Lesson Idea: How are people transformed through their relationship with others?

edmodoTo keep up with teaching and learning in the 21st century, I believe that every teacher needs a PLC (professional learning community) to stay connected and to collaborate on ideas in education because we simply cannot (and should not) do it  all alone. Surprisingly, edmodo is not just a place to connect with students; it is also a great place to connect with other teachers from around the globe. It is a very diverse and  active community, so if you ask for help, suggestions, and ideas, you are likely to get it!

In the ‘Language Arts’ edmodo group, Katie Meece, a teacher from Ohio, posted the following question: “I am looking for short reading selections in any genre to fit with one of my 7th grade units. The essential question is: How are people transformed through their relationships with others? Suggestions?”

I was one of 9 teachers, elementary – high school, from around the world to reply to Katie’s request for suggestions. She got advice from Justin Foreman in China, Tammy Owen in Texas, Melyssa Quintana in New Jersey, Marie Wallas in Washington, Deborah Bobo in South Carolina, Amanda Arlequin in New York, Trimonisha Singer in California, John Vallerga in California, and me, Emily Stout, in Colorado. I was so inspired by Katie’s essential question and the world-wide collaboration that was happening, I wanted to craft a lesson around these suggestions for my students too.

First, I created this thinglink as a reference library of all the suggestions Katie received for her request for short reading selections that fit her essential question. (Click here or click on the picture to view the embedded interactive media in this thinglink).

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Later I discovered the Global Read Aloud project, which is a program that uses one book to connect the world by connecting classrooms globally to discuss the same book. There are different books chosen each year, and when I saw The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on the list, I knew it was the perfect story for the essential question: How are people transformed through their relationships with others?

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, discusses the habits of life long readers in her most recent book Reading in the Wild. One of the life-long reading habits is: “Share books and reading with other readers. Readers enjoy talking about books almost as much as they like reading. Reading communities provide a peer group of other readers who challenge and support us.” The introduction to this book states, “. . . the real purposes of reading include personal connections— that books can touch us all deeply and elicit laughter, tears, and other reactions. These connections are part of the very heart of wild reading.” In my elementary classroom, I want to use connections from the Global Read Aloud to create a diverse community of readers, and  then use this essential question to help students focus on the theme, or heart of a story and share the essence of that story with others by creating book trailers and/or book reviews.

In her book Reading with Meaning, Debbie Miller teaches her students how to synthesize a book instead of simply retelling it. One of her first grade students explains synthsizing like this: “At first it is a little bit of thinking. Then bigger thinking comes and you add and add on and you take your old thinking and your new thinking and put them together.” Using the strategy of synthesizing a book, students have to dig deeper into the meaning of the story instead of simply retelling surface details. I think creating book trailers is a great way to get at the heart of the story and truly synthesize it. A good trailer should be no more than 2 minutes long, which means you have to focus on the theme of the story to really engage your readers, not just the surface details we typically ask students for on a story map. It’s not that students don’t need to know how to identify the characters, setting, events, and the conclusion—they do, but to get other wild readers to connect to a story and want to read it, it has to go deeper than that. Here is my synthesis of the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Debbie Miller showed us that her first grade students were more than capable of creating a synthesis like this for books they read together in class, and Donalyn Miller emphasizes the importance of connecting with other readers and discussing and sharing books. With the right tech tools, even first graders can create a book trailer based on their synthesis.   I created a backward plan for how I would implement The Global Read Aloud project in my classroom and how I would integrate technology using App Flow. You can check it out by clicking here. For more resource suggestions, you can follow my board on graphite called “App Smashing & Making Multimedia Projects” by clicking here.

How else have you used edmodo or The Global Read Aloud?


Get Your Lesson Plans Organized This Year!

It’s July already? Seriously?! I guess that means I have to finish cleaning my house so I can start planning ahead for the new school year (sigh). We start back Aug. 5th.

Instead of featuring a new picture book today, I decided to feature my new lesson plan book! Like most of you, I like to make goals for myself each year. Last year I focused on my room environment and did a complete classroom makeover (click here for to for some tips on how I did it)! To keep that organization going in my room this year, I want to focus on organizing my lesson plans.

This is what usually happens with my lesson plans (don’t tell!) . . .

August: brand new plan book labeled in best handwriting or with printed labels in a cute font

September: Lessons documented with thought put into the order in which specific skills are taught, which books will be used, etc.

October (when report cards come out): One word chicken scratches that vaguely resemble words are scrawled across page

November: One word chicken scratches that vaguely resemble words scrawled across every other page

Decemember: Where is my plan book?

Sound familiar? If you were blessed with that organization gene, it may not sound familiar to you. But if you were born without that particular gift (like me), you may have great lessons and wonderful learning happening in your classroom, but no documentation of it! And I have to admit that once January rolls around, my lessons are not usually as structured as they should be. After reading Debbie Diller’s book Literacy Work Stations, I made a goal that my ILAs (Independent Literacy Activities/work stations or centers) would not just be a list of things for the kids to do, but a purposeful reflection of the mini lesson I gave that day. But how will I make sure that I stick with my good intentions? Here is my plan . . .

  I decided that I needed a quick and easy way to organize, record, and track the skills I was going to teach to be sure I continued to do it throughout the year. At the website ‘A Teacher’s Plan,’ I found these great math lesson plan templates that were organized based on Debbie Diller’s new book Math Work Stations (and I just had to have them!). It gave me a great idea!

  I was inspired to create my own plan book that was more like a check list so it would be quick, easy, and efficient. I started with my morning meeting. Every morning I write a letter to my students with important things that I want them to know such as birthdays, assignments, upcoming events, etc., and I include errors that they have to correct. This is a more authentic way of doing Daily Oral Language. (Research shows that doing Daily Oral Language activities out of context is not beneficial to students.) I try to make mistakes in my letter that I see the kids make in their writing, but I realized that it could be much more purposeful if I kept track of which skills I had them practice in my letter each day.  After reviewing the new standards (again) I created a checklist of skills that needed to be taught. Now I can just check off that concept and be sure that students practice those skills in my morning message.

Then I created a lesson plan (check off list style) for Reader’s Workshop. It has a place for me to check off the skills we focused on during the mini-lesson, ILAs, and how I will structure the closing using Kagan structures (see Debbie Miller’s book Reading With Meaning and the Balanced Literacy book for Kagan structures). It also has a quick check list for the running records I would give each day during Independent Reading, which Guided Reading groups I would see, what book we’re reading, and the skill we’re focusing on (I use a more detailed form for writing out my guided reading lesson plan).

I also have good intentions of giving each child a running record regularly to monitor their progress and add to a body of evidence. Unfortunately, at the end of the year, I usually look back and say, “Oops!” Only the 3 or 4 students I was worried about had running records given regularly! But now I have a plan. When I began my doctorate in primary reading instruction a few years ago, I had a lot of research compiled that helped me decide how often students should be given a running record based on their reading development. I used this to create a schedule that will help me decide where each reader is developmentally, so all I have to do is plug them into the right color on the schedule and try to stick to it! The schedule is designed for a classroom teacher to give 2 running records 4 days a week. The nice thing about the schedule is that it allows a lot of room for flexibility, so if something comes up and you weren’t able to give any running records that day there is plenty of room to make it up later. I’m especially excited to use this one!

I also made a class schedule overview page so I can write in my daily schedule and keep track of the upcoming events for each month. I don’t always look ahead to see when we have special events or days off, but with this page I can’t miss it! I think I will also post this on my classroom website because it’s cute, and parents can use it to see our schedule too!

Now I’ve got all my pages in a 3 ring binder with tabs separating my plan book pages, class list, etc. so I’m ready to start filling out my lesson plans! Now if only I had my house clean . . .


I thought that if I had a hard time documenting my lessons in my plan book all year long, that I probably wasn’t alone. I just launched my website called ‘Teacher Stuff,’ and I have begun selling some of the lessons and materials I have created. These lessons are made for teachers (who don’t get paid enough to spend a lot of extra money), so my intention is not to get rich and quit my day job (I love teaching way too much anyway!). I just wanted to share things I thought might be useful to others. Because of the time and effort it takes, I needed a little incentive to keep creating, so I am charging a small, reasonable fee. I had to pay for the really cute graphics that I use in most of my lessons from http://www.thistlegirl.com, and I had to buy a reseller’s license to share them with you, so I am hoping to earn my money back. Because I use these lessons and resources in my classroom too, getting my money back would be a bonus for me!

The pages above are part of the ‘Teacher Toolkit for Literacy’ which includes many more pages for $6! So please check out check it out at Teachers Notebook!