Friday, August 3, 2012


They have always been one of the main things in my teaching that I felt I needed to improve.  I always set out with the best of intentions to keep it simple, direct, and to the point... and yet they would end up taking 20-30 minutes.  About half way through this past year I realized that it wasn't really always me talking too much - it was the kids.  I just didn't know how to keep them engaged, but not let them take over the discussion.  I tried a lot of things - scripting my mini-lessons out, setting a timer, etc.  None of it really worked.

That's why I was so excited to have the chance to work in some mini-lessons during the nonfiction blogging club that I am co-running at our summer camp.  Being able to do the same mini-lesson four times over the course of a day has really helped me get the timing down and find that perfect balance of student interaction/engagement.  

They certainly weren't incredibly original topics for mini-lessons, but they helped my find my rhythm that I am excited to transfer into my classroom this year.  This is particularly important for me as I am going to try to implement Daily 5, which relies so heavily on mini-lessons for teaching strategies and procedures.  Here's what I did:

I read them them just a couple pages of A-Z Brazil and as I mentioned in a previous post, we listed "What good readers think about." I put them up on a chart that we referred to for the rest of the week when I was reading aloud or when I was chatting with them about what they were reading.  I also used this book to show them that they don't always have to read the whole book when reading nonfiction - they can just pick parts that interest them.

Today's mini-lesson was about wrapping up their blogs with an opinion statement.  To start we talked about all the ways we could describe a book if we liked it.  Then we made a list of words we might use if we didn't like it.  After that I told them that there was a secret word that really was the most important when you write your opinion and I wrote "because" in really big letters on the bottom of the chart.  

Then I read them the essay from the beginning of one of my old Zoobook magazines about Bats.  It was all about how most people think bats are scary or gross but how they really are helpful to people.  After I read it I had 2 or 3 kids make opinion statements, making sure they included "because" and a reason that made sense. 

We looked at nonfiction text features - all those parts of nonfiction books that aren't usually a part of fiction.  For this I just passed out a book to each kid that they could flip through (making sure they all had lots of features).  Then we listed all the things we found in the book and talked about what they were used for.  

After we made the list I gave them examples of how you could write about using these features in their blog.
     "I used the Table of Contents to find the part about the flag because I wanted to see what it looks like."
    "The glossary helped me figure out what erosion means."

I also encouraged them to try to use labels or captions in their illustration for the day (and lots of them did!)

We talked about the strategy that I called "Read*Think*Write."  I read them the first few pages of First Garden by Robbing Gourley, which is about Michelle Obama's decision to plant the big vegetable garden at the White House.  This lesson was definitely inspired by the "Check for Understanding" comprehension strategy from the CAFE book by The Sisters.  Very simply, I read them a page and very intentionally put the book down.  We talked about what we thought was interesting or important from that page.  Then we turned it into a sentence or two on the chart.  The focus was really on thinking at the end of each page and then writing our own words, not copying from the book. 
My favorite moment was when one of my soon-to-be fourth graders said excitedly "All we need to do is add an opinion and it would make a great book-blog!"  Yay! She remembered!

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