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Letters, Shapes, and Colors…Oh my!

Easily a new all-time favorite amongst the early learners is the game “Who has? I have…” There are a multitude of subjects and themes that can be composed within a game such as this. These particular ones used have letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. They combine the color and shape cards, but only give three different shapes to choose from. This helps with learning the three basic shapes: circles, squares, and triangles. We also did a little interactive movement with our hands to show each shape as we said its name. 

The game starts with whomever has the smallest number or the first letter of the alphabet. When it’s your turn, you read the card and say, “I have ___. Who has ___?” Then whomever has that card will do the same. The game ends when there are no more cards.  This game does not go in any sort of order so the kids really have to be paying attention to what is being said and what cards they have in front of them. So this game is very high energy, good focus on listening and reading, and can be styled to just about any topic you’d like. 

“Look, I have a mountain of letters!”

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Winter is…

It’s time again as the seasons are about to change to think back as to what winter really is. The Midwest didn’t receive much of a winter besides sudden freezing cold temperatures after a 70 degree day and little snowflake teasers that don’t stick to the ground. (Let’s talk about global warming, kids!) This made the activity that much more challenging for us because we had to imagine what winter is supposed to look like. For some students we had to think back on Christmas traditions and Lunar New Year celebrations for winter-esque inspiration. The focus was on not only describing winter using our senses but also adding that descriptive language to our writing. Using adjectives to give more details to what we want to say and how we can say it. 

This is such a simple activity that really gets our brains thinking in a creative yet purposeful way. Many students don’t know the differences between the seasons or the holidays, feelings, and traditions associated with each season. So discussing cultural celebrations, school celebrations, and reading books about the different seasons all help to add to the brainstorming and creative process that is learning. The kids walk away with a better understanding of the season by breaking it down using our senses. 

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Building Up Our Word Count

Redundantly putting together, sounding out, and stretching CVC words in order to build up our word count. We can read simple words and rhyme, but putting the letters together and really feeling for every letter sound changes the dynamic. It’s one thing to rhyme words and write out CVC word patterns for those rhyming -am, -at, -ed, etc. but to physically move around the letters to build words tends to change their thinking. This really peaks the interest of those kinesthetic and visual learners to physically grasp the concept of building words and sounds them out. When we can touch the letters and really think about the sounds they make that makes a difference when we go back to pencil and paper writing.

Students worked on building their words independently with some scaffolding on my part. Often times students would ask me to double check a word they had spelled or even to read their words aloud to me.  After we were all finished spelling words, each student read their words aloud.

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Get Your Adjectives!

We can write adjectives anyway we want, as long as we write them right. Adjectives are so important in our writing because they paint the vivid watercolor dreams into our heads and let us imagine exactly what the author is telling us. Adjectives are used to describe or tell; more specifically adjectives are used to describe or tell about a noun. At this point we are introducing adjectives into our students’ writing to enhance their writing and to encourage them to write more, to tell us more. We get so stuck on simple sentences and avoiding all the mushy details.

For beginning writers, we are focused on just getting them to write, putting their thoughts on paper. As we progress, we are looking for those added details, the understanding of words, and the comprehension of our language. Children, especially our English language learners, are just like sponges. Through inclusion and intensive instruction, they are absorbing everything they see or hear. There’s so much going on in the world, so many things to see and talk about. They’ve all lived such interesting little lives already just by coming to a foreign country. Many times when they are writing and can’t think of a word they tend to describe what they are thinking about, what they are trying to say. So naturally adjectives are already a part of their day-to-day speaking.

Depending on their writing skills, decided how this part of speech was going to be presented. It also helped to look into books and text features that exaggerate these describing words. My example always seems to be describing a pizza. You don’t know what kind of pizza I have unless I tell you it’s a hot cheesy pepperoni pizza. When we think about the cheese sliding off of a big piece of pizza, that really gets our imaginations going…and our stomachs growling.

With the above activity, we focus on what on what we are told. We are told “the tall tree” so that tells us how big to make our tree as well as what it is that we need to draw (a tree). With the beginning writers/readers we read the statement together and I would ask “what are we drawing? What does it look like?” Whereas with more intermediate writers/readers we are coming up with adjective lists as a group or scanning short stories in search of these descriptive words.

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Tell Me A Story

Lately when it comes to writing out answers and giving details, my third and fourth graders have been coming to a hault. They have so many creative ideas and want to get straight to their answers, without having fully explaining themselves. We have been working on restating the question in our answers, but that just isn’t enough. The writing block has still smacked us right in the face and left our time to looking up at the ceiling.

So I decided to drop everything and just write. I got together a basic graphic organizer to list out the important factors to a story and just write. To keep the stories relevant we wrote about winter, but we had complete creative reign on the subject. We decided that we should have at least three characters and we brainstormed some settings and potential problems to really get our brains working. From there the writing process was completely independent.  We each sat down, myself included, and came up with a winter story. We took two days to gather our thoughts and get our words down. On the last day we added illustrations to go with our stories. I chose to participate along with the students to model what writing looks like. Although we worked independently, I believe it’s important for students to see their teacher reading or writing and to model those behavioral work ethics. I too illustrated my story and we proudly shared them with one another on the last day.

The energy and confidence that was exulted on this activity, I think, will really make a difference in their writing stamina as well as their writing responses. After reading through our stories, we checked over our writing for any grammatical errors, in which we resolved together. A big thing with ELL students is learning all of the complications that make up the English language. Grammatical errors are very common and often overlooked at first in our beginning writers but becomes a bigger focus when they become advanced. A lot of these differences come up between translation due to words or phrases not translating exactly like we are used to.