Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog!

Writing in Science through Leveled Texts—with FREE Download!

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Dec 18, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Today's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in indergarten through eighth grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in the Kaleidoscope Collection. You can read her other guest posts here.

Using a variety of leveled informational books on a single topic can address the challenge of finding appropriate, content-area texts for elementary students to read. Now, imagine how those same selections could help students successfully transition from reading about the topic to writing about it!

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The jot chart used to record answers to specific questions about a content-area topic during reading can be modified slightly to support students who will use their notes for writing about the topic.  (See guest blog titled Differentiating in Science through Leveled Texts.)  Adding space to record an interesting fact and/or a thought- provoking question, as well as providing room to write a short conclusion, gives young writers an organizational structure from which to form their paragraphs.  

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Guiding students through the reading, questioning, note-taking, and paragraph formation to create a class product, in which each student produces the same written report, can serve as a model for their future content-area writing.  Unfortunately, when students begin working more independently on content-area research, they sometimes have difficulty combining and/or rewording the information they've located, so they resort to plagiarizing their sources.  How can teachers guide students through content-area writing that reflects students' own wording and voice? 

An engaging approach that reduces plagiarism while blending creative writing with factual information is the RAFT writing strategy (Santa,1988).  RAFT is an acronym that stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic.  Often in school, the role of the writer is that of a student, the audience is the teacher, the format is a report, and the topic is whatever the teacher assigns.  With RAFT, new possibilities abound! 

Recently, I worked with second-grade students on a nonfiction selection about the desert.  After they read about desert animals included in the selection, I referred the students to additional resources about the desert.  I asked each one to choose a desert animal they found interesting.  Once the animals were identified, students worked with the different texts to locate details about their animals.  They used their jot charts to record what their animals looked like, what the animals' habitats were like, and what the animals ate.  They also had to find at least one other interesting fact for each animal that could become the basis of an intriguing, introductory question.

At the outset of this writing project, I advised the students that they would end up writing as if they were the desert animals they had picked instead of just reporting on the animals.  The change to a first-person perspective meant that the students would use the pronoun I in their finished products instead of it or they, as would usually occur in reports written from the third-person point of view.  The students were initially uncertain about this unexpected twist, but they soon warmed up to the idea! 

This RAFT assignment allowed each student to assume the role of a desert animal, write to the audience of someone wanting to visit the home of the animal, and use the format of an introduction, all based upon the topic of the desert animal chosen.  Many of the students discovered that their animals weren't particularly friendly, so we decided to use that characteristic to advantage.  For animals that were especially fierce, the students had great fun writing with a hostile attitude towards their imaginary visitors!  They also enjoyed creating pictures to accompany their introductions.

When students shared their written animal introductions with the class, interest was high for them (and for me), as we listened to factual information about various desert animals presented in a format that was entertaining, as well as informative!   Such variety would not have been likely if students had been limited to a single text that some could read and some could not.  Using different leveled books on the same general topic allowed for differentiation in reading and writing!

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If you'd like to learn more about our Zoozoo Animal World series or My World series, click the images below to download series highlight sheets! Click the worksheet image at the bottom to download the free jot chart.

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Topics: Informational Text, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Susan Weaver Jones, My World

Differentiating in Science through Leveled Texts—with FREE Download!

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Nov 6, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Today's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in the Kaleidoscope Collection. You can read her other guest posts here.

Teaching science in the primary grades can be challenging, depending upon the resources available. Hands-on, participatory experiments successfully capitalize on students' curiosity and interest in exploration. However, class-size amounts of consumable materials and needed equipment may be limited, due to budget constraints. In addition, some science topics may require more reading-to-learn opportunities due to practicality, as well as cost.

The same funding issues can affect textbook availability, too. Even when textbooks are provided, though, concerns may arise about the difficulty of the textbooks as compared with students' reading abilities. Given the range of reading levels in many elementary classrooms, coupled with unfamiliar science vocabulary, the difficulty of many science textbooks may exceed the instructional reading levels of some students. What alternative instructional options do teachers have

One strong possibility encourages teachers to differentiate by borrowing and/or building collections of informational books on different reading levels. By utilizing a variety of leveled texts on the same topic, most students can read more than one book about the selected topic, while ensuring that even the lowest -performing readers have at least one text that is manageable. For emergent readers and ESL students, wordless informational books can supplement leveled, non-fiction books. The photographs in the books engage the students and build their vocabulary through discussion. (See Hameray's My World Collection, Zoozoo Animal World series, and Zoozoo Into the Wild for books appropriate for early and emergent readers.) 

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Using a variety of science-oriented texts means that some facts will likely be included in several books, while other information might appear in only one or two. The differences between texts allow for reinforcement and confirmation of concepts in some cases and for introduction of new ideas in others. The variety of texts fosters the search for and the discovery of previously known and unknown facts, which can be shared with all

Before reading, teachers can access their students' prior knowledge through discussion of a KTWL chart. Determine what the students already know, what they think they know, and what they want to learn. At the conclusion of the study, the teacher can revisit the chart with the class to find out what the students have learned. If some questions are left unanswered, the teacher may choose to reference other sources through online research to satisfy students' inquiries.

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Students can keep track of the information they locate through the use of jot charts. Jot charts are simple graphic organizers that allow writers to keep information about topics in one place. Using selected questions from the KTWL charts (which could vary by student, as needed), students record answers to the questions and include the title and author of each source on the jot charts. When students use nonfiction texts in conjunction with jot charts, they learn how to seek information and take notes from sources other than themselves. Some students might record information from single texts (including photographs), while other students might be capable of using information from two or three sources in their jot charts. The jot charts can then serve as references for students to review information and as means to summarize their learning. Students can also refer to the photographs in leveled texts to create illustrations that depict the information they've learned. No longer solely dependent on what they can remember after reading, students can reread and compare their information with others from their jot charts.

When teachers incorporate different levels of text on the same topics to accommodate their students' reading levels in content areas such as science, they open up new avenues of learning for all of their students!

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If you'd like to learn more about our Zoozoo Animal World series, click the images below to download series highlight sheets! Click the worksheet image at the bottom to download the free charts.

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Jot Chart and KTWL Chart

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Topics: Informational Text, Zoozoo Into the Wild, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Susan Weaver Jones, My World

Informational Texts Can Build Background & Augment Prior Knowledge

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Jul 31, 2013 8:00:00 AM

Today's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in the Kaleidoscope Collection.

As a child growing up in Florida, I had a nodding acquaintance with infrequent freezing temperatures during winterbut none at all with snow. In school, I read stories about children playing in the snow, sledding down hills, and building snowmen, but I had no personal experience with such activities. However, I would see televised weather reports of blizzards in northern states and watch movies set in cold climates. Those media provided information that supplemented my knowledge about seasonal weather. Even though

I lacked prior knowledge about snow from my own life, I learned about snow from others' accounts. Their experiences served to broaden my snow-deprived background!

Horse Cover.newOur students also have gaps in their prior knowledge that can interfere with their learning if not addressed. That's why we need to provide students with background information, relevant artifacts, and related experiences, so they have enough knowledge to make sense of what they're studying. Of course, because our students come to school with a variety of life experiences, they will have different strengths and needs. Despite those differences, we can even the playing field by providing shared experiences that introduce concepts to some students while reinforcing them for others.

Looking through sample copies of early nonfiction readers in Hameray's Zoozoo Animal World series, I reflected on primary-age students I've taught. What prior knowledge would they have already had about the animals in this series? What additional background might they have needed?

My students, as a whole, would have had some degree of knowledge about horses, one of the animals included in the Farm Animals Set. The students who lived in rural areas would have had firsthand knowledge about horses on their family farms. However, even most of my city kids would be familiar with horses from county fairs, parades, television, movies, magazines, and/or books. The overwhelming majority of my students would have had enough information about horses to feel comfortable discussing the subject. 

I've learned that allowing students to talk about what they know, perhaps in response to specific questions after introducing the topic (i.e., How are horses the same as other mammals? How are they different?), gives them the opportunity to learn from each other. If I listen to my students discuss their responses, I gain insights into what they know, what they don't know, and what misinformation is confusing them.

Puffin CoverIn contrast, most of the students I taught probably knew very little about puffins, aquatic birds featured in the Arctic Set of the Zoozoo Animal World series. If I mentioned puffins, my students would be more likely to think of the Big, Bad Wolf huffin' and puffin' in The Three Little Pigs than of colorful birds that live in cold regions! 

If I showed students photos or videos of puffins in their habitat, my students could develop frames of reference from which they could begin to note similarities and differences between puffins and other birds, linking the unfamiliar to the familiar. When I add to students' prior knowledge through various means,

I need to permit them the opportunity to discover some connections for themselves. Teachers can act as tour guides to the destination, stepping back as appropriate, so students revel in the joy of discovery as they explore new information.

In the midst of that exploration, students' interests are piqued, and because they're curious, they want to learn more! Building background has a bonus: It motivates and creates a mindset for learning!

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Though our students may have geographical bounds or other constraints that limit their personal experiences, we can intervene by enhancing their prior knowledge with additional information and experiences that expand the background they need!

- Susan Weaver Jones

If you'd like to learn more about our Zoozoo Animal World Series, click the image below to download a series highlight sheet!

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Topics: Informational Text, Animals, Guest Blog, Zoozoo Animal World, Susan Weaver Jones, Background Information, Prior Knowledge

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