So, after you read my last blog post about what differentiated readings are, you may have found yourself thinking, "Wow! What a great resource, but why would I use them when I have a perfectly good textbook?" Well, here are my five reasons to use differentiated readings in your classroom today:
My first reason is the major reason I created these in the first place; they support struggling readers and special education students so they can feel and be successful in a general education setting. Most text books I've seen and all the social studies textbooks I've been able to use do not seem to have been written for middle schoolers, and certainly not for struggling readers. Besides being written at too difficult a grade level, they also tend to be overly long and boring. My differentiated readings are short, to the point and written in a way that interests middle schoolers.
My next two reasons both deal with skills. My differentiated readings are not just articles to read and discuss. Students use them to practice their ability to identify and record critical content and to summarize. They also practice using context clues to define new or unfamiliar words - a critical skill for bumping test scores! Finally, they are a great and very easy way to embed ELA practice into your social studies content!
If you would like to try out a free one, please click here or the picture below for a free differentiated reading about Early Humans.
So, when I was an instructional coach several years ago, one of my responsibilities was gathering and analyzing data for the 1-8 Montessori building I worked in. It was eye-opening. I had always suspected that there was a wide range of reading levels in a given class, but I had never seen the actual numbers. For instance, one 8th grade class had reading levels from about 2nd grade to above 11th!
When I got back into a middle school social studies classroom, I found myself constantly helping students struggle to read and comprehend our very out of date textbooks or supplemental readings provided by my district. As a result, my students greatest struggle was comprehension of the words, not the social studies content. I needed a solution.
Differentiated readings were it! At first, I spent a lot of time trying to find articles of similar length and identical content at the reading levels I needed. Believe me, that is a very narrow slice of the Venn Diagram for most topics! So, I started writing them for my students at our middle grade level and also ones of identical content and similar length at an upper elementary grade level for all of my curriculum's units.
If these sound like they might be just what you are looking for to help your struggling readers understand social studies content while your stronger readers work at their grade level, click here or the picture below for some free differentiated reading passages about Early Humans and check it out.
Has anyone noticed that middle schoolers' attention spans have been getting longer and longer lately? That their ability to stay focused through simple things like taking notes has gotten better?
So, a big theme in my development as a teacher has been to develop strategies and activities that are as interactive and fun as possible while still delivering content.
Interactive notes are a great way to present new information with opportunities for students to examine pictures, talk about what they are learning and sometimes even draw in an organized, student-friendly way. They are way better than my middle school teachers' sloppy handwriting on chalk boards, or the equally sloppy writing of my college professors on transparency films with hot and loud overhead projectors!
15 years of teaching has taught me that no matter how organized I make notes, when middle schoolers copy them, they become a hot mess (Why don't you indent, Mason? Why do you use a different color for each word, Meghan?). So, I also created student note taking sheets. If this seems like something you'd like to try, click the picture below for a free Google Slide interactive note presentation with a student note taking sheet and directions on how to use them below.
My last post described how to use vocabulary task cards. You might be wondering why you should use them. So, here are my top five reasons to start using vocabulary task cards for vocabulary instruction with your students right away...
1) They are interactive.
2) Physically touching and moving the cards around the table into different combinations with different connections is great for both kinestetic and visual learners.
3) Students develop effective communication skills when they debate, discuss and finally decide where each card should go in relation to the others.
4) Moving the cards, talking in class and playing vocabulary games with the vocabulary task cards is fun! When students are having fun in class, they engage and learn far better than when bored.
My fifth reason is maybe the most important, they work! This past year on vocabulary days, I gave my students informal (ungraded) pre and post tests. The average pre-test scores were typically 10-15% while their post-test scores averaged above 80% for the entire year across all the units! So, if you are interested in using Vocabulary Task Cards for your vocabulary instruction, please click the picture below and check them out. You can also look at this free resource to see three great vocabulary games that can be used with them!
Aah! Summer's almost over! Sorry, but it is. If you're like me, you're just starting to gear up for another great year of teaching with a new group of students. You might also be looking back fondly on last year's group of students and wondering how the new ones can possibly stack up. Or, maybe you're grateful to be done with last year's group and hopeful that this year's bunch will be much better. Either way, that first day is coming and it's coming fast!
So, what do you do with a new class of 30 or so strangers whose names you probably don't know? Here are my four favorite first day activities to get the school year off to a great start!
1) Getting to Know You Cards. This is a task card activity that gives your new students specific prompts and rules for how to talk with each other. This activity also works well for when you re-group your students and they have to get used to working with a different group of people.
2) Two Truths and a Lie. In this game, a student tells their table partners three things about themselves, but one of the things isn't true. The partners then guess which one is the lie and rotate turns.
3) Wheel of You. Students are given a handout of a circle divided into a bunch of sections with questions like, "What's your favorite color?" or "What's your favorite class?" or "What's your biggest strength?" on it. The students fill them out and turn them in, or use them as group discussion prompts.
4) Hashtag Game. Ask for volunteers to share hashtags about good or bad things about summer or school like #sleepingin or #sunburns or #homework or #newfriends. You record them on the board and ask follow up questions as necessary.
Click the picture below for these great activities. Try some out and let me know how it went in the comments section, or share your own favorites. Good luck, and have a great year!