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When I was in the classroom, we had to turn in a sub folder at the beginning of every year. This caused me great angst. What should I leave in it? When would I need it? I didn’t want to leave busy work, but to leave something in a folder for an “emergency” was far too overwhelming for someone like me to process. Honestly, I feel the worst thing you can do is require kids to do something that is absolutely pointless. What’s worse, inadequate plans are unfair to your substitute. Idle children, no matter how well behaved, can become little terrors from sheer boredom alone. Not to mention that wasting instruction time should be criminal in and of itself (but that is a conversation for another day). So, in light of the sub plan debacle, I have created grade-level specific sub plans that are aligned to Common Core and provide relevant practice for students.
For the students:
Each set provides a specific grammar skill for students. Instead of having students complete meaningless worksheets that don’t help them retain the skill, these grammar sheets introduce rules and have students practice those skills through various tasks. By embedding the skills in their own writing, students better retain the information.
Vocabulary Practice – Word of the Day
Students get one new word for the day. They are provided the part of speech and the definition. Students then practice the word with 3 different thought-provoking exercises. In the first activity, students find a synonym, antonym, use the word in a sentence and draw a picture that displays the word.
In the next activity, students make connections to themselves, text, and the real world. Lastly, students understand word relationships when they identify the parts of speech for 2 different forms of the vocabulary word. Students then use the word variations in sentences.
Each reading comprehension passage is an original, grade-level appropriate informational text with common-core aligned questions. To engage students, passages are about animals, plants, or insects that most people are unfamiliar with. Also, students can click on a QR Code that takes them to a video displaying what they have just read. (This is definitely the coolest part of the activity per the students who sampled the product for me.
Students read a short passage and revise and edit the passage to include more descriptive language by adding various types of figurative language, phrases, and parts of speech.
For students that may struggle or need a refresher on certain elements, students have a cheat sheet at the top of the page for their reference.
For the substitute:
To assist the substitute with the plans, there is a chart the details what the substitute can do to model for each activity and how to have students complete each activity. Designed for a 90-minute block, there is more than enough for students to do.
For the teacher:
Answer keys are provided for the activities. Also, the design of the activities allow for conversation and interaction after completion. The teacher can provide meaningful feedback that students can apply in other assignments, regardless of what they are.
For principals and administrators:
Sometimes you are left holding the bag when a teacher has an unexpected absence. These packs would work well for your middle school ELA classes.
One last note:
If you are not an ELA teacher, or this is not something you are looking for, I encourage you to consider what you leave your students to do in your absence. Meaningful work should not disappear in your absence. Instead, consider foundational skills that your students need to work on consistently, and devise a plan around those concepts. This will sharpen students while you are away, and make the most of instruction time. Also, consider how improbable it is for students to sit idly for an extended period of time. Allow them to work with a peer or discuss information with your substitute. You will be amazed at the outcome!
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Direct vocabulary instruction was an instrumental part of my daily instruction. Used for homework, stations, and bell ringers, I intentionally taught students words and required that they use them on a regular basis.
Here are two different schedules for instruction:
Once the schedule is complete, the breakdown is as follows:
Day 1: Introduction and Direct Instruction
- Introduce the new words. Have students use context clues to determine the meanings rather than just giving the definition or having them look them up.
- Provide the definitions. I’ve never found much value in having students look up definitions. For one thing, many words have more than one option. How could I effectively assess students when everyone did not have the same definition? Second, now that we all have Google and Siri, the actual use of a dictionary is pretty lost on this generation. I wanted to maximize instruction time.
- Require students to write the words down. In a recent issue of Educational Leadership, there was much focus on the importance of having students write things down. In fact, the stuy showed that…. So, before turning in their vocabulary activities, students were required to write the words in a notebook. Randomly we would revisit previous words or do activities, and I would reward students who had word lists.
Day 2: Independent Practice – Vocabulary Graphic Organizer
I gave students a graphic organizer of some sort that allowed them to break down their words in a variety of ways – synonyms, antonyms, derivatives (different parts of speech), use each word in a sentence, and provide the definition.
FREEBIE: You can download this organizer for free in my TpT store.
Day 3: More Practice
More practice. On this day, students were given 2-3 different activities ranging from analogies, writing original definitions, using the words in a creative story or a reflection, and/or sentence completion. Each of the activities allowed students to take ownership of the word and showed me the level of mastery for each word.
Day 4: Quiz Day
I used to give students a spelling test and have them write the definitions, but this didn’t really bring about the results I had hoped for. Some students had great phonemic awareness and others great context clues, so when I said the word and then read it in a sentence, it still did not prove that each student really knew and could apply the word. As a result, I switched to multiple choice quizzes. These quizzes used original short stories or excerpts and students has to answer common core aligned questions. These proved far more challenging and gave me more information that allowed me to make data-driven decisions.
After a quiz day, an entire set of vocabulary was complete. I then started the process over with a new set of vocabulary words. After 3 sets of vocabulary, students took a summative assessment over all 3 lessons. From definitions to sentences, analogies, and close reading, the assessment required students to put every skill to use. In the beginning, it was a major catastrophe. Students were not prepared to display knowledge in this manner. However, each summative got better and better. Students studied differently. They used their words without prompting. Many even used their words at home and with friends. It was at this point that I knew the system worked.
If you are interested in this vocabulary system, be the first to rate these new products and other vocabulary resources in my TpT store:
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Teaching students to analyze anything can be a daunting task. So when students have to make sense of all of the characters in a short story or novel, and THEN analyze them, the frustration can reach a boiling point for both the teacher and the student. To mitigate these frustrations, graphic organizers can be a tremendous help.
In the classroom, I remember all of the organizers my students had to create by hand as I drew them on the board. Then, using the Gradual Release Model of Responsibility, we would walk through them so that students could really flesh out their characters and ideas, and support that with evidence from the text. Once we were able to do all of that, we were ready for the hard part – writing the analysis.
Today, I have eliminated much of the frustration by creating an Analyzing Characters Organizer Pack.
Included, are 6 graphic organizers, a table of contents with instructions on how to use each, directions on using the Gradual Release Model of Responsibility, the Common Core Standards the activities are aligned with, AND learning targets.
The activities can be used for any secondary ELA classroom. There are a variety of ways to use the organizers including whole-class, independent practice, small groups, or stations.
If you are looking for an engaging way to teach students how to analyze characters, check it out. I found that once students were given opportunities to practice the skill in different ways, the outcome was increased engagement and greater achievement.