6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips

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My 3 Favorite Virtual Reading Activities

Teaching reading and writing online is definitely a change from in person lessons. We know that kids need to be engaged in the learning process, and we need to be introducing them to different activities to help keep their focus.

As a virtual teacher, I’ve experimented with a few different ways to engage my students when it comes to literacy. I want my students to have fun and appreciate the joy that reading can bring. I use Zoom with my students, and will record my sessions to pass along to those who couldn’t make the session, or who want to re-watch it. Here are three my three favorite virtual literacy activities I’ve used with my students.

Virtual author visits– I was fortunate to have an author, Brenda Felber, reach out to me a year and a half ago about doing a virtual author visit. She found me on social media and we arranged to have her Zoom with my students.  She shared her research and writing process and more (click here to read about her visit). Brenda writes mystery chapter books (click here to check out my review of her novel)

I also had another author visit with Christine Reynebau a few weeks after Brenda. Christine writes and publishes picture books (Celebrate, PB&J, Guts, Rescue, and Lost) and did a read aloud during her visit along with a discussion of how she made her dreams of being a children’s book author come true.

I typically network with a lot of indie authors for my book reviews, and it’s truly incredible when I can introduce my students to quality texts.

Read alouds- if you’ve been a follower for a while, you know this is my jam. Read alouds are my thing. I LOVE being able to make great stories come to life for my students and be able to discuss the works together. I’ve been able to create a community of readers through an online platform which makes my heart so happy.

When I first started doing virtual read alouds, I used texts that were part of the curriculum. For sixth grade I read The Hunger Games, seventh grade was A Wrinkle in Time and eighth grade was The Giver. My students loved being able to throw their ideas into the chat box and discuss with their peers while I facilitated. At the time, my kiddos preferred the chat box because they didn’t feel comfortable being on camera.

The last read aloud I did with grades 6-12 was Divergent, and it was pure magic! My regular group would join me once a week and we had the best time. They even created hashtags that would pop up during our discussions. For more specific information on virtual read alouds click here.

This summer I taught kindergarten, and I spent our morning meeting time with a read aloud. I chose a different picture book every day and we practiced pre-reading strategies, reading comprehension, and making inference skills during our time together. My kiddos loved knowing we would read something new every day, and they were engaged while practicing new skills.

For kindergarten, I used e-book versions of text and shared my screen while I read. I got my daily books from Kindle Unlimited (a truly amazing service) and introduced my readers to a lot of indie authors.

Scavenger hunts– I actually got this idea from my elementary supervisor this summer during a meeting about student engagement. She encouraged us to get the kids moving and grooving as much as possible, since they were sitting in classes with us for 45 minutes at a time.

When we were working on phonics and letters, I would tell my students to grab objects  in their house that started with a specific letter. For instance, they had to grab objects that started with the letter ‘w’ and kids came back with walnuts, a dollhouse (she pointed to the window) and a wallet. Not only did it get them up and moving, it was seriously entertaining to see what they came up with.

For older students, I would use the idea of a scavenger hunt to help with teaching symbolism. I would tell students to find an object in their room that represents (symbolizes) them. Once students returned we would all discuss the object and how it symbolized the student.

 

Literacy activities don’t always have to be an online game or writing activity. By adding in some different activities, we can keep our students engaged and also have fun.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

Resources for Teaching Reading Online

 

As a middle and high school teacher, I was never really given a reading program to use with my students. I loved this flexibility,  but it was time consuming to find the resources I wanted to use with my students.

As many educators are putting together their own collection of online reading resources, I wanted to share my experiences with ones that have helped my readers.  I have used these programs with general education students, special education and honors students.

Raz-kids– This is an awesome online reading program. I love that students have access to their account 24/7 and that parents can see what their student is reading. This site is great for students in grades K-6. I did use this for my readers in 6th grade and some of them were too advanced for the program, so I gave them a supplemental novel to focus on instead. The leveled libraries are filled with a mixture of fiction and nonfiction texts that require students to read each work multiple times by listening to it and reading it independently. The comprehension quizzes focus on specific topics (characterization, plot, cause and effects) so teachers are able to really see the areas of strengths and weaknesses. The system also creates progress reports based on this data, which I’ve actually used in parent conferences.

Teachers do have the ability to conduct running record assessments with the program as well. I have used some of the passages, but have never had students record themselves with the software.

ReadWorks– I found ReadWorks when I first started teaching in 2010 and have used it since. This is one of those rare programs that can be used with grades K-12. The site has SO many filer options for finding the perfect text. Users can search using Lexile levels, grade level, fiction/nonfiction, content type, activity type, etc. I typically use grade or Lexile level and fiction/nonfiction to find the passages I want. Users can listen to an audio version and/or read the text independently before tackling some reading comprehension questions. Being super honest, I wish that the questions were a little more challenging at times, especially for the older grades, but these work really well for my population of students.

While teachers can print the passages and questions, you can also set up online classrooms through the site and electronically assign students assignments. I have used this feature tutoring and it was super easy to navigate and access.

Reading Detective by The Critical Thinking Co.- This is hands down my FAVORITE  resource to use with my kiddos. Each passage is one page and has a page of questions that accompany it. The questions are absolutely incredible by requiring readers to use their higher thinking skills. The questions also constantly ask for textual evidence to support answers, expecting students to look at specific sentences and paragraphs.

I’m currently using the traditional book version, and using my document camera or taking pictures on my phone of passages. However, the company offers e-book, win software and app versions that I will definitely be looking into in the next few weeks to make my life easier.

Vooks– I came across Vooks earlier this year when I saw they were doing free accounts for teachers. This resource is geared towards preschool and elementary aged kiddos, so I don’t use it as much with my students. Each book is read aloud and students watch the book come to life through video. It feels like like a mix between a read aloud and watching a cartoon, which is really cool for readers.

Epic– this is a one of a kind resource. It’s a digital library for grades P-6 that includes popular texts for students to read. It includes works such as Fancy Nancy, Frog and Toad and Ella Enchanted. I would recommend using this program for mini lessons and activities.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

A Little Spot Learns Online: A Story about Virtual Classroom Expectations Book Review

Right now many parents, students and teachers are making the leap into online learning. While it can be very overwhelming in the beginning, there are tools and resources to help ease this change.

A Little Spot Learns Online: A Story about Virtual Classrooms Expectations by Diana Alber, is a creative picture book that prepares students for online learning.

The illustrations in this book are absolutely fantastic. The use of Spot really draws readers eye to the main character, especially because all other characters are humans. The pictures are also super accurate about the different parts of online learning, adding just the right of humor (the potty page gets me every time).

The writing style is concise and the sentence structure varies, giving the reading a nice flow. Part of me expected this book to rhyme, but I really like that it doesn’t because it matches the focus of the book.

I have spent hours and hours in Zoom meetings with students, and it’s important for learners to be aware of Zoom etiquette, like this picture book includes.

  1. Dress for success. While it is very easy for us to stay in pajamas all day, it’s important that students attend online classes in their regular school clothes. As the book points out, this gets students ready to learn.
  2. Make sure your area is clean. In full honesty, I always use a virtual background when I’m in a Zoom meeting. However, kids and parents should be aware of what other classmates and teachers will see once the camera is on.

The advice given in this picture book is exactly what I would give any families making the transition to online learning for students in grades K-6. This would be a fantastic read aloud activity for teachers to do on the first day of school or at the start of a new semester.

To purchase this book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

eNinja Book Review

One of my favorite aspects about being an English teacher is using books to teach my students life lessons. I believe that picture books can teach kids at all ages how to handle life situations, even high school students. I’ve been teaching virtually with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum for three years, and now more than ever, students need guidance in making the transition to online learning.

eNinja, written by Mary Nhin and illustrated by Jelena Stupar, is a relatable picture book that shows readers how to be successful with online learning.

It’s no secret I’m a HUGE Mary Nhin fan (How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas Book Review, Arial the Youtube Book Review, Arial the Chef Book Review, and Arial the Secret Santa Book Review) and her Ninja series is just as fabulous as her other works.

eNinja follows Ninja on the journey of transitioning to online learning. This can be a very big change for students, and Ninja isn’t so sure about this way of learning. With the help of a friend, Ninja learns the secret to this transition: the 3 P’s (polite, positive and prepared). I LOVE that readers have an easy way to remember how to handle online learning.

Prepared. Being prepared means more than just showing up to class in an online environment. As the text mentions, students should charge their devices, have a quiet spot in the house to work, and all of the necessary supplies within arms reach. Staying organized is really the key. Even as a virtual teacher, I take these steps to make sure I am ready to go for all of classes.

Polite. For me, this one is a biggie. Since I use Zoom constantly for student interaction, it’s important to follow the advice given in this part of the book. Some of the suggestions include: don’t be on another device, have loud background noises, and wait for the teacher to listen to questions or raise my hand. There is a fantastic illustration to show students online etiquette, which I would suggest putting next to a student’s learning area as a reminder.

Positive. Is online learning a big change? Yes. Can be hard and scary? Absolutely. The fact that Ninja expresses these feelings allows readers to connect with the character, because chances are readers feel the same way. I LOVE that Nhin doesn’t just have Ninja talk about his feelings, but also explains ways to help alleviate them. Students should use checklists and schedules to keep them on track. The book literally ends on a positive note :).

But, wait! As always with a Mary Nhin book, she thinks of some extras. At the end of eNinja, readers are given advanced learning tips (which are AMAZING ones to use) a virtual meeting success cheat sheet that includes being prepared, polite and positive.

Even though this is a picture book, I would recommend it for students in grades K-12. It is a quick read that offers solutions to some problems that students can face making the transition to an online classroom.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom

As a virtual English teacher, I’ve worked with classified students in grades 6-12. Parents and brick and mortar teachers are often amazed that special education students choose to do virtual learning (before the pandemic).

Yes, there are special education students who attend online programs. Yes, they can be successful.

This week I co-hosted a professional development presentation for Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy (EOA) on Implementing Special Education Accommodations in a Virtual World. I was able to show other virtual teachers samples of assignments I used with my classified students and how I evaluated them.

Today, I would like to share some of my experiences and examples in the hopes of helping teachers outside of EOA. These ideas can be used in brick and mortar classrooms, blending learning and distance learning environments.

Preparing to Make Accommodations

  1. Be familiar with a student’s IEP. When I worked in a brick and mortar school, I would sometimes have 20 students with IEPs. It can be A LOT to remember the specific details for every student, so I would often take quick notes about the classification(s) and accommodations. The same concept applies to the virtual learning environment.
  2. Use your knowledge of the student. In the virtual world, this can be done in a number of ways. Call/text/Zoom/email with the student and get to know who the student really is. What’s their favorite sport? What hobbies do they like? Also, feel free to talk to the parents, school, Child Study Team and special education teachers about the student. The more knowledge you have about each student the more you can make appropriate accommodations.
  3. Be flexible with grading assignments. This is a biggie. Many teachers use specific rubrics to grade assignments, but when making accommodations these rubrics may not be relevant. In these cases, it’s important that we think outside the box and use our content knowledge to assess if the student fulfilled expectations. We may need to create another rubric specifically for that child, or only include certain parts of the original rubric, it really comes down to the teacher to decide. Regardless of what a teacher chooses to do, always make sure to include specific feedback.
  4. Be aware of reading levels. To be super honest, this is a really big component of online learning. Students are required to do A LOT of reading (assignments, comments, lectures, directions, etc.). If a student has a reading level of third grade and is taking a sixth grade English course, he or she is going to be reading texts at the sixth grade level. This can be quite a challenge for many students who aren’t at that reading level yet. Since students are required to read in all courses, even a math teacher should be aware of a student’s reading level.

Accommodations in the Virtual Classroom

  1. Offer extended time. This is a very simple and effective way to help classified students, especially in the virtual world. It’s also helpful to check-in with the student and remind him or her with how much extra time they have left. For instance, if there is an assignment due on Wednesday, maybe consider having it due for classified students on Friday. On Thursday check-in with students and give them suggestions online learning graphicabout what they need to finish for the assignment to be submitted on Friday.
  2. Reduce assignment length. Personally, I use this accommodation quite a bit with my special education students. If the original assignment for students is to write an essay, I may have them write a paragraph instead.
  3. Support public speaking. A curriculum typically has a speaking/presentation component that can be fulfilled in the virtual classroom. There are a few different ways students can present a speech: 1. video chat with the teacher one-on-one, 2. participate in a phone call with the teacher (if a student gets anxious about looking at an audience), 3. record a selfie video of the student reading the speech and then send it to the teacher or post it on Youtube and share the link. It’s also important to remember that students don’t have to memorize their speech. I usually tell my students to practice reading aloud their information a few times before presenting.
  4. Providing alternate texts. As I mentioned before, reading level plays a huge role in virtual learning. If a student can only read at a 5th grade level, but they are taking 8th grade English, this could be a challenge for him or her. Teachers can provide an alternate text that still focuses on the theme/topic of the original text, but is better aligned with the student’s reading level. For instance,  my 7th grade English students are expected to read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”, to focus on how history (The Inquisition) impacts literature. This original text is too complex for my classified students, so I have them read chapter one of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry because it is connected to the Holocaust. I keep the same historical focus as I would with the original text, but now students have access to a text that they can handle.
  5. Provide novel support. Students will read a few novels a year in their English/ELARead Aloud courses. Getting students to just read the book can sometimes be a challenge, let alone having them complete activities and assignments based on the reading. Teachers can supply students with an audio version, guided notes, reading comprehension questions, and chapter summaries. However, another spectacular option that I have done is to provide students with a read aloud (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom) where I would read a few chapters aloud and then discuss plot, characterization, theme and quote analysis. I would record these sessions in Zoom and keep track of the links on a document that I could send to any student who needed access to the text. Students can watch, rewind and fast forward the video as many times as they want.
  6. Include outlines and graphic organizers. Just as in brick and mortar classrooms, outlines and graphic organizers are fabulous resources to give to students. If students need to compare/contrast, provide a Venn Diagram in an editable document for students to use. For writing a lab report, give students an outline to complete before writing the report.
  7. Help guide research. Utilizing textual evidence and research take place across all content areas. It can be overwhelming for classified students to look at a Google search bar and start the research process, let alone tackle a database. Two of my favorite options for research are to give students a list of key words to use in their search, and provide a list of links for students to use to complete assignments.
  8. Provide structure with note-taking. Learning in the virtual environment requires students to be more independent with their learning, and oftentimes students will need to take notes on the content in their courses. This can be challenging because students may not know what to record or how to record the information. Some options for students are to include guided notes, fill in the blank PowerPoint slides, and give note-taking templates (Cornell Notes, etc.).

As with all accommodations, different options work for different students. At the end of the day, it is up to the teacher to decide how to best support students.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

What Parents Should Know About Virtual Learning

Over the last month I have seen countless parents express their concerns for the 2020-2021 school year. Should students go back to school? Should students stay home? Should parents start to homeschool? For those parents trying to figure it out, I wanted to give you my honest thoughts as a virtual teacher and tutor in the hopes that I can shed some light on virtual learning.

  1. Virtual learning can be effective for special education students. In my opinion, this has been a hot topic over the last few months. I have worked incredibly close with schools, students and families with students with IEPs to ensure that all accommodations are met and supports provided (where I can). Just because a student is classified does not mean that he or she will not thrive in an online learning environment. With the proper guidance from teachers, case managers, tutors and parents, students can still fulfill all requirements needed to pass a course. It may take a little bit of time to figure out what works best, but virtual learning can be effective.
  2. Virtual learning requires organization. When students are in a brick and mortar school, they have a teacher in front of the class outlining the plan. With virtual learning, the information is all there too, but students may need to look at a handful of Google classrooms or web pages to find it. Some students prefer to keep an electronic planner (Google calendar, phone calendar) to record when assignments are due, while others may still prefer a paper planner. To make virtual learning effective, students need to be on top of their assignments, live lessons, teacher meetings, read alouds, etc., so keeping a calendar and being organized is imperative.
  3. Virtual learning requires discipline. Depending on the virtual program a student is enrolled in, he or she may heave to be online from 7-3 every day, or they may need to log 6 hours a day, etc. That’s a lot of time spent working on assignments, watching videos, participating in live lessons and more. It can get frustrating and overwhelming, but the work still needs to get done. Teachers are amazing at breaking down assignments for kids into manageable chunks, but kids still need to have the discipline to sit at home and get it done. This can be challenging for students of all ages. Just because the work is done online doesn’t mean it’s not time consuming.
  4. Virtual learning requires communication. This is the biggest component to virtual learning. In the classroom, I could always look at my students and know who may need a little help or clarification by the looks on their faces or interactions. This doesn’t happen in the virtual world. Even with live lessons, it may not always be easy for a teacher to see that a child needs help, which is why kids  and parents need to communicate with teachers. Depending on the school/program, kids can message their teacher in their course, send a quick text, shoot an email, meet virtually, or even call their teacher. Normally I have kids email or text me with questions because that’s what they feel most comfortable doing. Without this communication virtual learning can be difficult.
  5. Virtual learning requires screen time. In an online learning environment, kids will have everything delivered electronically. The books they read may be in PDF form or lessons may be delivered through online modules. In some cases parents can print out materials, but sometimes that’s not an option or it would be an insane amount of paper and ink. I have had parents purchase paper copies of novels, but it’s important to realize that there will be A LOT of screen time and reading on a device.
  6. Virtual learning requires a lot of reading. Most of the time, students are responsible for reading posts, lessons, directions, comments, etc. from teachers and classmates. Depending on the program or teacher, there may be audio support, but there is still quite a bit of reading that students are required to do in order to complete assignments.
  7. Virtual learning can give students more choices. This is one of my favorite aspects of virtual learning. Kids love having a say in their education, especially when it comes to the classes they take. Virtual learning allows kids to explore new classes, languages, hobbies, and topics that they may not have been able to pursue in a brick and mortar school. For instance, as a virtual teacher I have taught an elective course on Social Media, which was not offered in many high schools.
  8. Virtual learning classes are taught by passionate teachers. I have taught in public, charter, and private schools, and just like in a brick and mortar, virtual teachers have such passion for their work.  Teachers will go out of their way to create incredible supplemental activities, projects and assignments for their students at all grade levels. They are constantly communicating with parents about student progress, providing intervention services, and participating in professional development opportunities.

For more information also check out E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Distance Learning Bundle Series

The world of education is a very overwhelming place right now for teachers. Many are learning how to be virtual teachers literally overnight, while still creating engaging lessons and activities for their students.

I’ve spent the last few weeks putting together some distance learning bundles in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, at very reasonable prices, to help teachers with this transition. The bundles include a video, a PowerPoint, guided notes, and a five question assessment for teachers to use. The materials can be put into Google forms or uploaded right into Google classroom for students to access.

These bundles are geared towards students in grades 5-9 and can be utilized by general education and special education populations. They include a video, a PowerPoint presentation, guided notes, and a five question assessment making them a perfect activity for online learning. These bundles can also be used by parents and homeschool families. I’m constantly adding new products, so please feel free to comment with ideas for future resources.

To check out the bundles click here.

E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

I spent five years in middle school classrooms and one year as a literacy coach before making the transition to being a virtual teacher. I’m currently in my third year as an online English teacher with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum, and also an online tutor with Little Reading Coach.

Making the transition from a brick and mortar classroom to a virtual one can be overwhelming in the beginning, but once a student gets the hang of things life gets much easier.

Below are ways for helping kids of all ages make the transition to e-learning environments.

Know what platforms are being used. Kids use multiple learning sites, platforms and textbooks every day in a brick and mortar school, and the same applies to the online environment. For each class, make a list of all websites, textbooks, etc. with log in information (usually a username and password). This will automatically turn into a handy cheat sheet so you can avoid the stress of looking for important information (like trying to remember 600 different passwords). Feel free to use my version here.

Make a schedule. Learning at home means a very different routine for some kids, which in itself can be stressful. If your school doesn’t have a specific schedule for your child to follow, create your own. Here are some suggestions I have given my virtual families over the last few years:

Focus on one subject a day. This works well for kids who feel very overwhelmed or struggle to work well independently without a teacher standing in front of them.

Spend 1 hour on each subject. This schedule works for kids who just need a routine in place. It helps to keep the schedule the same every day. Have it written down on a white board or piece of paper so it’s within sight while a student is working. I also suggest having the student set an alarm on their phone or computer to let them know when 1 hour is up. (I say 1 hour because it will take kids longer to do work at home depending on the subject).

Have an alternating schedule. I like this one best for elementary and early middle school kids. Mondays and Wednesdays could be Language Arts and Social Studies, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be Math and Science and Friday’s could be specials/electives.

Have a learning area. Designate a place where a student will be doing their work. This could be at a kitchen table, desk, etc. Make sure all materials are in this area (chargers, paper, pencils, books, etc.).

Make a to do list. This is by far my favorite piece of advice. Before your student starts working every day, have him or her make a to do list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished. Make it as specific as you can and encourage your learner to check things off as they go. For instance, if your student needs to watch 2 videos, answer questions and write a response, write the title of each video on the to do list. This breaks down the tasks for kids and even though it may seem like a lot, encourage them to take their time.

Communicate with teachers. Star this. Write it on the schedule you create. This is by far the the number 1 best way to be successful with online learning. If your learner has a question, email the teacher. If your student is confused about instructions, email the teacher. If your learner is falling behind on the work, email the teacher. Communication is the ultimate tool to help kids. Don’t be afraid to be the annoying parent/guardian because once your student gets into the groove they will feel more confident and capable of learning from home and the emails will lessen.

Take breaks. If you’re creating your own schedule factor in break times. Staring at a screen is physically and mentally draining. Make sure your learner is walking away from the screen frequently. Take a bathroom, drink or snack break. 

Be an actively engaged in your learner’s education. As a parent/guardian, you may need to be a more involved in the day to day assignments, depending on the age of the learner. Be in the know about what is going on with expectations from the school. I strongly suggest joining local Facebook groups, or creating a group text with other class moms to help one another stay up to date.

Breathe. The first few days are always the hardest. As an online educator, I promise things do get easier. Just remember you can always reach out to the teacher or school for any help.

 

Little Reading Coach offers online reading and writing tutoring for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.