Sunday, February 2, 2014

Recap of Session 1 - Get Students Talking: Habits of Discussion, Mastering the Language of the Common Core Standards

 Where did the time go? I was aware that an hour was going to go by quick, but it really flew. I hardly had anytime to discuss in-depth any of the classroom strategies, or to go around and hear the ones of the participants!
Click on this link to access my presentation: 
Presentation PowerPoint

Here’s a recap of some of the classroom strategies I discussed on Thursday’s meeting. All these strategies focus on the Common Core Standards. Tonights strategies focus primarily on: 
The Common Core Standards are woven into clear and developmentally aligned learning progressions that chart a course from kindergarten through college readiness. A learning progression is a sequenced set of aligned standards that students must master in order to graduate prepared for life beyond school.
The Common Core Standards reflect a spiraling progression that is sequential and yet recursive. As students make progress, the learning targets do not change essentially, but continue to expand in breadth and depth, allowing teachers and students multiple opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills defined by the standards.

The CTA has done a superb job in putting them together into progression spirals. Click on the link below to see the full document.In the document you can see how the anchor standard SL.1 spirals upwards from Kindergarten to 12th grade. 

CTA ELA Progression Spirals for Speaking and Listening

All  the strategies I presented today are geared to be used in collaborative groups. I usually group students in mixed abilities and there are at least 1 or 2 strong English language models. I use the Steps to Structuring an Academic Class Discussion to guide how I group the students. I also constantly focus on academic language development. All the lessons that I prepare always have a vocabulary component. You can look at some of the CCSS strategies I used in my presentation at CTA Good Teaching Conference, in San Jose. Click on the following to view them: Literacy Strategies. Our focus on Thursday was to get students talking in our classroom.  Not just talking, but having meaningful talk. How can we get our students to have meaningful discussions?

  • Provide opportunities for extended discourse & engagement with academic registers
  • Develop meaningful collaborative tasks that allow students to use their full linguistic/cultural resources
  • Teach students strategies to engage in varied communicative modes

Use a Metacognition Checklist to help students guide their thinking process and the ability to monitor their own learning. This concept needs to be explicitly taught along with content instruction. I usually start with one item on the checklist, model how I would use it, then have a few students who have understood the concept demonstrate to their groups.

require that 
students provide evidence 
justification for their answers.

Using lyrics of music to enhance your lesson:  
If you have ever wanted to teach a lesson using songs, here are few ideas how to organize a lesson. When it comes to teaching language you have to plan your lesson thoughtfully so that you evade any hitches that might come up along the way. The first thing you should do is to select the song. While this might sound quite simple, from my personal experience, it may be the most challenging part when planning a “music lesson”.

First begin by considering what do you want to teach? Setting up the goal of your lesson will help you determine which song to use. You should choose the song provisional on the topic you are about to teach. For example, if you want to teach prepositions you should choose a song with some in the song lyrics. If your goal is to teach adjectives, choose a song that has a lot of adjectives in the lyrics. You may also choose songs of a specific genre, like patriotic songs.

Once you have chosen a song, warm up the students by discussing the title and artist. Have they already heard of that song? If yes, what did they think of it? If not, can they guess what the song is about?

Gap fill – leave out some of the words and give the lyrics to students to fill in. Write all the missing words on the board for students to choose from.          

Vocabulary in use – students have to use the words from the song in the sentences. You can use the missing words from the previous exercise, or you can add other words from the lyrics. This type of exercise is also good for practicing expressions. You can also have the students circle the part of speech you are practicing.  

Adding missing elementswrite the words or sentences and ask your students to fill in the missing letters or the missing element of the phrases, for example phrasal verbs missing prepositions.

I also like to put the lyrics in a word document, use large font, laminate the paper, and next cut the song into sections. The students can practice listening skills, by listening to the song, then putting it into correct order.  We also use dry erase markers to circle words we are focusing on. I ask students to create a word bank using the words we circled. It’s using the strategy close reading with the lyrics.   A close reading is a careful and purposeful rereading of a text. It’s an encounter with the text where students really focus on what the author had to say, what the author’s point was, what the words mean, and what the arrangement of the text tells us.

Here are a two of the songs I demonstrated on Thursday:

WhenI Was Your Man, Lyrics by Bruno Mars (I taught students pronouns with this song) 
The video link below does not have any performance images. It is just the music and lyrics. 

This Land is Your Land, as performed by Neil Young (Patriotic song, used for a social studies lesson)

There are also some great videos that have songs you can use. Here is one of my favorites:

Using Videos as Stimuli for a Performance Task:
As an assessment writer for Smarter Balanced, I wrote Performance Tasks in the area of language arts. Most of the performance tasks I wrote had two pieces of stimuli. They were videos and reading passages. I particularly like using videos in the classroom because they are great visual aids. Students love learning with videos. They love to hear, see, and connect with the content they are learning about. I like using them as stimuli for a performance task, especially for writing pieces.   
These are the videos I showed in our session:

Mouse Caught in Trap - Nolan Cheese Commercial

Duracell: Trust Your Power - NFL's Derrick Coleman, Seattle Seahawks

These are some components of my lesson plan, and how I would utilize the videos. I showed the Duracell commercial for this lesson. I discussed the following essential questions:

Writing Task & Prompt:
Teachers Note:  guide lessons with text-dependent questions that require students to use the author’s words to support their responses.
This is perhaps the most considerable
 difference between what the Common Core demands and the previous standards. Teachers tend to shift students’
attention away from the text too swiftly by asking them what they think of what
 they’re reading, or how it makes them feel. The Common Core asks that teachers develop
 questions that use evidence from the text to support
 responses, to defend opinions, etc. Of course, by engaging in the text in this
 way, students will inevitably develop opinions and have reactions to the text. However, those feelings and reactions should not be the primary focus
 of instruction. A student who deeply
 understands Jackie Robinson’s struggle to break through the MLB color barrier in Going to Bat - in Jackie's Footsteps, for instance, will not be able to help having an 
emotional response to it. However, the focus when I use a reading passage as stimuli, is to have students respond to the passage by having them cite evidence by providing supporting details from the text. 
I provided the students with the reading passage: Going to Bat - in Jackie's Footsteps. Students were grouped in collaborative groups. The students discussed the following questions: 
  1. “What are the power academic words you find in this passage?”
  2. “Can you think of other historical figures during Robinson’s era that went through similar struggles?”
  3. “How is Derrick Coleman’s struggle similar or different to Jackie Robinson’s?”

Once the students have recorded their responses, taken notes on the reading and their discussion, they were given the following prompt: 

Using two characters, one you have read about it in class and the other in the video you saw, write an essay about how the characters overcame obstacles and persevered. Use a thinking map to brainstorm and organize your thoughts. Make sure you cite evidence from the reading and video. Your informative essay should include descriptive details and temporal words.
How can you download videos for your class without having to fuss with the Wi-Fi at work?
Well, first you have to download the free software, ClipGrab. It doesn’t take much memory. It is incredibly easy. Go to Once the software downloads, just type or copy in paste the URL into the search box. Then click on the download tab. Choose format, quality, and then Grab this clip. Yup, that easy. I usually save them on a flash drive and categorize them by lesson. For instance, the Nolan Cheese Mouse video will go into my informative writing lessons. There are several other ways to download a YouTube video. This one was easy for me. You can “Google” other ways, if downloading software is not an ideal choice.

Fake Text Messages:
This is a great blog on how to create your own fake texts in class to teach content. It’s just another tool to get students stimulated and having constructive conversations.
Click here to read the blog:  teachbytes
Or go straight to the source:

Websites I mentioned:
Another place to look for high-quality teacher-produced lesson plans that align to the CCSS is LearnZillion, a learning platform that combines video lessons, assessments, and progress reporting, In addition to sortable Math and ELA video lessons, they offer a handy Common Core navigator. This organization has a great backstory, started by a public school in Washington D.C. as a home-grown repository for screencast lessons made by their teachers, they caught the attention of edtech funders and ended up with seed money to take their idea to a national level.

Wordle lets you generate word clouds from text that you provide. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. Click on the link for 45 interesting ways to use Wordle in the classroom. These ideas are awesome.

BrainPOP Jr. is a pay site that creates online animated curriculum-based content that is aligned to state education standards. BrainPOP Jr. targets kids in kindergarten to third grade. Kids don't need proficient reading skills to use this audio-heavy site. Lessons all begin with a brief video and include a wide variety of school and life topics. The site includes video, game, quiz, and activity sections for science, health, writing, reading, social studies, and math based on national education standards.

Here are some pictures of our session. I love how the teachers are so engaged in meaningful talk!

Lastly, these are the posters the teachers generated during the collaboration time during our session. I wish there had been more time to hear their classroom strategies. 

My feedback. Thank you for leaving your thoughts!


  1. Awesome! LOVE this - thank you so much for all your ideas :)

  2. Thanks Gabby for all your work and the resources. I really enjoyed the Café and look forward to the next one.

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  4. So glad I went! It was great to meet teachers from other schools and share ideas. I was able to share some ideas with my grade level at a meeting. Thank you Gabriela for all of your hard work!