Category Archives: Language

Reading and Literature Circles

Inspired by Nic’s post, I thought I would write about reading as well.

We don’t follow a reading program, and believe that students should be free to choose their books. As part of this, students engage in a literature circle with their peers. I have not had much experience with this, as I never had class sets (or group sets) of books before, but I do know that when students engage together in reading, they usually are more passionate.

Recently I have been letting the students “get on” with their literature circle books, I let them take control of where they are going. The groups meet three times a week in the mornings and usually just read together. They have started to use the reading strategies we used together in class, such as Wondering out loud and Stop and Think.

In guided reading, I tend to read out loud, and so far most of the books were picture books. The last book we read though was The Twits, a student choice. And we started talking about characters, out of the blue. And without prompts, the next time the literature circles met, they talked characters too. In order to help them structure their exploration of characters, I suggested using mind-maps, which seemed quite successful.

It’s amazing how well students respond to strategies they find meaningful. It’s great to see them transferring the skills across the disciplines, using wondering out loud strategies in Math and as part of their unit of inquiry.

The First Steps resource has been useful to me, I have been trying to make use of some of the suggested strategies in there.

What do you do for reading? Do you have a literature circle approach?


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Filed under Language, Reading

Reading and Inquiry

One of my professional goals this year is to effectively implement the resource First Steps into the programme of inquiry.  I think it is a great resource, but, as I discussed in my appraisal meeting the other day, I think it would be easy to pay lip service to reading in a busy programme, and not use the resource to it’s potential.

So, this last few weeks I have tried the following…

At the moment our unit of inquiry is Where We Are in Place and Time, with the central idea: Present civilisations are built upon the experiences of civilisations from the past.

The reading strategies we are focusing on are skimming and scanning, and previously we looked at self-questioning.

As we started a guided inquiry into Ancient Greece, I modelled skimming.  On the smartboard (SB) I had pages taken from a non-fiction text about Ancient Greece.  I looked quickly through the pages, thinking out loud as I went, and looked at the headings to find out what parts of Ancient Greece I could learn about.  Still on the SB then brainstormed the aspects of Ancient Greece.  I then gave the children a brainstorming pages, and a number of books on Ancient Greece.  The books had a wide variety of information, and since I have children with reading ages varying between 5 -12 years, the texts were varied in their difficulty.  The children then practiced skimming through the pages.  Some of the children worked independently, while others went through the process with me in a small group.

At this point, the children highlighted 1-3 aspects they wanted to research further.  (I guided some more or less able children to choose 1 or 3 so as to extend or not overburden them).

My next step was to go back to the SB.  The children helped me brainstorm specific questions I could ask about my chosen aspect (clothing).  We came up with several options, discussing whether they were too big to cover, or too closed to be useful.  Finally we decided my questions would be “What clothing did men and women each wear in Ancient Greece? And how are these the same or different to modern clothing?”

From here, the children brainstormed questions for their own Greek inquiry.  They critiqued each others questions, looking for open ended, specific questions.

This post is getting long now, so I will tell you about how we included scanning… next time. 😉

In the meantime, do you have any thoughts about how you have meaningfully integrated reading, and reading strategies into your classroom?


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Filed under Grade 3, Language, Where we are in place and time

Trans-disciplinary Skills Development

The International Baccalaurate defines the five essential elements of the Primary Years Programme as:

  • knowledge
  • skills
  • concepts
  • attitudes
  • action

Every unit of inquiry addresses those elements, as well as the Learner Profile attributes. When it comes to those, attitudes and skills, meaningful links can be made.

But this post is focusing on transdisciplinary skills development and what this could look like.

In Grade 3 we are focusing on Research and Thinking Skills. The skill I want to write about is the skills to formulate questions, which is essential for so many things, but in this case for research and inquiry.

This is how we are asking and formulating questions:

  • Wallwisher – the students can post questions at all times on the computer OR on the real-life WonderWall (they have been advising each other on how to make the questions “better”)
  • Thinking Aloud Reading Strategies – During shared reading, we stop and share our wondering
  • Stop and Think Reading Strategies (those also address the development of thinking skills esp. comprehension) – Again a strategy where we can formulate questions to help with understanding
  • The Big 6 information and technology skill development approach helped us to formulate our task and to focus on questions we should know answers to as experts in a particular field

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Filed under Grade 3, Language, Learner Profile, PYP, PYP Essential Elements, Skills

Inquiring into Language

As part of our unit of inquiry The Changing Planet (Humans respond and adapt to the continual changing nature of the earth) we are also exploring the language focus To explain.

The pre-assessment was a short, written task, where students had to explain their favorite game (after talking about what it means to explain something!). Yesterday the class was using our information literature for the unit of inquiry, not to look at content, but to look further at language.

Equipped with the prompts

– What is the purpose of the text?

– How is it written? (Now I think I should have linked more to the concept FORM here and probably asked What is it like? We did this during the lesson though)

– What words/language are being used?

– What else did you notice?

… the students went off in groups to explore the texts.

The initial plan was to have all of the groups look at all these aspects, but I rectified that during the lesson, as I asked each group to focus on one.

When we got back together, the answers were phenomenal, and provided us with the key features of explanation texts.

Today we will use our findings to self-assess the pre-assessment.

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Filed under Grade 3, Language

From the perspective of a student

I have recently started taking German lessons.  I won’t go into the reasons because they have nothing to do with this post, but I will briefly discuss my experience and how it is influencing my practise in my own classroom.

In my first lesson, my teacher, “Polly” began by finding out what we already knew, why we were there, and what we wanted to find out.  She spent a lot of time working on the very basics – Ich heiße Nic, etc, through to Mein handynummer ist… and gave us time to build a connection with my peers in the course.  Polly spoke 95% German.  She used a wide variety of non-verbal cues to help us understand what she was saying.We played games to practise our new knowledge and vocab, we spent a lot of time talking with our peers to practise.  We reflected on our learning and made connections between the different parts of German vocab and grammer, and connected all of this to English.  When we made errors in pronounciation or grammar, we discussed links between English and German phonics and grammar.  Small errors Polly never corrected, she simply modelled the correct way of doing things and gave us the opportunity to connect the learning ourselves.  I walked away from the class feeling comfortable with the learning I had done, part of the group, and eager to practise and go back for more.

Then came week 2.  Polly was sick.  They asked another teacher “Jan” to cover for the class.  Now, to be fair, Jan is not a teacher, so what I say I do not mean as a criticism toward her, just a learning experience for me.

Jan lectured.  She made us practise saying and writing by rote Ich heiSe Nic.  Mein name ist Nic. Ich bin Nic. And a number of other sentences.  We had two new class members who sat there completely confused, while maybe 3-4 were furiously note taking, and then myself and another class member, “Sam”, who had learnt German previously sat there bored.  It was the LONGEST two hours of my life.  Mistakes were instantly corrected, often over and over.  When me or Sam answered we were told to be quiet because we were dominating the conversation but noone else wanted to answer – they weren’t sure so were afraid of being told they were wrong.  I walked away from this class feeling frustrated, and very sorry for the people who couldn’t follow what was happening.

What an amazing learning experience!!!

From here I reflected on my own class and came to the following conclusions:

1 – differentiation is VITAL! I do this anyway, but in some settings I could be doing more.  This brings me to my next point,

2 – inquiry and constructivism are VITAL!!! Giving the children, in ALL learning situations, the opportunity to connect new learning to prior knowledge.  Planning based on the goals of each child.  Giving the children the chance to reflect on their learning in order to make connections.  The inquiry cycle we use at Southbank has ‘connections’ as the initial phase of the cycle – this is important, but making connections to prior learning needs to happen at all phases!!!

3 – a safe learning environment where all children can contribute.  I hope I have this, my class are certainly very good at sharing.  But I have noticed that some kids do have more to say than others, and I need to make sure I have a system that is safe for children to contribute, even when they don’t know, and that children who are being extended can also feel free to contribute with out being told they should sit back and let others learn… they should ALL be learning.

I must say though, that this last week we had Jan for a second lesson and she was very well prepared and the lesson went very well.

Food for thought, huh? 🙂

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Filed under General, Language

Summative Assessment part 2 (Classroom)

Rights and Responsibilities has now come to an end, with a massive celebration today (more about that later) and our final reflections.

My final reflections are still to come, but I have to say that the last two weeks were the best of the unit, the students taking control and again showing me that this is the best way to learn.

The summative assessment was an open-ended task. The stimulus was the central idea, and the students chose from a range of ways to respond to “Rights and responsibilities are important aspects of community life”.
We determined the following criteria:

  • use of persuasive language (beginning, using the structure of persuasion)
  • show the clear link between rights and responsibilities
  • show the positive effect that responsible members have in a community


The students in my close chose role plays and cartoons (using toondoo) to present their ideas. It was great!

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Filed under Grade 3, Language, Learner Profile, PYP, Who we are

Rights and Responsibilities at ISM Modena

At the beginning of the week I joined the mother tongue Italian kids in my class in their Italian lesson, which is a mixed group (Grade 3 and 4). They were presenting their summative assessment projects.

As Chiara already explained in her post, they looked at how the the UN Charter of Children’s Rights is reflected in the PYP attitudes, Learner profile attributes and the school’s mission statement.

The projects were great, and some of the students in my class really surprised me. I really didn’t understand that much (I don’t speak Italian *really*), so I would love if Chiara could add some more information about it here.

My Reflection: I loved the assessment and I think it would have been great to collaborate on an assessment in the homeroom and the Italian room. In the future, I think this is something we can develop, especially for the mother tongue kids.
I also saw that one of the students in my class had a completely different way of working in the Italian language. Much more focused and much more engaged. This has made me reflect on the language practice in my classroom once more.


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Filed under Grade 3, Language, Learner Profile, PYP, Who we are