure our attitudes are not broken.
I've always tried really hard to diffuse my stress towards state testing. It can be really hard. I know I've almost hyperventilated plenty of times when I've discovered my students forgot how to do something in math or they seemed to be incapable of completing their work with carefulness and accuracy.

I know that having some wine on hand is a must during this season. So is going out to dinner with friends and not taking too much work home. You need to take care of yourself and your stress level during this season.

Here's the real reason why, though--if you are stressed about testing, I truly believe it will be hard to hide that tension from your students. And, we really don't want students to sense that testing is stressful to us when we are trying to encourage them to "chill-out."

I always tell my students,
"Your teacher is not stressed. She knows you are going to do well. You should not be stressed either. We have worked hard all year and we are going to do the same on these tests."
Now, if I'm saying that, I have to ACT like I'm not stressed. And what's the easy way to act unstressed? You got it--BE unstressed!


In my next post, I'm going to show you strategies for preparing your students for standardized reading tests that will allow you to honor your reader's workshop style of teaching, encourage student inquiry and collaborative learning, and keep testing from being something that is "done" to kids.

Make Sure You Haven't Missed Anything and Stay Tuned for these Upcoming Posts
→ Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
→ How and Why to Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
→ Two Methods for Thinking Through and Answering Reading Questions
→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson

Grab the materials to make implementing this multiple choice/standardized reading test-prep framework easy!
 Reading Test Prep framework for standardized reading tests for 3rd 4th 5th 6th grade

Upper Elementary Morning Meetings: Compassion Theme

How do we teach our students to become more compassionate towards others? Today I'm sharing with you some of the lessons and ideas I've used in my upper elementary morning meetings during my compassion theme unit. These activities have helped me have conversations with my 4th and 5th grade students about compassion, empathy, and ways that we can show more concern for others.

If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.

I think it is so important to teach students to think outside of themselves, to become more aware of the needs and feelings of others, and to be able to relate to others on a deeper level. This endeavor is one of many reasons why I devote time to Community Meetings.

Not only can I impact students personally and socially, I am able to teach many of my literacy standards through theme-based morning meeting routines. Read on to find out how I focus on compassion.

First, introduce the theme topic and definition:
To launch my Compassion-focused Morning Meeting Theme Lessons, I define compassion for students as "having understanding or empathy for the suffering of others." From the Latin language, compassion means "co-suffering."

Read Aloud Each Kindness
Next, I read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson as my key read aloud. Most likely, my students have already been exposed to this book during my "kindness" themed morning meeting lessons.

If you are unfamiliar with Each Kindness, you are going to want to grab a copy for your class. If you've ever read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, it has almost the same story line but in a picturebook format.

In Each KindnessChloe and her friends refuse to play with the new girl, Maya. Maya reaches out to Chloe's group again and again at recess and in the classroom trying to befriend the girls. We can tell from the author's details and the descriptions that Maya is poor and does not have proper winter clothes or ever wear new clothes. The girl's jokingly nickname Maya "never new." Abruptly, Maya moves again. Chloe is left with the guilt of knowing that Maya was lonely and trying to make new friends and that she continually pushed Maya away.

Although Each Kindness is a story about kindness, I think it's really more about having compassion and the consequences and guilt that are associated with not doing what is right and not having compassion for another human being.

How I turn this read aloud from Kindness-Focused to Compassion-Focused:

I like for each of my morning meeting read alouds to have a few key questions that get to the heart of what I want to discuss with students. For Each Kindness, we delve into the following key question:

How would this story be different if Chloe or her friends had demonstrated empathy and compassion? (Students jot their thoughts in their community meeting notebooks and then we discuss their ideas).

We focus on the quotation "Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering." I ask students:
If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.
  • Did Chloe and her friends see that Maya was suffering?
  • Did they care that she was suffering?
  • What kept them from feeling compassion towards Maya instead of pushing her away?

Rewrite the Story with more Compassion {Day 2}
During our next morning meeting lesson, I put students into groups of three and have them revise parts of the story with Chloe showing more compassion towards Maya.
If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.
I choose four pages of the book where I thought Chloe was the least compassionate. As students discuss the story's events more deeply and collaborate to rewrite a few scenes in the story, they get closer to the details of the text, the way Chloe treated Maya, and Maya's emotional responses as she tried to reach out. I think this rewriting activity really helps students "walk in the character's shoes" and realize that although Chloe was never outright mean or even bullying Maya, she was also never kind and never showed compassion for Maya's situation.

To close up this lesson, I allow students to share their rewrites of the story with the rest of the class. You can do this through a quick gallery walk, too!

If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.Morning Meeting Discussions to Deepen Understanding {Day 3}
Now that students have a deeper understanding of compassion, I use my whole-group discussion journal page to have students brainstorm a few ideas about compassion. They focus on:
  • Ways We Can be More Compassionate
  • Verbalizing Why it is Important to try to Understand Others
  • How Being More Compassionate Can Improve our World
  • Create an illustration to represent compassion
I choose 1-2 of the journal prompts to discuss in whole group and create an anchor chart for. With this anchor chart, we can keep adding big ideas as we discuss the topic. At this point, I like to set a shared compassion goal as a class and have students set a personal goal for being more compassionate. {They have another journal sheet for this where they can record their goal for the week and reflect on at the end of the week.}

If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.I also love that at anytime, I can pull this anchor chart back out and have students reflect on previously learned themes.

Compassion and kindness are not topics that I can just talk about for a few days and then expect students to perfectly behave with compassion. I like to spiral back to these themes during my morning meeting again and again. As a follow up question for a later meeting, you could ask "Has anyone found a new way to show more compassion? to be more compassionate?"

Build the theme with Additional Read Alouds, Video Resources, and Related Songs {Days 4-5+}
After introducing a morning meeting theme, I like to continue building the theme with additional read alouds and any online video resources I can find.

Other great read alouds to use in your Upper-Elementary Morning Meeting Compassion Themed Unit:
1) A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead

This video from Dr. Brene Brown is SO PERFECT and illustrative! However, it was created for adults and at 1 minute 56 seconds, it mentions miscarriage and divorce. If you can play up until that point, students can relate to the comparison of empathy versus sympathy. Students will even get a lot of benefit from watching the video without the narration. At the end, she has a perfect response when you don’t know what to say to someone’s situation, “I don’t even know what to say, but I’m so glad you told me.” You may want to fast-forward a few seconds and let students watch the end. Preview this video to see if it works for your needs, but I just could not leave it off of the suggested ideas list!

I also LOVE to use songs during my morning meeting lessons when I am able to. I think Bill Withers' Lean on Me is the ULTIMATE theme song for compassion! You know your students will be singing and humming along in no time and sharing the song together really creates a bond in the classroom. You can discuss how the song relates to compassion by having students write a quick text to text response (perhaps comparing the song with the definition for compassion) or by pulling out examples that shows the singer is compassionate towards their friends.

Incorporate Quotation Analysis into your Discussions! {Last day of theme reflections}

 Morning Meeting Compassion Theme SetI'm also a quotation lover and always incorporate at least two key quotations and some quotation analysis lessons into my morning meeting plans. The quotations, "Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." and "You never really understand a person..." from To Kill a Mockingbird are two of my favorites for this theme unit.

Responding to a quotation is the PERFECT way to close up your theme study before you move on to your next theme. I LOVE using a response to quotation as a reflection and assessment opportunity to see how much students have thought about and learned during our compassion-themed discussions.

These quotation reflections can also offer you some insight into what themes you should plan to teach next and what ideas you want to come back to as you spiral back with similar themes like kindness, belonging, accepting others, etc.

Want more ideas? 
 Compassion Themed Morning Meeting Lessons for an Upper Elementary Morning Meeting Routine
If you are looking for other ideas and activities to spark discussions with your students about compassion and to encourage them to find ways to be more compassionate, I have additional ideas in my Upper Elementary Morning Meeting Made Easy compassion theme set. You can compare and contrast the words "empathy" and "sympathy," create a recipe for compassion, generate compassion synonyms (and discuss their nuances), and more!

This theme set also includes key vocabulary and materials for creating your own morning meeting theme bulletin board display, student journal pages, and more video and resource links to help you plan for your compassion theme unit.

If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.
I highly recommend getting this theme in the bundle that includes 4 other themes: belonging, kindness, conflict resolution, and perseverance theme materials, but you can click here if you just want to grab the compassion theme set.

Can't get enough of literature theme-based Upper Elementary Morning Meeting Ideas? {Believe me, I'm with you!}

I've written a few other blog posts about my morning meeting lesson plans that you may also be interested in:
Integrity
Belonging

And if you are just getting started with morning meetings, I highly recommend reading these posts:
Why I Devote time to Community Meetings
4 Reasons I LOVE a Theme-Based Morning Meeting
Ideas for What to Do if you Feel like You Can't Squeeze in a Morning Meeting

If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.

If you plan to do upper elementary morning meetings in your classroom, you're going to love the ideas presented in this post! Your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students will be exposed to a literature-rich environment that encourages personal improvement, character development, community building, teaching themes in literature and ELA skills. Suggested read alouds/books, materials, and activities will engage your students in compassion related lessons. Used by classroom teachers or counselors to promote character education.

How to Modify and Differentiate your Word Study Routine

In January, I wrote a quick little blog series about my Word Study Activities and Routines and how I use Words Their Way. I could {obviously} talk about word study forever and I found that there was another aspect of word study that I'd like to share more about.
Are you hoping to tweak your word study routines to better meet your students' needs? I've got a few modifications, suggestions, tips, and ideas for differentiation in your Words Their Way word study activities. Those lower and higher spellers often need something a little different and these ideas are useful for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms. Plus a link to a FREE word study resource!
If you have not read about my word study routine, I highly recommend reading that post first. The main activities I incorporate into word study are 1) "blind" word searches, 2) spelling city or other word study games, 3) meeting with the teacher to sort words, review word patterns, practice spelling, and discuss unknown words, and 4) "blind" assessment.

Although my average/middle groups of spellers don't need many modifications from the schedule that I shared with you, I've always done things a little differently for my lowest spellers and my highest spellers. You can probably see some of the differentiation steps I take for them in the schedule below:
Are you hoping to tweak your word study routines to better meet your students' needs? I've got a few modifications, suggestions, tips, and ideas for differentiation in your Words Their Way word study activities. Those lower and higher spellers often need something a little different and these ideas are useful for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms. Plus a link to a FREE word study resource!

3 Ways I Modify For my Letter-Name Alphabetic Spellers

Yes, even as a 4th and 5th grade teacher, I always had a small group of students in the Letter-Name group. Students in this group were also my struggling readers and needed a lot of basic spelling work and help making sure they could read the words correctly.

Here are some tips for how I further modify their word study routine:
I've found that my lower groups just need practice, practice, practice, and immediate feedback in order to improve their spelling {aka--more one on one attention}.
  • I always schedule a "meet with the teacher" day with them before their "word search day." This gives them exposure to the word patterns they will be working with and hopefully a boost of confidence as they search for their words the following day.

  • When these kiddos meet with me, I give them a white board, marker, and eraser and fire off words from the list they are on and from previous lists. We often have to focus on short sounds vs long sounds, words with double vowel patterns, and making sure we have represented all of the sounds found in the words. I want the time I spend with this group to be focused on spelling and immediate feedback. If students miss a word, I am sure to throw in another word with the same letter pattern later on in the meeting.

  • As often as possible, I try to pull in compound words that still fit the patterns these students are studying. Compound words are often made up of two words that follow regular spelling patterns (hotdog, pancake, birthday, etc.) This allows students to practice DOUBLE the words and will allow them to feel like they are working on words just as large as other groups in the class. This is a great way to boost confidence for a group that can become stigmatized. {You can even make coming up with compound words part of your meeting activities! How fun!}
Extension Activities for the Derivational Relations Spellers

Students who fall into the Derivational Relations Spellers (the blue group) are my best spellers. After years of using the Words Their Way Word Sort books with these students and incorporating my word searches, I still felt that the Derivational Relations Group needed a little something more for their word study activities.

Students who fall into the Derivational Relations Spellers group can often spell the words provided in their sorts with much ease. Typically, these students also find it easy to quickly attain word meanings and spellings for new words. Their word study assignments become more about learning word meanings and word etymology (the study of the history of words their origin). It's also important that they spend time connecting the words they are studying to other words in the English language.

In the past, I have had this group complete Frayer Model-type activities (pick 10 words, record synonyms, draw an illustration, make a personal connect, write a definition or a sentence, generate other words that contain the word part, etc). and create crossword puzzles for others in their group to complete as extension activities.

However, these default activities never felt organized or worthwhile enough, and quite frankly, I never gave this group enough attention or oversight.

So a few years ago, I finally decided I wanted to get ahead of the game and have individual extension activities that made sense for each of the Derivational Relations Units. I felt like word study notebook activities would give this group more structure as they completed extension activities and as I met with them to extend their learning about the words they were studying.

Extend the learning for your higher, gifted spellers with the Derivational Relations Spellers notebooking and extension activities. These are a great modification to your word study routine and activities that allow you to differentiate for your 4th, 5th, and 6th grade spellers.

These Word Study Notebook Activity sheets for each sort in the Derivational Relations Spellers book have students analyzing spellings, sound changes, and the meanings of their word study words.

The activities are designed for independent exploration and reinforcement of concepts that are embedded in the unit of study. However, these activities could also be used to guide your small group lessons with this group.

As a side note, I also think that the Derivational Relations Spellers sorts would be perfect for 5th-6th grade as a whole-class vocabulary/word study program combined with differentiated spelling/word study. 4th and 5th grade teachers could use these activities during whole-group language lessons to expose students to prefixes, suffixes, and Greek and Latin roots--the main focus of the blue book.

Based on the level of difficulty of the activity pages and how progressed your students are with being “independent thinkers,” you may choose to have them complete some of the sheets independently and save others for their small group meeting with the teacher. These sheets can also be completed in partners.

To plan for this group, you can specify how you want the activities completed prior to students beginning the set of activities for each sort. Allowing students to work in partners at the beginning of a unit (say the first and second sorts in the unit) and then expecting students to complete later activities in the unit independently is another way you can provide extra support and scaffolding. I like to have students pair up and share their work after they complete the activities.

Since these students have an entirely different assignment to incorporate into their word study routine, you will notice that their activities (on the schedule) are different. 

My derivational relations group still starts with a "blind word search" activity to launch a new word list (this means that they do not receive a copy of the word list and must "blindly" search for correctly spelled words in the word search). This group spends day 1 and day 2 working on their word searches.

For their next two word study blocks, they work on the Derivational Relations Notebook Activities to extend their understanding of the words they have discovered. 

On the last day of their word study routine, I meet with this group. This meeting provides an opportunity for us to go over activities that students had difficulty with and to reinforce specific word study concepts based on the word list students are working on. I may also have saved a word study notebook activity for us to work on in whole-group. 

 Words Their Way Derivational Relations Word Sort Activities and Notebooking FreebieIf you are interested in taking the Derivational Relations Activities for a test drive, I have shared Sorts 1 and 22  as a freebie.










I've also created a similar set of Word Study Notebook Activities for the Syllables and Affixes group. These are your mid-higher spellers who may also benefit from completing extension activities with their word study words.

Are you hoping to tweak your word study routines to better meet your students' needs? I've got a few modifications, suggestions, tips, and ideas for differentiation in your Words Their Way word study activities. Those lower and higher spellers often need something a little different and these ideas are useful for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms. Plus a link to a FREE word study resource!
Modifying the Word Search Routine with Younger-Grades Students

If you a younger-grades teacher who is adding word searches to your word study routine, you may modify the schedule entirely to have your "meet with the teacher day" before each group works on their word searches. This will allow you to expose students to their word sort before they begin searching for their words in the word search.

You could also give students a copy of their list of words to accompany them as they do their word search activity.

As students become more confident with the word search activity, you could phase this scaffolding out and reorganize your schedule so that you meet with them after they have attempted to find words --perhaps at the start of a new quarter. I also encourage you to consider giving them a few words from the list to get them started and then having them search for words with similar patterns. The word searches are a challenge for students at any level, but I have found that they grow more and more confident as they repeatedly complete this activity. 

If you have not purchased the Words Their Way Word Sorts books, I highly recommend checking them out. You can find each one here (Note: These are affiliate links to Amazon. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.):

Letter and Picture Sorts for Emergent Spellers
Word Sorts for Letter-Name Alphabetic Spellers
Word Sorts for Within Word Pattern Spellers
Word Sorts for Syllables and Affixes Spellers
Word Sorts for Derivational Relations Spellers

If you can't get enough of thinking about how to improve your word study instruction and routines, you might check out my other posts in the series: a 7 Day Overview of my Routineshow I really organize my schedule, and my best tips for managing word study and making the routines go even smoother!

This post outlines how to modify, differentiate, and extend your word study routine for your elementary classroom or homeschool. It's a great way to see exactly how to make word study with Words Their Way work in your classroom. Perfect for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade word study and spelling programs.

Integrity Themed Morning Meeting Resources for Character Development

Integrity can be defined as "the quality of being honest, adhering to strong principles and character." Today's post is here to help you find morning meeting resources for character development - specifically integrity.

Here is a set of FREE morning meeting resources for your upper elementary students. They'll learn about integrity, honesty, and protecting their reputation through the books, ideas, quotes, and more at this blog post. This freebie is great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Build a stronger classroom culture and a community of kindness with this download. You add the picture books and you have everything you need to get started!

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.

One quickly finds that our reputation is highly connected to our integrity, that the ways in which we choose to act make up what others think about us and what we think about ourselves.

I have used Morning Meetings/Community Meetings in my classroom as an avenue for having important conversations with my students about topics like these.

I've always felt that our greatest endeavor as human beings is to work hard to help our inner beliefs and character shine through on the outside and that's why I'm such an advocate of theme-based classroom meetings and taking the time to encourage social and emotional development in our students--even when it's not in the curriculum map. #SHUTYOURDOOR&TEACHtotheirHEARTS #igiveyoupermission

It can be so tough for a child to always have their actions match their intentions and their beliefs. Children's emotions are constantly out of whack, people are constantly telling them what to do. They may feel that they are constantly making mistakes, and quite a few upper-elementary students I've taught have also felt their reputation was already tarnished and that there was no point in making changes because other students wouldn't give them a chance to grow.

We are so fortunate that we have the daily opportunity to make an impact on impressionable young people. I know that many a teacher made an impression on me and made me believe that I could change the world and make a difference.

Today, as part of the #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths campaign on teacherspayteachers, I've teamed up with other sellers to provide FOREVER FREE resources that can make a positive impact on our future world and our students' lives. Many participants have included resources focused on Acts of Kindness, Civil Rights, empathy, and our nations constitutional and ethical ideals. You will find a plethora of wonderful free resources by checking out those two links.

I decided to make my INTEGRITY morning meeting resources theme set my forever freebie for this endeavor. Just like all of my other morning meeting theme sets, the free integrity-themed resources include related Quotations, Key Vocabulary, Lesson Ideas, and Student Journal Pages.

To launch my morning meeting theme, I always begin with a key read aloud. I LOVE Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna as my key read aloud for integrity, honesty, and discussions focused on reputations.

Other Good Read Alouds for an Integrity Theme:


1) Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco
2) A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting
3) The Empty Pot by Demi
4) Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
5) A Hen for Izzy Pippik by Aubrey Davis

Quotation analysis is another big part of my morning meeting routine. The following quotation is my FAVORITE from the set and gets at the relationship between integrity and reputation. I LOVE the ending, "the way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear."
Here is a set of FREE morning meeting resources for your upper elementary students. They'll learn about integrity, honesty, and protecting their reputation through the books, ideas, quotes, and more at this blog post. This freebie is great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Build a stronger classroom culture and a community of kindness with this download. You add the picture books and you have everything you need to get started!
One of the journal pages includes this quotation and questions to help students analyze the meaning of the quotation.
Here is a set of FREE morning meeting resources for your upper elementary students. They'll learn about integrity, honesty, and protecting their reputation through the books, ideas, quotes, and more at this blog post. This freebie is great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Build a stronger classroom culture and a community of kindness with this download. You add the picture books and you have everything you need to get started!
I also try to pull in music and other videos and sometimes I come across news articles that are perfect for sharing with students and adding to our discussion. 

I love sharing this article about Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Spanish runner who intentionally lost the race so his opponent, who was in the lead but fell down, could win. I like to have students discuss whether or not they would have made the same choice and what we can infer about Ivan based on his choice.  We relate his actions back to integrity and what kind of belief systems he must have to do something so courageous and selfless. 

I found this movement called “Because I said I would” whose mission is to
be a social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity. We make and keep promises to end suffering, establish peace and build happiness. Our mission is to strengthen humanity’s will. We created the“Promise Card” to help hold people accountable to their commitments. Make and keep a promise to improve yourself, your family or your community.


BISIW will even send you promise cards if you request them.

A fantastic extension of this mission and project would be to create a classroom book or individual cards where students make commitments to themselves and their classroom community. Just imagine all of the ideas they can come up with...B.I.S.I.W. be kind to a classmate who needs it; stand up to a bully; use a kind voice when speaking to classmates; apologize when my actions don't represent the person that I want to be.

I think an effort like BISIW in your classroom would help students be more courageous in their actions and act with more and more integrity! We can make being the kind of person who sticks to our commitments and our convictions #COOL in our classrooms! 

Another option would be to create general “because I said I would” cards together based on desired classroom behaviors, copy these cards as a set for each child as a reminder. Perhaps children can receive a “because I said I would“ card from the teacher or another student when caught doing the expected behaviors.

Additional Videos You May Like to Share with Your Students:
An Introduction to Because I said I Would
What is Integrity (at minute 5:59 this video talks about God as the ultimate example of a leader with integrity. Please PREVIEW THIS VIDEO before watching with students.)
A Life of Integrity (1 minute video)
Integrity for Students (1 minute description)

You can download all of the morning meeting resources, including a handy lesson ideas and teaching resources page, in the Integrity Journal Theme Set and the Integrity Bulletin Board Quotations and Vocabulary set for free. Just click on the images below!

Here is a set of FREE morning meeting resources for your upper elementary students. They'll learn about integrity, honesty, and protecting their reputation through the books, ideas, quotes, and more at this blog post. This freebie is great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Build a stronger classroom culture and a community of kindness with this download. You add the picture books and you have everything you need to get started!
Here is a set of FREE morning meeting resources for your upper elementary students. They'll learn about integrity, honesty, and protecting their reputation through the books, ideas, quotes, and more at this blog post. This freebie is great for your 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classroom or homeschool students. Build a stronger classroom culture and a community of kindness with this download. You add the picture books and you have everything you need to get started!








Check out these other amazing resources from participants in #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths.

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