The strategy lessons housed within this unit provide ideas and resources for lesson planning and managing a classroom. They include resources such as websites I’ve found useful over the years, activities that have improved my classroom environment, and tools that engage students while assisting with planning. It is my hope that you will find them to be just as helpful in your own classroom!
About three months into the school year, we received the results of our fall state reading test. They were much lower than anticipated. While much of the decline was believed due to a change in assessment, it was decided that drastic changes had to be made to instruction in order to improve passage rate for the spring. One change made was the additional of an “Enrichment” period. Specials teachers pulled groups of students, who passed the fall test, twice a week to extend what they were learning in the classroom. This enabled classroom teachers additional time to work with smaller groups of students who needed the attention.
In the beginning, it was difficult to plan lessons for these enrichment periods. They had to be “pick up and go” type activities where little to no explanation was needed for the teacher. Different teachers were responsible for taking groups each day so there wasn’t continuity between lessons and days. However, while I wanted the work to be manageable for the teacher, I wanted it to be meaningful for the students as well. I decided upon Scholastic news. After exploring their website and digital tools, I realized it would be a perfect way to engage students with digital texts while providing meaningful skill practice.
In order to make planning easy, I typically choose two magazines at the beginning of the month and plan four weeks of lessons from them – two lessons for each issue. I set up a document in Word that followed the same structure each week and just input information specific to each magazine, such as article titles. Sometimes there was a need for additional planning, such as when I used a double feature magazine. However, for the most part, lessons followed the same structure each week.
Students practiced the same skills each week and were responsible for completing the work independently. Students used the teacher as a resource rather than a guide. The teacher could help with unknown words and technical issues, otherwise students completed the work themselves. This solved the need to stop instruction and explain that day’s assignment to the teacher who came to pick up the group each day. I prepared a basket of supplies that students carried with them to the computer lab. In it contained the day’s work pages, a bag full of pens (no need to stop working to sharpen pencils!), a class set of paper magazines (just in case there’s a technical issue that day), and a class roster. Once students learned the routine, they picked up their materials from the basket, went to their assigned computers, and began working!
If you subscribe to the magazine, you have a subscription code. You can find this on the Instructor’s Manual that comes in your magazine pack. Once you enter the Scholastic Site, you can link the magazine to your existing Scholastic account or create a new one. Then you will be asked to create a classroom password that students will use to access the student materials on the site. I made mine very easy to remember, but also included it on the top of my work pages in case they forgot.
There are several great digital tools on the site. To begin, I always have students do some type of prereading work to get them thinking about the topic. One great feature Scholastic offers is a content specific video. Typically this is a short film that gives students a bit of background knowledge on the topic they are about to read. I usually ask students to watch the videos before reading the articles. Not only does this help their comprehension, but it also is engaging.
Next I have students read the important vocabulary. At the bottom of the screen is a box entitled, “Words to know.” On each card is a word, definition, and picture. Students have the option of having the text read to them if they cannot read it for themselves.
Oftentimes the main text can be difficult, but there are several supports to help. First, students can click on the “Text to talk” button have the text read aloud. They can slow the speed if it is particularly difficult or speed it up. They can pause the text, click on the highlighting function and mark important facts along the way. On some issues, there are different levels of text available. By clicking the “Level” button, students can read a version of the main article at a lower lexile.
In addition to the questions that have always been at the back of the paper magazine, the digital issue offers “Core Questions,” which are aligned to the CCSS. Students are asked to answer questions when finished reading texts and record on their work pages. Enlarged versions of maps and other text features, games, and even a Spanish version are other tools students incorporate into their weekly work.
When finished with their work, students return their pens and work pages to the basket and one student is responsible for bringing the basket back to the classroom each week. Students complete any unfinished work during free time in class or if they have extra time during the next trip to the lab.