Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Crazy about Categorizing!
By: Gabriella Mirabella, Korey Barkley, and John Walsh

Here in the MSMS Foreign Language Department, we have been using categorizing as a KTL strategy throughout the year. Categorizing requires students to use main idea skills. Students are learning level 1 vocabulary for a foreign language in middle school. It can be beneficial for students to categorize this new vocabulary in a variety of ways to help with memorization and usage.
Students enjoy the “labeling the bucket” activity in Ms. Mirabella’s class. Depending on the section of vocabulary, students can categorize their vocabulary into groups, either by topic or parts of speech. 7th grade Spanish students in Ms. Mirabella’s class were introduced to the gender of nouns recently, which operates differently than it does in English. All nouns, living or nonliving, have a gender in Spanish: masculine or feminine. Students were taught how to properly identify the gender of nouns, and even identify exceptions to the rule.
Ms. Mirabella gave each pair of students two cups (in place of buckets) and a ziploc bag filled with nouns on individual cutouts from cardstock. Each pair had to work together to put the feminine nouns into one cup and the masculine nouns into the other cup. When all pairs had completed the activity, students emptied their cups and shared their findings. Students were required to explain why they put a noun into a certain cup using the rules that were previously taught. This activity promotes collaboration and recall, and is a multisensory way to reinforce an important grammar lesson in Spanish. (Pictures below!)



Mrs. Barkley’s Spanish classes are also categorizing. Her 8A and 8B classes did a KTL lesson using bucket sorting and top down webs!

First, each student was given 2-3 Spanish words on a piece of yellow paper. They all got up and were asked to sort their vocabulary words by placing them in the correct buckets (la casa- house vocabulary, la familia- family vocabulary, verbos- verbs from their vocabulary, & extra- words from their vocabulary that didn't fit into the other 3 categories):

Then, volunteers came up to help organize all of the categories onto a Chapter 6 Vocabulary Web:

Mr. Walsh uses categorizing in his Latin classes. Both 7th and 8th grade students took part in a group activity to sort new vocabulary words in different ways. First, students were divided into two teams. Each team was given a pile of vocabulary words, which they had to sort into three piles based on parts of speech.

Once the teams agreed on their piles, the students copied their lists into three columns on the whiteboard - NOMINA (Nouns), ADIECTIV─¬ (Adjectives) and VERBA (Verbs). The teams then checked each lists for any mistakes.IMG_0129.JPGIMG_0124.JPG

Finally, once the teams agreed on the parts of speech, they had one more task. The students took the nouns and adjectives and separated them by gender. The three new categories for this round were MASCULINIUM, FEMININUM and NEUTRUM. IMG_0127.JPG

Elements of a Fictional Story using Top Down
Topic Webs and Two-column Notes in Grade 4

Having been recently trained in the Keys to Literacy Comprehension Routine over the past few months, we are slowly “getting our toes wet” with the routines. We are implementing the research-based routines throughout our curriculum, including ELA block with our fourth graders.

We decided to create a Top Down Topic Web (TDTW) as a teaching tool to guide our unit on the elements of fictional stories. We found that the TDTW was beneficial for both the students and teacher. It provided an organized outline of the unit that we were teaching. It also served as an anchor chart that could be referred to as we worked through the unit.


Our next step was to further explore each element of fiction. We used both TDTW and two column notes to do this. We modeled the routine as a whole class and then we incorporated the routine into guided reading groups with differentiated texts. The tasks were scaffolded for each group based on our objectives. For some groups, teacher notes/webs were provided. For others, partially completed notes/webs were provided.

We found that after modeling, it was easier for students to apply the routine to a differentiated book. The shared experience gave the students an example to look back at when they were trying it on their own.
Here are some examples of how we did this:

Scaffolded Plot for Guided Reading


Read Aloud and Model

FullSizeR.jpg   FullSizeR.jpg
Two examples of using Two-Column Notes During Guided Reading

Friday, October 20, 2017

Elementary Schools start implementing KTL- Comprehension

Elementary Schools start implementing KTL- Comprehension

Grade Two students have been working with two-column notes to help revisit some stories that they have been reading.  They have been learning about Problem/Solution within a text.  Here they are working independently to find the different solutions that were tried by the characters in their story, Pinky the Pig. We did the first two solutions together and then they completed the others on their own.  They then used the two-column note to help them retell the story.  They really enjoyed this activity.  

Starting Something New: A Peek Inside Seventh Grade Reading  

This year, our grade seven readers are starting a new curriculum that includes four new texts.  As each department prepares best practices for these titles, we asked ourselves how can Keys to Literacy support learning? We wanted to use the Keys to Literacy comprehension strategies in ways that were authentic, providing opportunities for our students to access the material in a meaningful way.  Since our students are familiar with most of these, it allowed us to focus on the new content easily without concern for new strategies too.

Short Story Anthologies-Flying Lessons by Ellen Oh
First Crossings by Donald Gallo
Novel- Towers Falling by Jewel Rhodes Parker
Nonfiction Text- Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Step 1- Divide text into manageable parts.  Because the reading classes are 45 minutes in length, 30 minutes will be spent on reading and 15 minutes will be dedicated to comprehension strategies and discussion.  A pacing guide was created to outline the page numbers and the specific comprehension strategies to be covered.

Step 2- Create comprehension questions that should guide each reading class.  Use lower level Bloom’s Questions for first section of reading to check student basic understanding. Then include higher level questions for sections of text where conflicts are resolved, analysis of story can be applied, as well as evaluative questions to help students create their own understanding.

1) Omnivore’s Dilemma -Preface (pages 1-6 ) & Introduction (pages 7-13)
1(7.1)  Consider the title and topic, then make a prediction on how this book might change your life.

2(7.1) How important are your food choices?

3(7.2) Identify the 4 types of food chains.

4(7.6) What is the author, Michael Pollan’s purpose for writing this book?

Step 3-  Two-Column Notes will be used for two specific purposes. First, the front loading of important information that students will be exposed to.  Students will benefit from having some background knowledge pertaining to certain topics before reading the text.
EXAMPLE: First Crossing: Stories of Teen Immigrants
Define Culture
List Examples
Culture includes traditions, habits and routines that guide a particular group.
ie) clothing, music, foods, language, religions
Define Immigrant

List example.
An immigrant is a person who moves into a country in which they weren’t born in. They aren’t considered a citizen where they live.
ie) Mexican people cross the border to live in America in hopes of a better life.   
What is Economy?

How does money influence our choices?
Economy is the amount of money, goods or materials a population has. It sort of has to do how wealthy an area is.

Money influences our choices in a big way. It decides what we can buy to support our lifestyle.  If we have a lot money we can by expensive cars, house, clothes and toys! The opposite it true if you don’t have enough $.
Define Equality
If it’s important, how are we responsible for creating it?
Equality means being equal- or having the same opportunities and rights as others.

I think it’s important and we should try to create it by treating all people the same way.
Define Diversity

List Examples.
A different group of people based on culture, interests, appearance, economics, education, religion, family, or environment.

The second will be to further their understanding of vocabulary terms. Vocabulary can be predetermined by the teacher or students can choose the words that they are unfamiliar with.
EXAMPLE: Flying Lessons- The Difficult Path
Word #1:

  • Definition: an overwhelming quantity or explosion, as of words, blows,
  • Part of speech: verb
  • Synonym: overwhelmed
  • Antonym: calm
  • Category/related words: Ways to ask questions or get information / Interview, interrogate, inquire, ask, accuse
  • Example: A teacher gets a million questions from students, evaluated from her principal and her car breaks down all on one day.
  • Non-example: Sitting by a pool on a hot day without any worries.
  • Sentence: My mom was exasperated when she hosted a sleepover for a dozen teenage girls.

Step 4- Top-Down Webs are used for students to organize pieces of information. This is especially helpful for students to hold on to details of stories when there is significant time in between classes.  These can also be implemented in the beginning of stories for students to outline characters and traits.  In addition, they can be used as a road-map for learning, helping students remember what has been read and the topics that will be covered in the future readings.

EXAMPLE: FLying Lessons-  SOL Painting Inc.

Step 5- Summary Writing is used throughout the entire reading process.  Often, a journal entry is a summary of the text read that day.  Sometimes the summary is of a big event, important visual, or as a review of a significant amount of text. Opportunities to pair/share their responses provide a chance for student feedback.  Additionally, mini-lessons are appropriate to increase proper use of transition words and quality work.

EXAMPLE: (Towers Falling )Summarize the information Deja learns about the twin towers during the chapter she visits Ben’s house.

To begin with, Deja does not know anything about the previous skyline of Manhattan. She is confused about the image of the twin towers in the picture Miss Garcia shows, because she knows those buildings aren’t there now. Next, Deja, Ben and Sabeen work on a project that answers the question “Why is history important?” As the students try to answer this question, Ben shares information about the 9/11 terrorist attack. After that, Deja asks so many questions that Ben shows her the video. Deja finally understands why this history is important, and sees how it is affecting her life today.

Step 6- Question Generation by students- Students should have the opportunity daily to ask or write questions about their reading. Sometimes this can be assigned based on key parts of the plot, or hot topic areas in non-fiction.  However, it should also be a natural part of classroom discussions. Students should practice writing questions at each of the six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.  

Prompt from Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (around pg. 17 )
After reading about the items that contain corn in a grocery story, write questions you have about the use of corn in America.    
  • Why is corn used for so many things? Aren’t there other materials that work better?
  • I’m so surprised that corn is used for almost everything in the grocery store, does everyone know this?
  • How are so many products made from corn, who is growing all of it?
  • Why do American’s buy all these items if they are so unhealthy?

Step 7- Categorizing can be used as an additional strategy for vocabulary instruction.  Student-selected vocabulary can be used to find main ideas and themes throughout the stories. One method is to ask students to sort vocabulary into predetermined categories, alternately students can be given vocabulary words to determine an appropriate category title.

EXAMPLE: Towers Falling vocabulary and student categorizing ideas.
Words the fit into the category
1)Worried, Nervous or

-anxious, trembling, exasperated,

-grumble, irritable
2) Fire Words
-ablaze, gaping, billow,fierce         unfurls
3) Movements
-clambers, rumbles, trembling
4) Character traits
-sassy, fierce, sarcastic assertive, irritable, anxioud

-integrate, hodge-podge
Based off the categories you identified, what can you infer about this text?

The vocabulary from the novel Towers Falling implies that there are strong, diverse characters who experience an upsetting problem related to fierce movements and a fire that leaves them worried, nervous and upset.

So for anyone out there starting new with Keys to Literacy this year, hopefully some of these ideas help you approach your content with a clearer vision for implementing the strategies.



Friday, October 6, 2017

The English Department is in the third year of its implementation of Keys to Literacy, and both students and teachers continue to develop from its use. We have integrated KTL strategies into the curriculum across all grades and all levels, which has really helped us to focus on necessary skills and effective scaffolding. Here’s just some of what we’ve been up to in our hallway this year.

As part of an activity on how to prepare for critical frame student-led discussions, students generated questions that reached different cognitive levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy. After working in groups to develop inquiries that addressed understanding, analyzing, and evaluation, Mrs. Janovitz’s students wrote their questions on the whiteboard tables in our alcove and engaged in a “silent discussion” by walking around the room and answering them. Now, when students prepare for in-class discussions, they know to create a list of questions that facilitate academic conversations and help their peers access the text at different levels.


Seniors in AP Literature and Composition have also spent a lot of time using the KTL categorizing strategies to help them write about complex material. As part of the AP Literature and Composition exam, students need to read unfamiliar passages from challenging texts, analyze the passages, and write an insightful essay on them - all within 40 minutes. The KTL categorizing strategy has really helped students approach challenging literary passages and outline their writing. This has been a go-to strategy for Ms. Bularzik’s students.

While BHS seniors are really familiar with KTL at this point, the strategies were new to our ninth graders. Ms. MacKay effectively introduced them to the top-down web as a way to understand narrative elements, organize thoughts, and begin preparing for writing assignments. While reading Lord of the Flies, her students identified different types of conflicts, found textual evidence of those conflicts, and organized them in a visual display in our hallway.

Introduction to Film and Media students have been using two-column notes to help them understand how media representation impacts social behavior, as well as how filmmakers use visual techniques to convey meaning. This is an assignment students completed after talking about two contemporary family sitcoms, Modern Family and Blackish. Here is an assignment that is helping students organize their thoughts about substantive scenes in the film Pleasantville.

KTL has been really helpful in giving students the foundational skills they need to read and think critically and communicate effectively. We look forward to continuing this work.