Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rigor - Breaking Down Academic Buzzwords, In My Own Words

This blog post marks the first post since taking a summer break from blogging. I did not vaporize into the blogosphere. I have had a very full, busy and exciting summer (as documented on Instagram - @hellojenjones).  Please be assured that maintaining this blog and sharing high value instructional best practices in literacy is my passion, and I am more fired up than ever to continue the mission of this blog:

...growing readers, one best practice at a time.

One of the take-aways I got from the TpT conference this summer in Vegas was the realization that I needed to tighten up my blog posts to be shorter in overall length and focused on one topic per post, so that is what I will try to do.  With that said, I do plan to finish my Informational Standards Series, resuming with Standard #3. For now, I want to start a new series today called "Breaking Down Academic Buzzwords." Every so often I will take one academic buzzword and break it down, in my own words

Let's begin with RIGOR.

It's a hot word right now, and has been, where you are a Common Core school/state or not. It's a word that districts and principals use with teachers constantly. They say "Your lessons must be rigorous" or "Your instruction must include rigor" and that's about all they say, not much else, and many teachers generally think one of two things, "Ok, I'll make my lessons harder or more challenging!" or "Ok, how do I do that?" without an explanation of RIGOR. 

First and key, embedded in rigor is ENGAGEMENT
Engagement is not a teacher behavior exactly, it is a student behavior, but highly influenced by the attitude, opportunity and structures provided by the teacher, from which students (hopefully) choose to engage in the learning because they see value in it, for them.

Then, embedded in engagement are the learning domains - AFFECTIVE & COGNITIVE.
A student's AFFECTIVE (growth in feelings or emotional areas; how one feels about themselves as a learner and general internal motivation and feelings about learning...anything) motivation and COGNITIVE (mental skills, knowledge; ability to think and problem-solve, evaluate and critique information, etc.) ability to see/feel/get positive results and real learning as a result of their engagement and effort/perseverance from having engaged in the learning, which makes students more likely to engage next time. 

And last, embedded in affective and cognitive learning is AGENCY and INDEPENDENCE
Agency is the motivation and urgency a student brings to the task no matter the content. Independence is the student's ability to be a self-regulated learner without teacher feedback or direction. 

But that's not all, there's RELEVANCY and RELATIONSHIPS.
Take-Away: Rigor is just as much about students and their learning identities, as it is about teachers and knowing students well, choosing your attitude, showing real respect for students, building positive relationships with students, and planning for genuine, relevant learning. It's about embracing your role to providing classroom learning experiences that are more likely than less likely to encourage and invite engagement. It's about providing physical and classroom culture environments and believing that ALL students can learn at high levels when high expectations are clear and known AND that where students actually demonstrate learning at high levels. It's about making real school-life connections for students, and creating a sense of urgency that a student's choice to engage will have a positive take-away and intrinsic pay-off for them, which will no doubt give you a sense of teaching accomplishment, increase your likelihood to continue recreating rigorous classroom experiences in your class and affirm yet again that yes, you have been called to teaching because it is without a doubt, the most important job in the world.  

Additional Reading: 4 Myths about Rigor

Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day! Big Deal-Big Day!

Celebrating the war veterans in my life. Upper left is my stepdad, Joe Mashburn, who served in the Navy during the Korean War on an aircraft carrier that transported Navy helicopters, and his father (not pictured) who also served in the Navy during World War II. Upper right is my great grandfather, Victor Manning, who served in the calvary during World War I. Lower right is Lee Hood, a long time family friend, who served in the Vietnam War on the USS Impervious...that an ocean minesweeper made out of wood and the picture on the lower left is the Vietnam memory beads he made and gave to me to symbolize the 58,000 men and women that died in the Vietnam War.  He just so happened to be in Raleigh yesterday. He's on the Lead Team for the Run to the Wall motorcycle ride...where 250,000 veterans on motorcycles will ride in the Memorial Day Parade today in Washington D.C.  For more information on Run to the Wall, go to  It's quite fascinating to read about how they coordinate gas, food and lodging for mass groups of motorcyclists across the country.   In honor of the amazing men and women that serve and served our country, I'm having a Memorial Day Sale in my TpT store today through Wednesday.  

Also, celebrating a very special day today. Sixteen years ago today, my first child, Kelsey May, was born.  Geez! Has is been 16 years already? Where did the time go??? I mean it.  Wow! Everyone says it, and it's so true.   Happy birthday, sweet thing! Mama Jones (that's what she calls me) loves you to bits!

Speaking of today being Memorial Day and my daughter's birthday...I am en route to Georgia where I'll be providing some #helloliteracypd to the teachers at Hillside Elementary and Northwood Elementary in Fulton County Schools tomorrow and Wednesday. I have to say, I feel love down there, it feels so good to keep being invited back. <3  You are welcome to follow along virtually at #helloliteracy on Twitter.

Speaking of Hello Literacy, today and tomorrow might be a good time to let you know that I've added several new products to my store lately, that I don't actually think I've blogged about.  The first one is my #hashtag fluency product, which kids L.O.V.E. - for real!!!  I have created 10 hashtag lists (that get gradually more challenging with each list) and 5 different fun and engaging activities and games to practice fluency.  It you don't have it, it would be something fun and different for these last few weeks of school and if you already have fluency stations or fluency centers set up in your room, the kids would know exactly what to do and you don't even need to miss an assessment beat.  Be sure to check out the preview, too.

Here are few snapshots from the pack....

To see this product in action, check out Linda Kamp's sweet #fluencyfun! blog post over at 

Hashtag Strings included with and without running words down the right side...

Fluency Graphs (for students)

Directions are included on all the variations possible with this set.

I've also included several editable files so you can create some of your own classroom hashtags.  

Grab #hashtagfluency HERE

I've also added several more Fluency Fact Card sets if you haven't seen.

And, the research base for using these fluency fact cards in the first place...

In addition to my fluency packs, I also created 30 10-question multiple choice assessments aligned to each of the 30 benchmark titles in the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment Kit (for the blue kit). These assessments were designed to be used as an alternate know, if you're like me, you've had that same child try to pass the book about Ray and his dad that live out a van until Ray's dad gets a job, and the student can't pass the level because they don't "get" the symbolism of the rain at the beginning of the story and the sunny skies on the last page!!!! Yes, both you and the student are just as frustrated and the student is thinking, "You're going to make me read this AGAIN?" Yep, but this time, use my comprhension check instead.  Here's a few snapshots: 

Click on the image above for more details. 

Both lower level (literal) and higher level (inferential) questions from each of the three strands of the CCSS for ELA. Here's a correlation table included for each assessment. 

And my latest series, is a set of short, fun, and interesting informational articles for any reading experience or close reading.  Each passage is designed to be read and reread in one session. Click on the image below to see everything that's included for just $5.00.

Each article is designed to look like a real magazine article.  Each article is written at four different lexile levels from grade 3-8. However, these kid-friendly topics are certainly appropriate as K-2 read alouds or gifted youngers.  Here's a few more snapshops:

I wrote these articles to really teach and reinforce each of the five different text structures, so you'll you'll notice that each article is a different text structure, and all the articles in this set have to due with 21st century global awareness...the articles aren't related but there is a common theme in the set.  

A "lesson plan" is included per article with guiding questions for discussion and the vocabulary from each article is already divided for you into Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 words.

Two text-specific graphic organizers are provided per article with standards correlation listed at the bottom of the page. 

Various printing and options for use are included, in addition to suggested ways to use these with your interactive notebooks.  

This is Volume 1 and Volume 2 is almost ready...thanks to Laura Candler who suggested I get a Virgin Mobile Mifi Hotspot...I am able to work in the car today...on my way to Georgia. 

Click on the image to get it now on sale for $4.00...(that's a 52 page steal!)

Volume 2 is almost ready, proofing it now, so check back will be on sale, too!

That's all for now...and as always!

Monday, May 12, 2014

IRA, Twitter, Close Reading, Home Literacy, Picture Books, Guided Reading, Nonfiction, Streetcars & Shrimp Gumbo in New Orleans

So, can I just say, I'm tickled to bits to be here at the International Reading Conference in New Orleans... rubbin' shoulders with so many greats! Making/meeting old and new friends. It's not even funny. It's seriously cool!  I'm still here. I fly home Tuesday morning.

For those of you that follow my Hello Literacy Facebook page, I posted this the night before I left for the were supposed to infer how I felt about getting ready to leave for IRA....

And for those of you that have not been following my conference tweets on Twitter, @hellojenjones or #IRA14, this blog post is for you. :-)  And I will just get on my Twitter soapbox for one minute to say this, if you are a teacher, or a principal, an author, reader, writer, or have any role in education, YOU SHOULD BE ON TWITTER! Period. It's the best, most current, in touch, virtual, right now, connected,  professional development available to anyone in education. See here.   As Chris Lehman says, "If you can text, you can tweet!" In fact, for those teachers at the conference not on Twitter (but should be) there's a Tweet Suite in the Exhibition Hall where you can stop in for a quick lesson. And when I say quick, I mean quick, like super mini.  It takes 30 seconds to learn Twitter. Not kidding.

The best part about the Tweet Suite yesterday was the Meet & Tweet, where I got to meet some online friends in person.  So fun! This is Heidi from and Lyssa from MyMommyReads.

So my sessions. Yesterday, I went to Frank Serafini's ( session called "Reading Picture Books Closely."  It was FANTASTIC...will definitely be incorporating some of his metavisuality (not sure if that's even a word, but I'm using it)  ideas into my text complexity & close reading presentation.  And then I HAD to go see Chris Lehman again. In the most profession and uncreepy way....LOVE him!!!! I really do. So incredibly easy to listen to.   I am 3/4 of the way through his new book with Kate Roberts, Falling in Love with Close Reading and absolutely love it. Falling in Love with it. You should buy it.  [Sidebar: Based on feedback I have received on my newest Informational Articles for Close Reading, [more on this next week] I have been asked by readers to dedicate a blog post to "my take" on close reading. I will be doing that in the coming weeks.] Again, tweeted throughout that session too, which I had mostly heard at #NCRA14, but I don't care, I could listen to him all day.  And, he presented with the fast talking, no-nonsense, of-course-everything-makes-sense, Mary Ehrensworth, a co-author with him on Pathways to the Common Core.

Went to Mr. B's Bistro for dinner last night, had seafood gumbo, right? Had to, I'm in NOLA.  Oh, and added crawfish roux (stew) to my schema for lunch, too. Forget to say that.  So pretty much by 10PM last night I was pooped. 

But at 7AM this morning I was pumped to start a new IRA day with Timothy Rasinski's session "Home and Family Literacy" Wow!...want to know what he said?  Read my tweets. Best take-away? Singing. Every classroom should be singing. Why? Besides that it's fun...singing is reading. And, it has a way of sticking in your head and you can't get it out. You know what I'm talking about...this shuffle is a form of repeated reading, and reading through singing affects us aesthetically that sometimes reading doesn't.   

Here's something else important he shared. Want to know 21 factors that discriminate between highly effective and less effective schools in literacy achievement? 

41. Phonics Teaching
37. Number of Hours Devoted to Instruction
34. Teacher Readership of Professional Materials
32. Individualized Instruction
31. Informal Assessment
29. Encouragement to Read
28. Student Newspaper in School or Classroom
26. Books per Student in Classroom Library (let's hope they're being used)
25. Emphasis on General Assessment
23. Teacher Readership of Literature
21. Schoolwide Program for the Improvement of Reading Instruction
19. Size of School Library
18. Frequency in Visiting School Library (let's hope they're checking out books.and reading them)
17. Literature Emphasis
12.Frequency in Borrowing Books from the Community (Public) Library
11. Presence of a Classroom Library [what? so they just have to look good on a shelf?!?]
9. Comprehension Instruction
8. Reading Materials Available to Students

2.  ?

1. ?

Want to take any guesses on the #1 and #2 most important factors on literacy achievement?

Check you answer at the bottom of this post. I'll let you think about it. Don't cheat. (And BTW, nobody cheats on accident ;-))

My next session was with Jan Richardson, "Harnessing the Power of Small Group Instruction: Scaffolding Comprehension [and other stuff] During Guided Reading."  As a Reading Recovery trained teacher myself, I totally related to everything she said....I loved it and reaffirmed the importance of guided reading and scaffolding based on what the child is not doing and needs, during guided reading.  

Click on the image to purchase from Amazon....and key phrase is "next step"...want to know what she had to say. Read my tweets. Best tweet of all: 

Did you see that slide?? Can you read that data? Closely? 107 Kindergarten students. 103 of them ESL. By February only 2% of them didn't know 40 letters and now, they are all reading.  Jan says K teachers do not have time to wait til January to start Guided Reading, start it after initial K assessments are completed.

And my last session ended with the ever-funny and super smart, Amanda Hartman from Teachers College Reading Writing Project, who co-presented with Anna Cockerille.  Amanda walked us behind the scenes of her Nonfiction Close Reading Teaching of Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! with 2nd graders and how she teaches students the language and thinking of Accountable Talk. I took lots of pictures. On Twitter.

Me with Amanda Hartman
You might recognize Amanda from her Vimeo, or Vim-ay-o, as she calls it.  Love her too! She's the one who said in my Writing Workshop training....Oral Rehearsal is SO important for young writers. Our youngest writers absolutely have to talk out first what they want to write, before they write. Duh! Makes sense. Do we make time for this? Vital. Have a look at her video by clicking on the pic below.

Also, a big shout-out to other Twitter, now new, friends that so diligently tweeted alongside me.
Me @hellojenjones | Jessie @jessiebmiller |  Lyssa @lyssareads

It's so nice that we were able to reach so many of you in far away places like Arizona, New Jersey, California, Saudi Arabia (and an airport somewhere Justin Stygles), through our tweets. That's how Twitter works! 

I hope to see you's been great running into those of you that have said HeLLo!

2. Amount of Reading Done by Students at Home

1. Schools Worked to Involve Parents in Children's Literacy Development

Where is your school putting all its efforts??   Reading Intervention? Test prep? Worksheets?  Scripted Programs? iPads? ...sounds like the power factor is right in front of us.  Are
we working with it or against it or neither?  Something to think about. Literacy food for thought.

Can you infer what's important about this picture?

Happy (1st) Mother's Day, Ali Scott. You're doing it right. Lucky Esli. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This Just Happened. But You Can Help.

I saw this post on Pediastaff's Instagram not 15 minutes ago...and I just felt the need to reach out and help...hopefully, you will be moved to help too.  I emailed Heidi at Pediastaff like the most said to do and here is what she said:

"We just found out (like within the past hour) that we are sending a mission group down there from one of our recruiters' home town in Alabama.

We have fourteen volunteers ready to head down there.  They JUST found a church to crash at for a week, so you would be the very first donor!!!  (after PediaStaff, LOL)    They leave in the morning.  

They are taking chain saws (paid for), contractor bags, gloves, bottled water for the community, etc.  They are hauling a trailer.    Your money will go for their transportation and their expenses while there. They are very frugal and they are sleeping on the floor at the First United Methodist church's Christian Life Center on the floor.     Any leftover donations will be donated to the the city.

Here is the link to donate:    "

Monday, April 14, 2014

Q&A from the Hello Literacy Inbox: "Am I Doing My Literacy Block Right?"

I get a lot of emails from teachers asking me general and specific questions about literacy instruction...99% of the time, I answer them and if I don't, it's because they get lost in the email abyss that happens between my iPhone and my real Inbox...and to the 1% that did not get a reply from me, I'm truly sorry.  I do, however, think that others might find value in others' questions as well as my response.  Therefore, from time to time, I will publish the questions of others and my email reply.  So here goes, an email I received today from Amy (first names only).

Hi Jen!

I'm a follower of your blog.  I have been teaching First Grade at ABC Elementary for six years.   

After reading many of your blog posts, I was wondering if you could shed some more insight.  I really like your CC ELA Comprehension Sheets.  After looking at those, it made me question my "Daily Cafe" block.  I've had an internal struggle for the past year that it doesn't look "correct" in my classroom.  We adopted Letterland [phonics program] this year, so one of my mini-lessons goes to that.  My other mini-lesson is usually a reading strategy of sorts.  I guess my biggest struggle is TIME! How do you get a good mini lesson in and get to more than 2 Daily 5 rotations!?  

Before adopting Daily Cafe last year, I was used to having "Shared Reading" where I used the basal or another picture book and then we usually practiced with a comprehension activity (pencil/paper/whiteboard/smartboard).  Since the Daily 5 adoption, I've tried to incorporate some of those activities, but it feels like they are too lengthy and cut into the "rotation/small group" time.  

I know I'm probably being repetitive, but I would appreciate any insight you can provide!!  

Thanks so much!

Hi Amy!

At Lake Myra, we don't do The Daily 5 structure.  Although the Common Core does not prescribe this structure or that to accomplish the teaching and learning of the standards, we do not feel that the structure of The Daily 5 best meets the needs of the students at our school, where our vision is, Preparing All Learners For Their Future. We do not do a pure Readers Workshop either, nor do we use a basal reading series. I would call our model a marriage of Guided Reading/Reading Workshop/Independent Literacy Centers.  (See my earlier post on my definition of "Independent", what it is and what it isn't.)  We do follow the CCSS pacing guides created by our county, which is "THE WHAT" students need to know, but at Lake Myra, we purposely collaborate, plan and craft "THE HOW" students will be taught it and hopefully, learn it. We select the appropriate text for the objective, either from books or magazines from our guided reading book room, our media center or the internet, we plan if they will do it for Guided Reading (with teacher support) and/or a literacy center (with peer support, without teacher support), we plan if they will read it in a small group, in a partnership or individually, we plan if it will be read it via book, paper, or digital device, and we plan some differentiated options for the product, project or result that best suits the teaching and learning of that objective or objectives.

When one observes my literacy block, which is 60 minutes with 24 3rd graders, of which they got a 15 minute reading mini-lesson with their teacher and a 15 minute word work mini-lesson from their teacher as well, and a 30-40 minute writing workshop block outside the reading block, too....the 60 minutes in my room are spent in 2 - 30 minute blocks...that's what works best for kids when you are trying to increase rigor, discussion, stamina of effort and perseverance and critical thinking...(it's very difficult to have a meaty text based discussion in under 15 minutes)...besides if students get 4 doses of a group at 15 minutes each per week that is the same as getting 2 doses of a group at 30 minutes each per week...why are letting the sun and moon determine what's best for students? 

So, 6 students come to me for guided reading and the rest are in cooperative, speaking & listening based groups doing higher level literacy activities, like Shades of Meaning, Picture of the Day, Analogies of the Day, Fluency & Word Work Center or a Research Center. They build their independent reading stamina outside my time with them in a sort of DEAR time outside the literacy block, which helps build the love and joy of reading because there are no instructional strings, extrinsic rewards or expectations attached to this is purely about THEM, the books THEY want to read, THEIR reading interests, developing THEIR reading identities and what THEM getting what THEY want to get out of reading. Sadly, too many students don't love reading and this time is an attempt to counteract or prevent that...if you are looking for a research base for this, it's called the affective domain of learning, one of the three domains labeled by Bloom in the 1950's...the cognitive, the affective and the psycho-motor. The teacher is not correcting papers or busy on her computer. The teacher is READING STUDENTS CLOSELY, learning more about them as readers, researching her/his students, learning all the intricate details about them in order to know them well. 

As far as keeping the mini-lesson mini, that is KEY! Too many teachers, including myself are guilty of talking TOO long and teaching TOO much and turning a mini-lesson into a maxi-lesson...and 50 minutes later, you are still talking/teaching and they are wriggling around on the carpet in front of you and you can't figure out why. Teaching a literacy skill or strategy through a mini-lesson takes practice...both creating one and delivering one.  They key is not teaching too much but showing students how that skill or strategy helps deepen their understanding of text when they are reading it 10 minutes.  To do this, you will create your mini-lessons in the template I provided in this blog post. Then, you will get a timer! You will set it for 10 minutes and begin your mini-lesson, with it sitting on your lap if you have to. Stick to the time frames. This forces you to be concise and purposeful and stay on time and most of all, gives students enough time to work on it independently.   

So then, for the most part, students are doing, creating, discussing, researching on their own (but never alone...together collaboratively with their group) and reading and writing with me at guided reading.  I was recently observed by the IRT at a nearby school and after the hour was over, she said, "Wow, your literacy block is like the anti-sisters." She said, "At our school [a Daily 5 school], when students are doing Reading to Self, they are silent, when students are doing Reading with Someone, we also want them to do it quietly, when students are Listening to Reading, they are silent, when students are doing Word Work, we also want them to do it quietly, but nothing about what I heard or saw today was quiet.  There was a buzz of learning, interacting, cooperating, agreeing and disagreeing, students were talking and exchanging ideas, sharing ideas and forming new ones through the literacy centers I saw and heard in here today."

I'm sure you could tweak what it is you are having your students do while you call it Listening to Reading. For example, students could watch a YouTube video that is complex, like Michael Jordan's Nike Failure commercial, (remember that videos are media which is informational text) but would also be required to analyze and evaluate it.  They *could* do this by themselves, but it would be hard to agree and disagree with yourself. Now, I feel like I'm always thinking and asking myself, "How can I incorporate the Speaking and Listening strand into everything the students do?"...because as Jim Argent, principal at Lake Myra, has always said, "The person doing the talking, is the the person that's doing the learning."  When students are Reading to Someone, they are speaking and listening with one another, but to what level of fidelity of they truly agreeing and disagreeing with each other.  I feel like my Shades of Meaning Center accomplishes this.  Are they reading continuous, connected text with a partner? No. Are they reading words and discussing different contextual meanings of words with a group of students? Yes. Are they practicing the skills of 21st century learning...communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking? Yes. 

I guess the best way to answer your question is with a question.  To what degree of practice, fidelity and accountability are the students in your Daily 5 stations practicing communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking?  If the degree, fidelity and accountability level is something you can live with, then keep doing what you're doing.  If it is not, then change something.

Anyway, I hope I've addressed some of your concerns and questions and that my response has helped you in some way. Thank you for reading my blog and I'm glad it's helpful, too.

Take care,

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reading Conference Recap

I apologize for the pause in getting my series posts out. I was at the North Carolina Reading Conference last week, and I had some time-sensitive products that needed to be posted before the first of April.  First, let me say, I had a ball presenting both of my sessions at the state reading conference.  In fact, my last post was right before I presented on Sunday.  That was fun, I always enjoy reliving 50 Shades of the Common Core for teachers, there are so many fresh and easy ways to implement critical thinking in your classroom and that is what my presentation is all about.  

I also presented a Text Complexity session on Monday, which was also very exciting, my room was packed, so it made it slightly nerve wracking when I opened the session with this non-example video of what Close Reading is NOT...and the buffering spiral wouldn't quit.  

Close reading is not repeating the same thing over and over.
Close reading is not talking louder.
Close reading is not moving closer.
Closer reading is not telling the answer.

However, you know how videos "buffer" and it stops and you get the never-ending spiral?? Yeah, well, that happened. But I was calm, and the longest 20 seconds later, the started and everything was fine, thank goodness.  The wireless mic was broken so I had to stand at the podium [I hate that] but folks wanted me to use it, I guess they wanted to hear.  And a shout-out to those of you that tweeted about my session, that was awesome! Here's a Twitter snapshot:

Also, if you're intested in seeing my slides for this presentation, you can view and/or download them here:

Standard 10: The Thinking Standard - Stretching All Readers with Complex Text from Jennifer Jones

Now, that actually wasn't the highlight of the conference. It was @iChrisLehman. WHAT.A.DOLL! Which sounds way cheesy, but honestly, there is something soft and authentic that comes out of the folks from TCRWP. He's real and smart and knows his stuff.  Yes, he knows the Common Core, what's in them and what's not, but he also knows teaching reading and teaching writing, but most importantly is studies kids closely! He knows kids!  That's awesome.  I did not take paper/pencil notes this year, I'm converting to a more transparent form of note-taking--tweeting.  I really think these tweets during Chris Lehman's sessions are huge little literacy Twitter using hashtag #ira14.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hello North Carolina State Reading Conference!

I'm excited to present today and tomorrow at our state reading conference! It's at the downtown Raleigh Convention Center.  Whether you're attending my 50 Shades of the Common Core presentation today or just following along in can follow along with my slides below. I will add a link to my handouts after the session.   I will create another post for my Text Complexity session slides and handouts tomorrow.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

So What's the Big Deal? Getting to the Main Idea & Key Details - (Standard 2)

Today's post is Part 2 in a 10 part series of closely reading and understanding the Reading Informational Standards of the Common Core for grades 3-6.  I "explained" Standard 1 in this post.  I have also released a large bundle of graphic organizers to help students show (and teachers teach) the thinking behind comprehending informational content.  The reading response sheets are open-ended, and leave lots of room for students to practice their written comprehension.  The bundle can be found by clicking on the image below.  (It's actually on sale right now, too.)   

But, this post is dedicated to the student demands of Informational Text Standard 2.  A lot of people might hyper-summarize standard 2 as Main Idea or Main Ideas, which is a fair hyper-summary. However, I like to say it's all about the Big Idea or Big Ideas.  

Standard 2 still falls under the structural umbrella of Key Ideas and Details, so this standard is still asking students to really know "WHAT it is the article is about" or "WHAT the article is saying."  You'll recall the same structure of this standard in Reading Literature is all about the message, lesson and theme of the as far as we can find the message, lesson and theme in informational text, we will, and instead of calling it the "message, lesson and/or theme"...we'll call it the main idea(s), central idea(s) and/or big idea(s) in the text. 

For third graders, this means they are expected to determine the main idea and key details AND explain how those details support the main idea.   Several things about these expectations stand out to me vs. what kids used to be expected to know and show about informational text.  One, they actually have to be able to articulate A main idea, a gist, in their own words.  To me, key details have never been a problem for kids, in fact, that's usually all kids would find and for the most part, that's all teachers would expect.  Think of key details of the past as FACTS about the topic in the article.  Most students could and can read an article about say, Earth Day, for example, and tell you a lot of details or facts included in the article. In fact, I think kids thought/think that the more they include, AND the more detailed the facts are, AND the neater and shinier the piece of paper looks, that that's good enough, that they've met the expectations of the assignment...and if a student or a teacher really wanted to (think they were) going above and beyond, they would even do a Report or a Presentation or Display Board about that topic...but only falling short if only including facts, or a list of details, and pictures without a main idea or big idea statement.

For fourth graders, this also means determining the main idea of the text and explaining how it is supported by the key details.  In addition, fourth graders must summarize the text in their own words.  Organizational structure of a text article (Standard 5) is going to be key in helping students determine main idea and supporting details. I have found that many students confuse main idea and supporting details, calling supporting details main ideas and main ideas supporting when teaching this standard to students, I find it helpful to ask students to determine the key supporting details first, and then when the two, three, or four of the them are identified in a a paragraph (start small), to ask students, "What do all these details have in common?" and answer to that question will be the main idea of the paragraph.   It is important that third graders are expected to EXPLAIN how the key details support the main idea, because this skill is the foundation of the summary they are now expected to write in 4th grade. 

Fifth graders are expected to do everything that fourth graders are expected to do and are asked to determine if a text may have two or more main ideas on the topic, not just one. But they will also need to be able to EXPLAIN how the main ideas are supported by the key details and be able to write a summary of the text. 

In sixth grade, the words "main idea" turn to "central idea" and 6th graders are expected to determine the central idea of the text and how that idea is communicated through the details. A sixth grade summary of the text will be different from the student's opinion or attitudes about the topic, it will be objective.  

I believe that in order to set kids up for success with this standard that we must teach them to identify and determine four things when reading informational text: 

1. The Topic
2. The Main Idea
3. The Key Details
4. The Big Deal

For many, many articles, especially ones in newspapers, magazines, online, at timeforkids and scholasticnews, the topic and main idea are right in front of us (see image below). I teach students that the title will tell you the topic, and the subtitle will tell you the main idea...most of the time. The key details are in the text but are organized in a way to support the main idea, and the big deal is the big idea, the SO WHAT. I realize that none of the 3rd-5th wording for standard 2 expects kids to answer the question SO WHAT? or SO, WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THIS ARTICLE? But, other standards do (Standard 8), so it's a question I habitually ask students now.  Again, I always like to bring the awareness of the WHY students should be learning this back to them, back to real-world relevance...not necessarily asking, what does this article have to do with me? But, what can I do to make a difference in this topic in the real world?  

(Do you like this sheet? Do you want it? If so, click HERE.)

My dear friends, the Polar Bears.  (I apologize to everyone that has already heard this, it's my token anecdote for determining BiG IdeA, and I tell this "story" when presenting.)  

Take this article about the polar bears. (Web version or Print version.)  If you were to give this article to 3rd - 6th graders in the past and maybe some or most now, kids would read it and be able to tell you many key details (facts) about polar bears, like...

"Polar bears have thick fur."
"Polar bears have huge paws."
"Polar bears live in the Artic Sea."
"Some polar bears live in zoo."
"Polar bears hunt and eat seals."
"Polar bears need sea ice to sneak up on seals."
"Polar bears do not eat when on land."
"Polar bears cubs get food from their mother."

But would students be able to tell you the main idea about ice, the impact of ice on a polar bear's survival and what the threat of less ice may cause for polar bears in the future?   And it isn't until the last paragraph that readers learn what they can do to protect the environment and save polar bears.  

This is a great anchor article for this standard has a topic, main idea, key details and a big deal...and they are not too difficult to identify.  In addition, this article uses three, and at certain spots, four, of the informational text structures from Standard 5. But more on that in the Standard 5 post.  

In my packet, I have included several organizers for students to show how they know main idea and key details.  Here are a few:

And a few more:

In addition, I've included some (of what I think kids will think is fun, at least when I showed them to my own daughter, she said, "Mom, that is so cool, none of my teachers every asked me to show what I knew about famous people [biographies] like that!") sheets using tools from social media.  Here's my rationale:  if you are going to complete a Facebook (Fakebook) page about someone famous, you first have to know key details about their life...and not just the facts. You also need to know what they believed and valued.  In order to complete the "What's in George Washington's Inbox?" sheet, students need to know the key people in George's life. Who would you expect him to be receiving emails from? And what would the subject line be?   If you know a person well, you know what they believe in and what they stand up for, or won't stand up for, like Rosa Parks. If cell phones existed in the days of Rosa Parks, what would her text home be, that famous day she refused to move to the back of the bus?  If iPods existed in the days of George Washington, what songs would be on his iPod? In order to complete these Main Idea and Key Details with Social Media Sheets, you have to really know and "get" this person, you have to look and find common patterns and trends in their behaviors and beliefs, before you can complete these social media sheets.

 Here is a snapshot of how I used social media tools to practice main idea and key details in Standard 2:

These sheets, along with all the others are available HERE

Next post, Standard 3! 
Are you enjoying this so far?


Also, wanted to let everyone know that my Planet Earth Fluency Fact Cards is up in my store. Plan ahead for Earth Day, April 22.  These cards are perfect companion to your Geography, Landforms, Ecosystems, and Environmental Literacy studies.  On a related but side note, these cards are also good for any of your struggling readers as short text passages.  They deliver the content in bite-size pieces.  

Planet Earth Fluency Fact Cards available HERE.