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Costco, Play-Doh, and Reading

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Play-Doh

October is one of my favorite months of the year. Halloween with my kids is one of the reasons despite the loads of candy they receive. This is why I love Costco and the small containers of Play-Doh they offer so parents have an alternative to candy and what they offer to trick-or-treaters. There is another reason I love those small containers of Play-Doh....

Reading nonfiction texts may not be the most exciting task for middle school students. Add to this task long periods of silently seated work and repetitive highlighting and annotating, and teachers will find students at all levels of reading fleeing away from reading engagement. Of course, there are times when reading silently is necessary. And, there are times when highlighting and annotations are important. In fact, I have led several workshops on close reading and effective highlighting reading strategies. However, if the process becomes stagnant, readers, especially reluctant readers, will become complacent and reading gains may be limited.

I recently shared a reading strategy that involves tactile movement performed during reading of a nonfiction text. Adding movement activities to lessons does not always entail having students get out of their seats. Some teachers shy away from having students stand and move due to time constraints or interruptions to the flow of a lesson.

For this activity, I chose a nonfiction text that could be easily chunked. Since this text was meant to involve close reading strategies, the text was limited to two pages. The text features included subheadings, which were clearly marked and placed for a natural stopping point for students. I handed out Play-Doh to each participant and gave them specific instructions as to what to do and what not to do with it. Since this was the first time using Play-Doh, class routines had to be set and taught. The amount of emphasis needed for routine instruction depends on the needs of the students .

Participants listened to the first chunk of reading. At the end of the first section, participants were informed to sculpt anything that could represent what they read. They then discussed with their partner pairs their connections. After the second section, they sculpted something connected to inferences that could be made. After the third section, they sculpted something connected to the author's tone. The goal was to increased the level of thinking of each section and to prepare students for a writing response.

When students connect visually and tactilely with a text, the levels of understanding deepen. Rather than have students highlight and annotate, students are creating, visualizing, and discussing the text. The basic strategies of close reading are present, but the approach is novel.

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John Helgeson is a Secondary ELA Curriculum Specialist in the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington. John has been in education for 18 years teaching middle school and junior high students English, Social Studies, and Drama. He has experience teaching in low-income settings, co-teaching with special education colleagues, and teaching pre-AP/IB honors classes. He has enjoyed teaching in Minnesota, Washington, and Japan. 


John has presented at several local and national conferences including WERA/OSPI Annual Conference, AMLE Annual Conference for Middle Level Educators, ASCD Annual Conference, and the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education Biennial Convocation. Topics have included using physical movement in the classroom; effective reading, vocabulary, and writing instruction strategies; flipping the ELA classroom; and exploring literature circles in a mixed-grade/mixed-ability setting. In addition to presenting these topics, John has written several articles on literacy instruction and physical movement in the classroom. John currently sits on the Executive Council for Kappa Delta Pi. 


In his free time, John enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, reading a good book, running and participating in triathlons. 

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Guest Sunday, 17 December 2017