Lesson Planning Reflection

RF_unitplansAmy B. and I challenged each other to revisit some of our past blog posts to reconnect with why we love to blog. We have both gotten to be sluggish bloggers. I LOVE to write posts for this blog, but I’ve been in a slump. It’s time to let the sun of summer rejuvenate me. Amy and I agreed to revisit a previous post and reflect on the topic once again and then to write one post with new content later in the week.

One of the first topics that interested me when I started blogging was writing about lesson and unit planning. I continue to find it difficult to successfully record what I intend to teach, plan to teach, and actually teach. I revisited three posts I wrote highlighting my approach to unit planning, sharing those units with teachers, and then writing lesson plans.

Five years ago, I came to the realization that 3-4 week units were all I could mentally handle. That remains true to this day. After 4 weeks the unit is stretched out over too much time, even if I’ve only seen the students for 2 instructional hours. I also feel at loose ends when I hop from week to week and topic to topic. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for the past two months because I’ve spent a lot of time creating my pacing guide for next year.

I have been faced with different unit planning challenges in the last four years because I see students on a limited rotation and our fixed classes get scheduled about 12 times a year (every three weeks). Continuity is challenging. I’ve taken my grid for unit planning and planned one focus for K, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd that will stretch the entire year. Grades 4 and 5 will have two units during the year. For example, in second grade I will be focusing on nonfiction. I will teach how to find your favorite nonfiction books in the library, how we read nonfiction texts, nonfiction text features, how to use the Visual Search in the Destiny catalog, and do mini author studies of favorite nonfiction authors. In fourth grade we are focusing on accessing and organizing information (searching and note taking) for about 7 lessons during the year and then doing a memoir genre study for 5 weeks.

In 2010-2011 I was diligent about writing “Unit Shares” as a one-page flyer to let teachers know which books we were reading and what skills students’ would be practicing. This is something that I have not done since leaving that school in 2011. Differences in schedules and learning a new curriculum kept me from writing these documents after moving to Virginia. It’s something I might consider to go along with the units on my new pacing guides.

I’m hoping that with these very focused plans that I can keep up with writing lesson plans. I have changed my habits when writing lesson plans. It shouldn’t take longer to write the lessons than it does to plan them. I now keep one document with my lesson plans in a table format. I record the date, classes, learning targets, brief description with assessment and differentiation highlighted, and then a column for notes and reflection. This helps me keep up with plans and it makes it easier to submit to my principal.

Reading these old posts is a great reflection for me. I feel like I’m headed into the next year with a solid instructional plan! I’m including a snapshot of my current draft for my pacing guide. I know I love to read about how other people plan their lessons. If you read these, please keep in mind they are drafty-drafts and not fleshed out with many instructional strategies or complete objectives. In first grade, in particular, my goal is to teach with a lot of visible thinking routines. I may not have matched the right routine to the right text–I still have to read some of the books on our Virginia Readers’ Choice nominee list!








Nonfiction Text Feature Articles

Adding text features to nonfiction articles. A fifth grade lesson. | Risking-Failure.comI’ve been working with an extension group as part of our school-wide efforts to reteach, remediate, and extend. It’s been a really positive experience as I get to work collaboratively with our technology specialist. We’re given the topic each week and then we get to plan instruction together. We work with the same grade level three days a week and the students flow in and out of our group every two weeks or so. We have 30 minutes together (which you know can be more like 20!). Generally the groups have ranged from 35-55 students. One week we had the topic of nonfiction text features. To practice thinking about the impact these features truly have on our understanding of nonfiction texts, we asked students to add features to a stripped down article.

As a large group on Day 1 we identified a list of nonfiction text features. Students helped me mark the ones they consider ‘essential’ such as a title, subtitle, headings, bold print words to match a glossary, pictures with captions, etc. We left the list on our board to use as a reference during the project.

I printed five articles from Time for Kids of current events and stripped out all of the formatting, headings, title, pictures, and captions. Each pair of students had their choice of the five topics and received a print copy of their article.

I set out the post it notes, the list of nonfiction text features was posted, and off they went! They stuck post its in for the title, wrote headings, decided which words should be in bold and used the dictionary to find definitions. They continued this planning on Day 2.

Adding text features to nonfiction articles. A fifth grade lesson. | Risking-Failure.com
On Day 3 the students paired up in the computer lab. It was a little cozy! I had saved each article as a Word Template. They opened the template matching their article and started to follow their plan for adding text features. It seemed like the articles transformed instantly as they used their plans to make changes to their new document.

It’s funny, I never once had to say “Does that font make sense for the article? Can we read that color choice well enough?” They were so focused on making the transformations that were essential to the task that they didn’t have time to get too ‘creative.’ They did change fonts, colors, and added underlining, but it make their articles look real and professional. No one added pizzazz for no reason.

On Day 4 I gave a quick review about inserting pictures. We used Google Image search and I stressed the fact that photographs in articles have credit given if it is a reputable news organization. I reminded them that they have fair use of images for their education, but we still give credit. I did not require a formal source citation, and in about 50% of the cases they cited just the website, but 50% of them also found the photographer, or asked what “AFP” means (Associated Foreign Press).

Adding text features to nonfiction articles. A fifth grade lesson. | Risking-Failure.com
On Day 5 students finished their work and had the opportunity to print. We kept it simple and students glued their new articles to construction paper so we can post them in our hallway.

Adding text features to nonfiction articles. A fifth grade lesson. | Risking-Failure.com
During our time we reviewed the impact that text features have on text by adding meaning and helping readers. Students carefully chose images well suited to the topic, were able to explain to me why they chose the words they did for their glossary, and how they were organizing items on the page.

Overall it was a great success and a lesson I would repeat again with fifth grade students!

Ready Reference Characteristics

Students use a chart comparing characteristics of differnet reference resources. | Risking-Failure.comOne of the standards for our third grade students is that they have practice accessing reference resources. In third grade the encyclopedia gets added to the list along with dictionary from second grade. Students have to know what content is included in each source, how it is organized, and what tools are embedded in the resource that allow users to access information.

I put together a simple chart that has a fancy name that I don’t remember. Which I think is funny because it looks just like a simple chart, no?

I set up stations with a pile of like resources at each: two dictionary tables, two encyclopedia, two atlas, two nonfiction books. I considered adding the encyclopedia online, thesaurus, and almanac to the rotation, but kept it simple. Atlases aren’t really on the required list, but we use them a lot and they have a slightly different organizational structure to compare to the others. Almanacs and thesauruses are a bit much for my students at this point in time.

We used two weeks for this lesson. It’s not as speedy as it looks at first glance (at least to me). As we gathered, I told students what our task was. Then we discussed what kind of content some of the resources has. I basically made a word bank for them: a little bit of information about a lot of topics, definitions, a lot of information about one topic, maps, articles, and words. For organizational content it was: alphabetical, in order by the author, chronological (I mentioned this one, but they didn’t know it and I didn’t expected them to use it. I just wanted to add the exposure to the term). For embedded tools: guide words, table of contents, glossary (not really an access feature), index, color-coding, colored tabs, and headings.

Students use a chart comparing characteristics of differnet reference resources. | Risking-Failure.com

Then I sent students to their first station. At their station they recorded the characteristics for the resource where they were sitting.

During the second week we re-gathered and reviewed our word bank. I explained that when students finished with their second resource they would come to me to get their paper checked and turned in. I would select students to write on our class chart.

Students went back to the tables to complete their work. I stood next to a blank poster-sized copy of their chart. (We have a poster machine and this is the first time I have used it. It saved a lot of time, but it wasn’t necessary. I wouldn’t mind hand-writing these.) I had with me the marker for the chart and a highlighter. As students gave me their paper, I checked it for accuracy. Sometimes I sent students back to their seat to work on something and sometimes I highlighted one box on their chart. Those that had highlighting got the marker to fill in one box on the class chart.

Students were then sent to do book checkout and library centers as they finished their work. We gathered at the end after everything was wrapped up to review our work. Students had only gone to two stations so reviewing the content for all of the stations was necessary. We discussed how the dictionary and encyclopedia are both organized in similar ways but have different content. Nonfiction books are organized completely differently based on their content which is determined by the author. Atlases have some similar features that are sometimes harder to notice because the colorful maps can distract students from the fact that there is color coding, alphabetizing, guide words and an index. Most students noticed the table of contents successfully.

Primary Sources Highlight Community Services

RFP_community_servicesPrimary sources are a valuable tool for our students. However, I often struggle  incorporating them into regular instruction. Quality instruction takes time to plan, but the vastness of resources providing primary sources can be time consuming to dig through. Amy, from ClassicSixBooks, and I are challenging ourselves to teach with a few primary sources a month and to highlight them on our blogs.

Carolyn’s Lesson:

First grade students at my school are coming out of a unit exploring the goods and services of communities. I wanted to allow them to dig further into this topic using a Visible Thinking Routine and some primary sources. I started searching for images and videos that show what community service jobs were like in the past with the intention that students could explore the past, connect to the present, and predict the future.

I landed on two pictures of snow removal from over 100 years ago. This is a job that is certainly of service to the community, it is timely in the month of January, and the changes over time are remarkable enough that students will be intrigued enough to ask a lot of questions.

I pulled the two resources and then discovered in the search I was doing that the same pictures had been featured in a blog post at Teaching with the Library of Congress. The curriculum focus is different in this post, but it’s interesting to see how the same images can be used for different curriculum connections. Their focus is how tools are used.

I also found a picture of a modern day snowplow from Wikimedia Commons to use as an image representing the present. While students may have seen snow plows the previous winter or during our first snowfall this year, I don’t want them to have to rely on their memory. They need the visual.

I put the three pictures together in a PowerPoint to use the See, Think, Wonder Visible Thinking Routine.

I hooked the students by explaining that we were going to be investigators exploring a job in the community. Investigators look for clues and do a lot of thinking about what might be happening. Their first job is to look at the picture and find the details. Look at the top corners of the picture, the bottom corners and all of the middle. For a few minutes there is no talking. We want to let our brains see the details.

Then I showed this picture:


Bain Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-B2-7-8

We made a list of all the things we can see in the picture. The students said, “We see wagons,” “We see horses,” etc. They did a really great job just identifying the details without any speculation.

On the next slide I asked the students “What do you Think?” They said things like “We think they are taking the snow somewhere.”

On the third slide I asked, “What do you Wonder?”


I wanted students to really practice the See, Think, Wonder routine so we practiced it for two more pictures.


Bain collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-04462


SnowKing1, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

After doing See, Think, Wonder with the past and the present, I ask students to think about how we might get rid of snow from the roads in the future. Next week’s challenge is going to be to look at a different community service job from the past and present and then to draw pictures of the future.

One student suggested that in the future we will be scooping snow up off the ground. Another student said maybe we would have robots to clear the roads. I have to admit that I won’t mind if there’s a robot out there to do this chore!!

Amy’s Two Cents:

This was a great lesson to try with my first graders.  I told them that you had created it, Ms. Vibbert, so they felt super special trying it out for you.  I had never done the See, Think, Wonder routine with any of my students, let alone my firsties, so I was a little nervous about how they’d do.  I think it’s safe to say that both of my first grade classes did awesome!  Very engaged, hands in the air kind of awesome.

We had a very similar experience to yours, Carolyn.  On of of the slides, there was a date 1/14-15/10.  This led to ALOT of discussion among my kiddos.  We tried to figure out if the year was 2010 or 1910 or 1810 by looking at the photograph for clues.  Some students said they could tell because the “trolley” looked old-fashioned.  We also discussed how there probably weren’t streetlights in 1810.  Another student saw the word New York and suggested that it was 1910 since there were no tall buildings.

As we went through each of the slides (we did all four), the classes kind of skipped around a little bit – they shared their see, think, wonder not in linear order, which I thought was okay.  If they had had trouble coming up with “wonder” observations, I would have stepped back a little bit and had them do the process in order, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble.  I will say that I did not write down their thoughts.  Maybe next time, now that they are familiar with the process.

My favorite parts were when a student said he thought the photograph was from the past “like 1980 or something!”  That always makes me feel ancient! Another student, after we looked at the final “present”  slide, said, “I wonder what snow plows will look like in the future!”  Today I received a packet of illustrations from that class showing just that!  YAY!  I love lessons where the classroom teachers feel they can extend them in their classrooms.

Both of the classroom teachers enjoyed this activity as well.  One teacher asked me if we could do more See, Think, Wonder.  Another student requested books on snow plows {which I did not have!} so I ordered some.

Thank you, Carolyn, for a fantastic lesson!


Download the Lesson Plan and PowerPoint from Carolyn at TeachersPayTeachers. The file is free, but if you’d like to make a donation you can do that at my store. Only buy it if you love it and use it! There are some extra resources in the package that I did not use for my lesson but I thought others could benefit from.

Creative Questions


How does time go by so quickly? I do realize that my pacing guide only has 12 fixed schedule lessons for each grade, but at the beginning of the year it seems like there is so much opportunity. As the year goes on I realize more how many choices I have to make for instructional time.

My rule for this year has been ‘no projects.’ I don’t want to do anything in these fixed schedule classes that is a project. It seems a little harsh when I say it aloud and completely devoid of fun. But in a 45 minute time block that has 20 minutes of book checkout also planned it is impossible to carry projects from one week to the next. My goal was to keep it simple.

Another goal I had was to teach with more Visible Thinking Routines.

One of our objectives in Fifth Grade is to ask questions about a topic. I decided to work on this isolated standard with a new-to-me Thinking Routine. I found one called Creative Questions.

Love! Love!

I started the lesson by reminding students of how often they asked questions when they were little. Young children ask all of these questions because they’re trying to figure life out. Recently my niece is asking, “Dinnertime?” at almost every meal, and when she wakes up from naps, and during snacks. If my students ask “When is dinner time?” they’re asking because they want to know, or because they’re hungry. If they repeat the question it’s because they forgot the answer or because they’re REALLY hungry! But my niece is trying to figure out how dinner is different from breakfast, lunch and snacks. What kind of food is dinner food? When in the sequence of the day is it? And she needs a lot of repetition at the age of two.

We naturally ask fewer questions as we get older, but we also need to know when to ask questions and how to ask them skillfully so we can get what we want and learn what we need to know.

As students head into Science Fair they’ll be asking a lot of questions. These questions don’t have outcomes that are set in a book. The outcomes require experimental procedures, trials, and repetition. Good researchers ask curious questions that may seem crazy or silly, but they require THINKING to answer them. The answers don’t just come directly from a book.

So here’s what we did….

I showed the students a picture from my set of Curiosity Cards, which is in my Kindergarten Assessment Tools Kit (long story behind that one folks…. there will be sets for older grades sometime!).


It’s a picture of a lava flow. The picture is just to spark the topic for brainstorming questions. We start with simple basic questions.

How hot is it? Why is it red? Where is the volcano? What is the lava made out of? How did it form?

Then I show them the list of Creative Question Stems.  I model and we ask some new questions that would require inference to answer. The questions may seem silly, but when you answer them you realize how much you really know about the topic.

RF_creative_question_stemsWhat would happen if rock melted at room temperature? What would it be like if this volcano were in the school parking lot? What would it be like if lava were the temperature of ice? What would it be like if lava were blue?

Some of the students will try to ask silly questions.

Silly questions are THE BEST! Answering them still requires that the students know something about the original topic. It requires them to be thinkers.

Students got their own Curiosity Cards at tables along with a workpage for writing simple questions and creative questions. They worked with a partner to fill in both halves of this page, bouncing ideas off one another.

One of my favorite moments came when two boys shared their question with me: “What if it were blue?”

“It” being some kind of gray monkey that blended in perfectly with it’s gray tree.

“You think you’re being silly, don’t you?”

The grins on their faces told me everything.

“But, I love this question! What WOULD happen if the monkey were blue?”

All of a sudden they’re realizing that the monkey would no longer be camouflaged. If the monkey were bright blue in this gray environment it wouldn’t be able to sneak up on prey. It might be caught by a predator. All of a sudden the entire existence of this monkey is in complete jeopardy!

To answer this silly question my students would have to know about adaptions, predator-prey relationships, and the dangers of extinction!

Love and more love for this lesson!

Each table sent two ambassadors to the next table and they question-swapped their favorite Creative Question.

As a class we came back together to share 3 final questions with the whole class. Over half the class wanted to share. With each one we realized how much we could really learn if we explored the question further and how much we would have to know about our topic!

I will definitely be using this Visible Thinking Routine Again!

What are some of your favorite lessons for teaching questioning?

Note-taking: A Blender for your Brain

Note-taking: A Blender for Your BrainA fourth grade student came up to me this week and said, “Ms. V. I need a book about Denmark.”

Sadly, we do not have a book about Denmark. I have books about countries and cultures on my collection development plan for the year. I also had the 900s on my weeding list for October. I viciously weeded this section and pulled several boxes of outdated books from the shelves.

So, no Denmark book.

I asked a few more questions about the project and realized that this student had already found a few resources about his topic. I recommended CultureGrams for the completion of his project as a resource he could use in the library or access at home.

He thanked me and said, “Oh, and I was taking notes about Denmark yesterday. That Cornell one really helped me. I liked it.” He pointed to the large charts I had on the wall from our previous note-taking lessons I had done with his class.


We should expect that our teaching makes a difference. We absolutely should. But, in reality when I keep at least 15-18 minutes of class sacred for book checkout, there are only 20-22 useable minutes left in our class. It’s not a lot of time to teach something meaningful AND have students remember it AND have students use it in the future.

When I teach note-taking I have three strong messages:

  • You should find a note-taking style that is right for YOU as an individual
  • Note-taking is a tool to get from an original source to a product in your own words
  • Note-taking is NOT about the rules of a prescribed format

Here’s how I teach note-taking to fourth grade students:

I have chosen three formats of notes that I like: Cornell 2-Column Notes, Landmark 2-Column Notes, and Extreme Mapping. I found templates for each of these from Pearson Education at FamilyEducation.com.

I usually pull an article or content relevant to a topic the grade level is learning in science or social studies and keep my eye out for something that does translate really well to note-taking. I want the students to see the ease in note-taking.

I always begin with Cornell 2-Column Notes. I feel like Cornell has some of the best (but hardest) features of the three styles I use with students. Landmark is a good transition between all the parts of Cornell and the loosey-goosey Extreme Mapping.

When I teach note-taking in three classes then each format gets a class. When I teach in two classes then Cornell gets a session and the other two share a session. I won’t lie–it’s  rush to fit it in.

RF_Cornell_NotesThis fall I taught the classes with articles about the extreme weather happening around our nation as it coincided with our fourth graders’ weather research projects. I used articles at Time For Kids. For our Cornell day I printed the article on the backside of the Cornell template. We spent a few minutes reading the article. Then I asked the students to think-pair-share with a neighbor a few keywords from the article that they would share with someone who had not read the article. We brainstormed these as a class and listed them as keywords. This is one of the aspects of this format I LOVE! I ask students to be sure to add the words they would want to use in their final project to communicate with their audience.

I strongly encourage students not to just copy my model even though we’re doing it as a class. “These are YOUR notes for YOU,” is my message. “Your brain might not think the same way my brain does.”

Then we read the article together and talk about headings and paragraph topics. I explain about the Roman Numerals, but I don’t emphasize those. At this age the Roman Numerals can be more of a problem than an asset. I stick to a I. Main Heading and then A., B., C. as details.

Finally, students think about one sentence they would use that would summarize all of the information on the page. (The summary doesn’t have to be one sentence, but for this assignment the ideas they’ve taken notes about usually fits in one sentence.)

This is the part where I emphasize the blender metaphor. We started with an original article by an author. We put it through the note-taking process and the result is something in our own words! It’s similar to the original, but changed by the process.

The following week I demonstrate the Landmark 2-column notes. It is similar to the Cornell, but doesn’t have the keywords, the Roman Numerals or the summary. It does have the main idea on the left and the details on the right. I explain that as we get older we all settle into our own styles for making lists. You can number, use bullets, stars, little boxes, etc. I tend to use hyphens in lists where I don’t have to do anything and boxes for to do lists. I explain this to the students and make it very clear that I make lists for me as ME and not as me the TEACHER. They do NOT have to use hyphens just because I use them in my example. I make a mini list off to the side of all of their options and ask them to choose one. I let them know it’s important to choose some kind of marker to an item in a list so that you can tell when the idea changes, especially if it is more than one line long.

Extreme Mapping is similar to Landmark notes. I tell students that this format is great for students who are truly art-smart. Most of the students in a class will choose this format as the one of their choice, but in reality it probably only suits one or two students. I flat out tell them that this type of note-taking is difficult for me. It’s more work for me to think in pictures than it is in lists. That’s not true for everyone. But I also tell them that sometimes the hard kind of note-taking is good for us because we have to really think about what we write down. When I’m forced to draw to explain my thoughts it means I really have to understand the concepts well in order to draw.

When we finish I ask students to move to one of three locations in the room representing each note-taking format. it gives me a chance to summarize each one and to emphasize the useful features of each.

I love teaching note-taking because I believe it is powerful. I only wish I had more opportunities for students to practice and integrate it. I can only hope that my lesson about taking notes being important and individual sticks with them long enough for it to be of some use.

Saturday Morning Cartoons: Orientation Roundup

Here’s my collection of Back-to-School Library videos for orientation and those first library lessons. Perhaps you’ll find a new gem among them, or remember an old favorite! Do you have a favorite I’ve missed? Sound off in the comments!

You can find all of these videos on my Pinterest Board for Library: Back to School!

Information Dots

I was late to the party for International Dot Day in September. Getting an initiative like that off the ground the first two weeks of school is tricky and I just wasn’t prepared. I have it on my calendar for next year so that I’ll be ready.

I thought I would test out some ideas between now and then because there’s no reason to wait on a good lesson. Matthew Winner, the Busy Librarian, has a great post with dot day ideas for each grade level. I really connected with one for first grade about using survey data. It fit in well with a unit I had in mind for 2nd grade about displaying information. 

Lesson 1:
We read The Dot using TumbleBooks. I displayed a variety of Celebridots for students to study. We talked about what makes a ‘good dot.’ Students used supplies to make a dot showing something representing their unique self and added it to a class banner.

Lesson 2:
Students brainstormed a list of survey questions they could ask that would share something unique about their classroom. Because I knew time would be a challenge, we discussed how phrasing the question in a specific way manipulated the results. There is a difference between asking “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” and leaving the question open-ended and asking, “What is your favorite ice cream flavor: chocolate or vanilla?” Students quickly said, “but what if your favorite flavor is mint?” They decided that if the question were multiple choice then “other” should be an option. We also asked yes/no questions such as “Do you have a dog?” or “Do you like to play video games?”

I collected data in two ways. In hindsight, I would only do it one way in the future. I lined all of the students up. The first student stood up with her clipboard and asked her question to the student on her left. After she moved down the line asking a few students her question, the next student in line stood up and followed her, asking his questions. As the students made it to the end of the line they went back to the beginning and sat in their seat. Those in the middle asked questions of every student at the end of the line and every student at the beginning of the line before taking their seats. I kept the students moving and they were usually asking or answering a question, but it was a bit crazy.

One of my classes was cut short on time because I was at an inservice and didn’t feel like writing a complex lesson plan explaining the collection of survey data. Instead I squished two weeks into one and I wrote the questions for the students. This is the lesson I seem to have pictures from. Instead of each student asking all of the others their question I laid questions out on a table and then sent the students around with a marker to add a tally mark to each paper. I read each of the questions aloud with the choices so they had a bit of thinking time before getting up to mark their answers. Students traveled in a large circle around the tables and quickly answered each question. I would do it this way in the future.

If you had a fun tech tool that would allow students to collect survey data, then this would be another option.

Lesson 3:
On each student’s work page I left them room to tabulate data and write final results. After a few minutes of counting tallies and interpreting data I demonstrated how to turn information into dots. We talked about how the dots should fill the page (because I didn’t want them using just 3 inches of the paper they were given) and should be proportional.  I required that each paper have a student name, title, large colorful dots showing size, and labels. Students used crayons to draw and label their dots.

I love that they could show information about themselves and about their class with the same concept. I am looking forward to refining the process for next fall and working more with our art teacher. I’m also wondering how I could incorporate music into the project. I have some ideas that involve using Poster Sound Recorders….

Unit Plans in Review, 3-5

I’ve been reflecting on my units taught so far this year. Here’s K-2 if you want to read about more lesson plan angst. As I start the reflection process I say, “what was I thinking!”

Third Grade: Library ResourcesI need to work on this one some for next year, but there are some good parts. I got into Dewey with students by using The Library Gingerbread Man and a Sliderocket presentation I made to go with it. The SlideRocket is REALLY simple. Don’t expect anything fabulous.  I also spent a lesson with students showing them how to use the OPAC. Finally, our third lesson is about all of the other resources available to students online. They have time to explore our website subscriptions and resources. 

Third Grade: Ready References
The first lesson in this round introduced students to print vs. online resources. In second grade my students have already had a lot of practice with dictionaries and maps. We did a very fast smackdown of dictionary, atlas, encyclopedia and almanacs in print and online. I made a symbaloo to house these for quick access on our website. The second two lessons were more exciting (I’ll have to go back and blog about them–I meant to!). I put together ‘research stations’ for students to float around to during library class. They had two weeks to complete 11 stations.  Nine were content related and the last two were book checkout each week. They had a great time and got to practice accessing resources and I love a more open class structure where I can talk one-on-one with students. I will definitely do this one again with some refinement.

Fourth Grade: Online Searching
I wanted to start the year off getting fourth graders into online searching. I am careful about not monopolizing the computer lab for my lessons because it does block off a good chunk of time when I use it for an entire grade level. Frankly, I think it’s almost too late. They probably need these lessons in 2nd grade before are (hopefully) allowed to search Google at home. This unit was successful and I would teach it again. 

Fourth Grade: Word Reference Sources
Ah. It’s a dud. I did a lesson on the dictionary and glossary and one with the thesaurus. When I taught the thesaurus lesson last year with nursery rhymes it was better. This year it just did not work. They need work. And frankly, these lessons don’t fit as well into the library realm as I would like. Instead, I may offer them as a classroom lesson when teachers reach these objectives in language arts. 

Fourth Grade: Memoir
I looooove my memoir unit. I explored memoir with students for the first time last year. It’s one I was ready to repeat this year with a few minor tweaks. Overall, a big success. Can’t get over my love of this unit.

Fifth Grade: Research Paper
Ocean Animal Research project including a basic “how to use this book to answer questions” mini-lesson. Students also learned how to cite sources. My feel-good accomplishments were creating a SlideRocket to walk students through finding the locations for the copyright info needed in a text and templates for citing sources
Fifth Grade: Notetaking and Fairy Tales
Ah, this one is a dud. I booktalked a few older fairy tales that have been twisted by using other animals. Petite Rouge, Three Little Dassies, Armadilly Chili. Last year these students participated in an extensive Notetaking unit. I wanted to revisit 2-column notes with them. We used the Nature’s Children series to review the notetaking structure as we made notes on the animal’s habitat, diet, and relationships. Students used their notes to do a comic strip draft of their new version of a classic fairy tale. This is one of those units that I *think* sounds exciting and combines several interesting elements, but needed more time. I did try to squish it into two lessons instead of three, so maybe it will work with a bit more time.

The Verdict…
It took me a few weeks to get this post written. Everytime I sat down to add a unit I kept thinking “What did I teach third grade? Was it really so bad that I don’t remember?” After (finally) remembering and jotting down these notes, it doesn’t feel so worthless. I think I just struggle with feeling like I make an impact on my fixed schedule. I see students for three weeks out of every quarter.

One good lesson at a time. I think the good ones outweigh the duds. The duds just seem worse because the number of lessons I teach in these units is so few.

What are your favorite lessons or units for upper elementary? 

Unit Plans in Review, K-2

Amy’s blog post at Classic Six Books made me think “exactly what have I taught this year so far?” and “has it been any good?”  It’s been awhile since I’ve babbled about lesson and unit plans.

I share a ‘block’ with our computer teacher and counselor so I see each grade for three weeks out of every nine. Those three weeks are chunked so that I can teach a 3-week mini unit. Lately I feel like I’m overly ambitious in my planning and can’t fit it all in. With checkout time that leaves three 25-minute lessons. It doesn’t always feel like enough time for quality. I tend to over-plan and then the lessons go unfinished and can flop. Sometimes the rotation changes and I’m uninspired. I have to get over that soon though because after 6 years of library teaching and as many blogs as I read with good ideas I need to get some planning done!

Here’s some of what I’ve done….

Kindergarten: Fiction/Nonfiction with Bears
 We used PebbleGo and texts to learn real facts about bears and did a simple notetaking chart to describe their habitat, diet, body and actions. Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Goldilocks played a starring role in our fiction stories. I do like this unit in the fall, but I think next year I’ll switch my topic for fiction/nonfiction and move all of the bear info to the winter. I have taught a winter animal research unit before with Kinders. I think though that I’ll add the Bear Cam and teach a unit focused on the resources available for learning new information. I want to go a bit deeper and really dig into what is available even to our youngest students to learn from.

First Grade: Pete the Cat Sequels
We read the Pete the Cat series and then planned a sequel. Students brainstormed plots and narrowed it down to a final choice using a multi-vote. Another round of brainstorming generated all of the events for the book. The next week each student picked one of the plot points from a stack of index cards and drew/wrote their page of the story. Later I scanned in all of the pictures and pulled it together into a digital story.

If I were to do this next year I think I would try to make it a collaborative project with our technology specialist. Students could have a graphic of Pete to put into Pixie or KidPix and could illustrate their page around Pete’s likeness or draw their own Pete. Their story could be easily narrated. The trick is to keep it simple because of the time limit, but transfer most of the tech experience of the project over to the students so they can be the storytellers.

First Grade: Fairy Tales
I hadn’t intended to do a fairy tale unit with first grade. I had intended to do a poetry unit incorporating You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Fairy Tales. Instead, I overlapped with the first grade classroom theme more than I intended and we read several tales. I created an interactive white board money activity for the Three Silly Billies. Students loved just listening to Falling for Rapunzel, The Three Dassies, my horrible Cajun accent with Petite Rouge Riding Hood, Manana Iguana, and Armadilly Chili. Right before my last class I remembered my recording of Mike Artell reading Petite Rouge. Our Library Assistant kindly told me that my reading was better, but I was glad to turn the reading over to Mr. Artell!

It wasn’t the most inspired unit, but I’ve been coming to a slow realization lately that it’s okay. The first grade teachers have told me many times that they love it when I just read a lot of great books. As long as I can keep students’ 25 minutes on the carpet engaging with just a bit of action for them not to sit so long then reading a lot of great books is wonderful.

Second Grade: Ecosystem Notetaking
Students used laptops and worked in groups to use PebbleGo. Each student took notes using pictures and text. This unit was very simple, but I loved it. It was the first time I had used laptops with a class. That’s not very tech-saavy of me, I know. The laptops are on a shared cart and often require rebooting after startup because they miss their regular overnight updates because they are powered down on the cart. It’s logistically impossible to have students be responsible for booting these up during the lesson. Instead it takes about 30 minutes of prep prior to the lesson. It’s not challenging, but investing this time every day for three weeks adds up. That’s more than an entire school day! I wish there was a simpler way to do this. I’m envious of libraries with ipads or dedicated laptop carts with space in libraries. At the same time, there are libraries with no laptops available. It was worth it for this unit!
Second Grade: Prep for Research
In January our second grade students research severe weather. I led into that project by reviewing components of their project around winter break. Students were exposed to the library catalog. We looked up weather books and practiced locating them in the library. During one lesson we used a rubric from the Cyber Smart curriculum and evaluated two weather websites to determine which would be best for second graders. For our last lesson students used a shorter rubric to evaluate a weather book. We practiced locating the table of contents, index, and glossary; determined if the book was a ‘just right’ reading level; analyzed the pictures and graphics; and identified a favorite aspect of the book.

I think I would keep this unit almost exactly the same. Each of the skills directly translated to their research project a few weeks later. I think I might put together the rubrics into a packet or something to cumulatively document student work during the unit.

Final thoughts…
It hasn’t all been bad. There are good moments in each of these units. I learn something about the way I teach with every unit that goes by. I always think I’m going to repeat units the following year, but that’s true only about 25% of the time. I feel like I’m always starting over and then the real planning doesn’t happen until the end of a unit. Not the best cycle to be in as an instructional professional. I want to start building some really solid units and that’s a challenge for me to do the first time through. Reflection really does help me become a better teacher. I have to really really work on the instructional part of being a librarian. It’s hard for me to analyze a lesson or unit ahead of time and determine what needs to be improved before I teach it. I envy those that have the knack to pull it all together.

I have many more thoughts about unit planning that have come to me in recent months; I am determined to move forward with confidence!