Have you ever pulled an old activity out and had it work so successfully you wondered why you hadn't used it in so long?  That's what happened to me a couple weeks ago when we were focusing on penguin informational text.

Now you need to know - we've had four snow days, at least 3 delayed openings, 3 scheduled days off and about 3 feet of snow in the last month.  I barely know what day it is, nevermind being able to keep up with what I had planned.  Our super-engaging study of penguins, both narrative and expository, had taken a major hit (along with our ability to stay focused!) and at this point I just needed my kiddos to be engaged and learning.  There was no time to do what I had planned, so I quickly scoured my file folders on informational text to come up with something to lead us through the morning.

Then it hit me.  I wanted my kiddos to be engaged with the text, which of course meant getting them to THINK about what they were reading (no small task after all the days off and craziness lately!).  I remembered a basic, solid strategy I had used in the past (the VERY past) that I had termed "coding."  (And I'm sure I didn't invent this idea.... I know I got it from somewhere.)

The idea was for students to be thinking of four things as they read the text: Was this new information added to your schema?  Did you already know this?  Did you find this to be amazing? What did this text make you wonder?

I quickly explained what each code meant, and we talked about how good readers thought about what they were reading and how it fit with what they already knew.  Instant engagement for some reason - my kiddos were hooked by the idea of a "code" to use while reading.  They eagerly found their reading partner, grabbed a book and got to work.

The first job was to read the text together and stop along the way to share what each person was thinking.  No writing!  Each pair of students had a set of four sticky notes (woo-hoo!) on which they had written each coding symbol.  As they read, they stopped and pointed at a sticky note when it fit their thinking.

Their "reading talk" was amazing!  Every pair was focused, engaged and talking about their thinking.  Keeping the sticky notes in front of them helped to structure their conversations and gave them a purpose for their reading.

My original plan was to only have students talk about their thinking, then come back to share with the group.  I had a few pairs finish reading early though, so I gave each student a coding sheet for them to record their thinking.  They had to choose one or two ideas from the text that went with each code. 

That turned out to be super easy for most of them because they were filled with ideas on how what they had read fit with their thinking.

We did come back together at the end and shared some of our coding ideas.  I asked my kiddos to explain how this helped them as a reader and we charted some ideas.  I know they loved this strategy because the next day I had two kiddos ask for "one of those coding sheets and sticky notes" so they could record what they were thinking while they read independently!  Made my teacher heart smile!
If you're interested in the coding sheets (nicely fixed-up!) just click on the image below.  (I included two versions - one with the code meanings and one without, and each one with and without lines. I'm all about options!)
Let me know how they work for you!

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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d pop in and share a few activities I do with my kiddos to celebrate.  Our Valentine's Day fun will be combined with our 100th Day because of all our snow days - AND it's an early dismissal day!  That means everything this year will be short and sweet!

A few years ago, I discovered a way to organize the chaos of handing out valentines, and sneak in some learning in the process!  I ask students to bring in their valentines in some sort of container – bag, box, etc.  Then we spend time putting the valentines in alphabetical order.  Once everyone has their valentines ready, we are ready to commence the “passing out!”  Here’s where my little idea came in – I have my students sit in a circle on the rug – in alphabetical order!  Now, all each student has to do walk around the circle and drop a valentine in everyone’s bag (or box, or whatever you use.)  I have about 2-3 students walking around the circle at a time.  The valentines are already in order, so there’s no looking around for each person, figuring out who you forgot, etc.  It works perfectly!

Once everyone has their valentines handed out, the fun begins!  Students find a spot in the room to take their valentines to, and open them.  I keep small buckets nearby for trash (envelopes).  After a few minutes of looking at the valentines, I hand out one of my valentine cards activities.

The "Find Someone Who" activity is quick and easy.  Students sit with their valentines and write the name of a classmate who gave them a valentine that fits each box.

The second sheet is a little more involved.  Students use their valentines to find nouns, verbs and adjectives, to graph the different types of valentines, to compare and contrast and to give their opinion.  It’s always interesting walk around and see how different students organize this task. 

Some take each valentine one at a time and add them to the tally, while others look for each category on the sheet.  And of course, still others just randomly pull a valentine and put it back!

The back of the sheet asks students to tally different categories of valentines and use the information to answer 3 questions. I've found this to be a great way to put some focus onto passing out the valentines, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re getting a little review and practice in with it, too!

You can download the sheets for free (along with a valentine word search) by clicking on the image below.

I've also taken out my Valentine centers to use last week and this week during our math time.  I really LOVE the letter delivery activity.  It really gets my kiddos thinking about numbers!  You can check out my centers by clicking the image below. I created them to be quick and easy!

Happy Valentine's Day!
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