As National Poetry Month continues, so does our classroom work around it. Kristine’s kindergarten is hard at work creating original works of staggering genius ie, poetry. Poetry can be tricky work for children when too many rules are placed around it, so with inspiration from published poets like Zoe Ryder White (find more about her here) and Valerie Worth (All the Small Poems and Fourteen More), this class decided to go with free verse around topics that were important to them, and ultimately important to all young children.
As with any unit, the study began with understanding the genre, in this case what IS a poem and what ISN’T, which also helps to define expectations for children. Given the amount and variety of poetry that children have been exposed to, it was difficult to nail down specifically what separates poetry from not poetry. In the end the class decided it was really just that stories have words that go all the way across the page, and poems don’t.
After this introductory lesson, the children went off to write so Kristine could get a baseline assessment of what students needed to work on in this unit. Kindergarten writing can sometimes feel like every unit has the same goal: write and draw with meaning and more readability, however, poetry has something special to add – creating lasting images and seeing the world in new ways. We were fortunate to have Zoe Ryder White come into our school early in our unit to talk with children about seeing with “poet’s eyes.”
Zoe first read a poem she had written that looked at the moon in a new way. Then she brought out a bag of ordinary objects and the class co-constructed a list poem (a poem where all the lines relate back to one idea- usually the title) about one object: a pine cone. Zoe asked the students again and again to look past the obvious and imagine more about the simple object. When Zoe and Kristine spoke afterwards, Zoe pointed out this imagining is no different than the imaginary play we value so much in the primary grades. The ability to look at a block of wood and use it as a telephone accesses the same skill set as seeing with poet’s eyes. It struck Kristi that the lessons she was doing around this for poetry would be a perfect cross over for choice time and vice versa.
After the students had been writing and reading (in shared reading and read aloud poems) Kristi kept an eye out for children trying things out that they had seen in these mentor texts. She used these in her shares and minilessons to create a strategy chart of poetic devices.
Whenever crafting charts, it is helpful to find student examples since the children are all within a similar zone of proximal development. Mentor texts do not just need to be in the poetry anthologies you find in a library – they can be in the incidental and accidental work your children create. One child did not realize he had repeated his words, but as he went to cross them out Kristi pointed out that some writers do that on purpose. Another child tried talking to the object in her poem, after the class sang, “You Are My Sunshine.” Both of these were cemented and celebrated in the week’s teaching. Rather than introduce a million different “tricks” the class is now trying these three, or selecting among these options to make a poem more powerful. It is not always the next thing that children need, sometimes it is just this thing – but better.
Finally, a few children carried over construction (as in book construction) work from previous units. The tape, staplers, and post-its all made a reappearance. Kristi constructed a chart to show children when they might choose one option over another. When you have one poem that is very long – you might tape it together. When you have a group of poems that go together (the example has one poem about each family member) you might staple them into a book. This work may seem obvious, but it is not. It asks children to consider: What goes together? What am I creating? These are big questions for little writers.
Let us know some ways you are using charts to support your young poets.
Until next time, happy Poetry Month and happy charting!
Kristi and Marjorie
April is Poetry Month and poems are everywhere – on the web, in classrooms, in subways, and in pockets. Teachers are teaching how to read poems and how to write poems. And they are making charts to capture it all. This week we highlight how charts can be used to capture our lessons, provide examples, offer strategies, and create challenges to strive towards.
Immersion Into Poetry
Charts capture our teaching and provide helpful reminders for our students in the way of tips and examples. How this might look in poetry is really no different than any unit where we begin with immersion into the genre or form we plan on reading and writing. Every poet will tell you that in order to write poems, you need to read poems – lots of poems. Poems of all shapes and sizes. Poetry is meant to be seen, heard and felt.
The chart below was built with some second grade students at Glenwood Landing Elementary School in North Shore, Long Island who were learning how to read poems closely. Marjorie (inspired by Rachel Rothman, one of our colleagues at the Reading and Writing Project) introduced three lenses they would listen through: movie, message, and music. When thinking which kind of visual supports would be most helpful, Marjorie decided to use examples generated by the students themselves. What she prepared ahead of time were the three prompts written out, enlarged copies of the poems (in this case two poems from Nathaniel Talking by Eloise Greenfield – “Education” and “When I Misbehave”) and some blank, large sticky notes.
Each reading of the poem was prompted by one of the lenses. This let the children know what to pay attention to as they listened. Then the children turned and talked to their partner, and came back together to share out what they had talked about. Examples of the children’s visualizations, feelings, and thinking were written down. This became an exemplar chart the children could use as a model when they went off and tried this on their own with another poem, “When I Misbehave” and any time thereafter, whenever they read a poem. The children actively listened and excitedly shared their thinking and ideas with each other and couldn’t wait to go off and do it again on their own.
Starting to Write Poetry
As with any writing unit, learning to generate topics is always one of the starting points and poetry is no different. A repertoire chart can capture possible options when reaching for something to write a poem about. The brilliant poet, Georgia Heard, offered many possibilities for poets and teachers alike in her book, Awakening the Heart, where she suggested that poets found topics by entering different doorways, such as the observation door, the heart door, the wondering door, and the concerns about the world door (as a start). The chart below is an example of a repertoire chart used in a first grade classroom at PS 192 in Brooklyn. First, Marjorie knew that kids love looking for things that hide, so used that idea
to create a heading that would grab the students’ attention and lead them on a search to find ideas for poems. Then she started by presenting a repertoire of strategies for generating poems: looking closely, feeling strongly, and things we wonder about. The idea of starting with a few options is important since not any one strategy will work on any given day.
One of the most delightful aspects of poetry is word play. Poets use words in delightful and unexpected ways. The more words you know the more options available to you. Words are a poet’s paintbrush that create images as vivid as a painting or photograph. Creating a chart that collects and sorts words poets can use can be a most useful tool. The following chart was launched by Marjorie in a second grade classroom at PS 192 in Brooklyn, but will grow and expand as kids find and discover more and more examples of specific nouns, vivid verbs, and descriptive adjectives. The thing to note is that each category is color-coded so when kids discover other examples they will write them on the colored index card that matches the category.
Another aspect of word choice is how words are used to compare one thing to another, called similes and metaphors. Similes help children go beyond literal observations towards adding in their imaginations and connections. It comes from the latin word “similis” to mean “like.” This might explain the misspellings on the chart. The word should be spelled “simile” not “similie.”
The teacher had previously defined what a simile was by giving some examples. The lesson Marjorie taught was designed to help children understand the many ways they could come up with similes by using their senses. Each post-it is a reminder of just how to do this. The visuals are familiar icons from earlier lessons when the senses were used to describe and elaborate writing.
Poetry offers so many opportunities to get excited about language, structure, and process. Another possible chart to create might highlight revision and all the possible ways a poet might revise a poem: changing words, layout, repetition, additional stanzas, or taking away unnecessary words.
Charts can be used to help students reflect and make goals based on what they have tried or not tried, or to create a rubric. This final example shows how this end of unit reflection happened in one first grade CTT classroom at PS 176 in Brooklyn. The children were taught to ask themselves two key questions, “What have I learned about writing poems?” and “What do I still need to work on?” They used a checklist to help with these questions by tallying each time they had used a particular strategy on the checklist. The strategy they had used the most was the one they were then expected to teach others.
The checklist included the things the teacher had taught during the poetry unit of study. They included “I used my senses,” “I used comparisons,” “I used repetition,” “I used special words,” and “I used white space.” Examples of each of these were included to the left of the checklist. In other words, this was a miniature version of the strategy chart created during this unit. Charts, as always, are only as effective as they are used.
Until next time, happy charting!
Marjorie and Kristi
We hope that you are enjoying the first steps towards spring! The sky stays light later, birds are chirping, and our children are edging towards the next grade. For Kristi, the spring thaw is also bringing opportunities to study the active construction site next door to the school, and a renewed sense of purpose to inquiry.
Inquiry is one of the areas that Kristi wanted to focus on when she returned to the classroom. How do you teach children to cultivate thoughtful wonderings, develop theories, and follow those theories up with study to confirm or revise them… all while teaching the social studies and science content for the grade?
Inquiry can exist with different amounts of scaffolds: the teacher can choose the topic and guide the inquiry, or the entire study may be driven by student interest. Kristi knew that kindergarten was entering the neighborhood study, but she let the children’s natural curiosity drive what part of the neighborhood they studied. Of course, the construction site right next door drew the most amount of lingering attention, and so the construction site inquiry was born.
Charts and Tools to Support the Study
One of the first things the class did was visit the site to observe and sketch what they noticed. At the same time, Kristi took photos. She printed and enlarged the photos and the class studied them. As they read books about construction, and interviewed people connected with the site, they labeled the pictures with their new knowledge and vocabulary.
The class visited the site repeatedly and were fortunate to see some major demolition in action. Kristi used her phone to record video of a column being pulled down and the class later watched and rewatched the video to understand what was happening. From that, the following how-to class book was born:
As the process went on, the questions children asked changed from, “What is that?” while pointing to a machine, to bigger questions like, “How do they know how to make the building?” which has led the class off in the direction of architecture and blueprints.
After a few visits to the construction site, children began to replicate some of what they had seen in choice time. In this way the vocabulary was used and reused. To help children imagine the possibilities, Kristi taught a choice time lesson that showed them that you can make what you saw on an investigation!
Construction is everywhere in choice time now: blocks, legos, and even in cardboard!
This is a two story cardboard dollhouse, made by two students, complete with people!
The class inquiry is continuing on in the direction set by the children-blueprints and models-and Kristi is referring again and again to the standards for social studies to ensure that she is also covering the requirements through read aloud, interviews, and videos.
Happy charting, and happy inquiring!
Kristi and Marjorie
In the sports world this month may be referred to as March Madness, but in the world of schools it is March Marvels. March is a marvelous month for children and teachers alike because this is the time of year we traditionally see great spurts of growth in our children, both physically and academically. They are taller, speak more eloquently, and can read, write and compute at new levels of achievement. And teachers can marvel that all their efforts are paying off. With this in mind we thought we would share some charts that celebrate effort and expectations as we head forward towards Spring.
For most teachers increasing children’s reading stamina is an ongoing goal because of its importance in strengthening their reading abilities and fluency. In fact it is often something that was fussed over quite a bit at the beginning of the year as routines and expectations for reading workshop time were set up. We saw many a stamina reading chart hanging up in classrooms during these beginning months of school. But, as with most charts from the beginning of the year they were replaced by more current charts that focused on critical reading strategies and skills. But as students are preparing to read more difficult and varied texts the issue of stamina is one worth revisiting. Making a chart that records the increasing time spent reading (or writing) announces to the world that this is something important and increasing the time reading books is worth striving towards as a class.
Below we show some examples of charts that celebrate the effort being put forth by classrooms to increase their time reading books. Again, the message being put forth is that this is something important and that together we can accomplish great things and we thank the amazing teachers, Jung Choe, first grade, and CTT team Sarah Carolan and Lindsay Brickell, at PS 59 for sharing these with us.
This first chart shows a delightful bear on a bicycle riding on a meandering path. The markers show the times achieved, the current reading times, and the times the class hopes to reach. This chart did not just arrive one day because it was cute and fun. This CTT/Inclusion class spent time talking about their reading, how long they used to read for, how long they can now read for, and what it was like to keep reading even when they got tired or distracted. Together they decided to try to increase their time reading like they try to ride for longer times on their bicycles in the park.
In another first grade classroom the teacher used a favorite character, Pigeon from the Mo Willems series, to pump up her children’s enthusiasm for the challenge ahead – to read longer without stopping. Again, the goals were developed with the children and they took turns keeping track of their reading stamina. This is a chart that is referred to often and steps moved up when the class is able to maintain the increased time consistently for the week. In other words, this is not something we do once, give a shout out, and call it a day. This is something that will take time to become a habit, to reach a goal. It requires effort.
Kristi also found a need to increase reading stamina among her students, so she created with her class of Kinders a plan that increases stamina by reading in increasing increments of time by including independent reading, partner reading, and library reading time. By providing varied opportunities to read in various situations, the children are encouraged to keep reading for increasingly longer periods of time. Again, the more children read, the longer they read for, and this increases their ability to read successfully and well. It also allows the teacher increased time to confer and teach small groups.
These are but a few examples of how teachers are setting challenges and celebrating effort in order to help their students, not only set goals, but develop agency and a ‘can do’ attitude that will be a life skill that each and every child can carry with them throughout their life. Let us know what other ways you are sparking your students to increase effort and drive to accomplish set goals.
Until next time, happy charting!
Marjorie & Kristi
Hi Everyone! We hope you had a few days of relaxation over the long weekend (or week for some of you!) Marjorie went to visit her daughter in Israel, and Kristine went to visit her sister in California. Now we are back from our far flung (ish) adventures and ready to talk charts! Kristine has had chart puns rolling in her head for days: unCHARTered waters, Top o’ the CHARTS, Conversation CHARTS (a play on conversation hearts- for a Valentine’s themed post) CHARTlize Theron (she also understands that many of these are going nowhere), and Ready, Set, CHART! (As an aside, we would welcome your chart puns in the comments!) Sadly, none of them quite match the idea of today’s post, co-creating charts with children.
In our book, Smarter Charts, we talk about the challenges of creating charts with children. We want them to look good and be clear so that children will use them again. We also want children to be off the rug as soon as possible. Now that Kristine is with 4 and 5 year olds all day, the question that haunts her every day is, “How can I make sure this is as powerful as possible in the least amount of time?” Small children + Extended time on the rug as one searches for the red marker = Nightmares beyond what was ever imagined.
This is where some of the advice we give in our book comes in handy: act like the chef in a cooking show. We have all seen cooking shows, Kristine herself is obsessed with the Barefoot Contessa (that house! that kitchen! her own boat?!), and one of the advantages to being a chef on a cooking show is that most of the prep is done for you, ahead of time. The Barefoot Contessa is not chopping every item in front of you, she only shows what she needs to show, and the rest is prepped off to the side for her to use when she needs it. That is the key to quick and clear charting: know what to create in the moment, and what to prep ahead of time.
The following two writing charts were created by Kristine (The Barefoot Chartessa? You decide) with her kindergarten class using this method.
Chart One: The Writing Process (A Process Chart)
This writing process chart has been hanging in Kristine’s classroom for months, but somewhere along the way it became unused. Kristine was finding books with no words or no pictures. Books with one page done, and books that were just scribbled on. To address this, she decide to revisit the writing process with her class in a more interactive way. Before the lesson, Kristine prepared the matching colored paper and drew the pictures. She left the words off the smaller paper and covered the backs of everything with the restickable glue stick (a favorite tool that turns any ordinary piece of paper into a sticky note).
For the lesson, a blank piece of chart paper was hung on the easel and all the pieces placed on the ground in front of her. The class sat in a circle around the rug. Kristine presented this issue: “Last night, when I was reading your “done” books at home with my hot chocolate, I noticed a problem… Friends, not all the books were done!!! Some of them were missing parts! It was so very sad to miss out on parts of your amazing books. I thought today we could explore all the things we need to do to write a book — and make a new chart for us to follow!” Kristine spread the pictures out so they could all be seen and asked the class, “What do you think we do first?” The students came up to put the pictures on the chart in a sequence that made sense to them. On the first attempt the order was a little scrambled, with turn the page coming very high on the list. Other students suggested revisions to the order until this one was reached and agreed upon by everyone. (Which, by the way, was the order of the original process chart) Kristine then put the smaller pieces of colored paper next to the pictures and asked children to go “knee to knee” and think about what we could call each step. Since children in Kristine’s class are familiar with the language of writing, this went very quickly. Kristine wrote the label next to each one, everyone reread the chart, and then the children went off to write.
Because of the prep work ahead of time, the entire lesson was 8 minutes — most of that was spent on revising the order of the steps, thinking about what would make sense for writers. And the best part was seeing the children renewed spark and interest in making sure their books used all aspects of the writing process from start to finish.
Chart 2: Easy to Read Writing (An Exemplar Chart)
In NYC select students come in for early morning support. Kristine used this time for interactive writing to support the group with hearing beginning and ending sounds and writing a story across pages. She then took one page from the book that the small group wrote to use in her writing workshop minilesson. Before the lesson, Kristine had the small group work on the interactive writing page, and she also pre-cut colored paper. She wrote on some of the papers: spaces and sight words and drew the pictures. The other pieces of cut paper she left blank.
For the minilesson, Kristine put a piece of unreadable writing up on the document camera and said, “You guys, when I got home yesterday, Geoff (my husband) said he had left me a note on the fridge and this is what it looked like!” Kristine gestured towards the “writing” and the kids responded with the appropriate amount of shock. One student exclaimed that it was “just scribble-scrabble!” Kristine then put up the piece of interactive writing the morning group had created (with no papers attached) and said, “I think I need to show him what we know about easy to read writing!”
The class then read the writing and Kristine asked them to go “knee to knee” to study and say what made the page so very easy to read. As children named spaces and sight words (which Kristine had anticipated since they had focused on that as a class) she handed the pre-made papers to children to stick up on the piece. Then as other children named that the letters were “good” (renamed clear by Kristine) she quickly made another paper to put up, and did the same when another child noticed the “punatation” (a good attempt at remembering and saying the word “punctuation”). Kristine reviewed all the things that made the writing easy to read and asked the children to set a goal for the 1 or 2 things they would really practice to make their writing easier to read that day (and every day). The chart was hung up and next to it was Geoff’s “note” (poor Geoff):
The whole lesson, start to finish, was about 8 minutes, thanks to the work that had been done already. Having some items prepped, and then having the children help to co-create the chart kept these charts looking clear and useful, while maintaining their useability for children. Both of these charts are referenced by the children frequently, in part because they are the ones who built them for the class.
In other, unrelated, news, we have a new app to tell you about! Valerie Geschwind, Kristine’s colleague, introduced Kristine to ifontmaker for the iPad. It allows you to make your own font from your handwriting and use it with Microsoft Word. It is easy to use and addictive. Two classroom uses:
1. You can create a class font from student handwriting for use on family letters
2. You can make your own wingdings — which Kristine used to draw some frequently used chart icons so when she types up charts, she can just insert the same icons that she would usually hand draw.
We are sure you have many more ideas for how this exciting app can be used, and we look forward to hearing about them in the comments.
Kristine and Marjorie
Back in early September we wrote a post, Keeping Charts Close, about ways to deal with chart clutter when wall space is at a premium and also suggested how to make charts more accessible to kids by using presentation easels and table tents. We were recently reminded of this need for alternatives to hanging charts up in the classroom when we presented a Smarter Charts workshop for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, TX where many of their school buildings have open-concept layouts and lots of windows, which means that walls are at a minimum. Combine this with very strict fire codes and you have a real chart challenge. We had brought some examples of our portable table tents and the teachers were thrilled at seeing some possible solutions to their chart dilemma.
Then this past week, several of the teachers in our afterschool specialty group ( using charts to raise the cognitive demand on students) brought in examples of chart systems they use to keep charts up close to their students. They agreed to share them with our Chartchums teachers, so let the sharing begin!
In order to help her EL students remember all that a true story should contain, Isabel Calderon, from PS/MS 5 in the Bronx, made small versions of the class chart and then attached them to construction paper that was folded into a triangle to create a free-standing place card for each table. A simple, quick, and inexpensive solution.
Valerie Geschwind, from PS 59 in Manhattan, found that her Kindergarten children needed lots of reminders when it came to some of the conventions of writing, like spacing and using lowercase letters, so she decided to put these reminders right in front of them as they wrote. She found a creative new use for some old bookends. She printed out copies of the class chart, “My writing is easy to read!” onto card stock and then laminated them. She stapled two together across the top and sides and slid them down over one of the bookends. Voila! A freestanding chart stand for each table.
When it came time for her Kindergarten children to revise their “All About” books, Katie Lee, also from PS 59, decided to make the elaboration strategies she had taught accessible by first photographing her revision charts, then making color copies of them. She then made use of some 8-1/2 x 11 in. acrylic vertical stand-up sign holders (available from many office supply stores). She slid the photocopies in so the signs became two sided. One side gave strategies for how to say more, the other side included tips for adding details by using the senses to describe. What’s nice about these is they do not take up much space when placed in the middle of the table. The charts can also easily be changed out for newer or different ones depending on the needs of the students.
So as you can see, challenging situations inspire ingenious solutions, or as Plato once said, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Thanks to all the teachers who continue to share among each other and we look forward to hearing about more clever ideas that result from trying to help children learn to help themselves.
Kristi and Marjorie
Much of our conversations about charts are about how charts help make our teaching visible so our students understand and use what we are teaching. Developing student independence is a constant pursuit. In other words, charts are for the kids. Right? Of course. Who else would they be for? Administration? Parents? Classroom visitors? Yes, yes, and yes. But as we have been busy launching units, planning and delivering lessons, reflecting on what is working, what is not, we have come to realize that the person the charts are most helpful for is the teacher. Yes, the teacher. And this is why.
A teacher’s plate is always overflowing with stuff to do, deadlines to meet, paperwork to complete. Weekends are spent planning lessons for the week ahead. It is enough to keep anyone’s head spinning. So to keep from becoming dizzy, we suggest planning the chart simultaneously with planning your teaching as a way to maintain focus and clarity. Here is a case in point.
Marjorie has been working with teachers in Van Buren, Arkansas (hello Central and Tate K, 1, 2 teachers!), PS 192 in Brooklyn, and North Shore Long Island (Glenwood Landing) to find ways to help children synthesize their reading and to increase their conversational skills. The challenge was how to plan a lesson that would get children to say more about their books than just what was already stated in the book or just presenting a one-sentence idea like it was a fact carved in stone. After many minutes staring off into space (and a trip or two to the refrigerator) Marjorie started to think, “What might a chart look like that might help kids know what I am trying to teach them?” Thinking about the key characteristics of a good chart made the planning process much easier and helped smooth the way.
The heading is key because it announces the big idea or goal of what you are teaching. It can be a question, a statement, or a reminder. Trying out a few possible headings is a good way to check whether you have a clear goal in mind. For example,
“Looking for ways to expand your thinking?”
“Ways to push our thinking!”
“Don’t forget to say more about your ideas!”
…then choose the heading that you think will grab your students attention and help make your teaching memorable. Marjorie chose to go with a statement because of the strong verb “push” which was what she wanted to challenge the kids to do—to push their thinking. It was also very visual—forces pushing forward.
Type of Chart
Thinking about the type of chart you need is also helpful in clarifying what you want to teach. Ask yourself, am I teaching a routine, a skill with strategies, a process, showing an exemplar, or teaching about a genre? This leads to thinking about whether you are teaching something that requires steps or items to choose based on need. Or do you want some kind of model students can use to guide them. In the case of the “Ways to push your thinking” chart, Marjorie decided she was actually teaching a process that would eventually lead to the skill of synthesizing. Knowing that a process chart might work lead to imagining some clear simple steps: first ask questions about your idea, then imagine possible reasons, then try to come up with some new ideas.
Now, what words to use? Do you want to introduce certain vocabulary or use known words. Will you use these words in phrases, sentences, or as labels? Then consider how you plan to use the words. If you want to repeat these words over and over so that the children begin to chant them, then short phrases might be best. In this case, a lot of prompting would be needed so short phrases were decided upon.
Here is the chart that ended up helping make the lesson clear and successful:
This was also a chart that was used across the day, during the read aloud, reading workshop, social studies, and science because it was a big, huge idea that the teacher knew would need lots of practice to become a way of thinking. It was simple, accessible, and do-able. And for the teacher it took a complex idea, synthesis, and helped make it crystal clear to both teacher and students alike.
Here are a couple more charts that helped the teacher plan lessons that were explicit and clear. The charts also made the planning easier and kept the teacher focused as she implemented the lessons.
Using charts as a planning tool, no matter what the subject, will help make planning simpler and more effective because it will help you, the teacher, focus and help keep your main goals always in sight. So perhaps the chart does come before the teaching. Let us know what you think.
Until next time, happy charting!
Marjorie & Kristi