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3 Easy to Implement Tips to Teach Procedural Writing

how to writing lessons

Having my students write procedural pieces is one of my favorite activities of the year! The kids are always excited to share how to do something that they are good at, that they enjoy or something that they just learned.

While seasonal procedural writing projects are fun, creative, and always in my lesson plans, I stick to formal writing workshop time to teach lessons that are designed to help students truly grasp the concept of how-to writing.

Here is how I break down this genre of writing for my upper elementary students in focused lessons to help them understand the nuances specific to this writing genre. These tips are perfect for any procedural writing lesson throughout the year.

3 Easy to Implement Tips to Teach Procedural Writing
What is Procedural Writing?
Students are expected to write to narrative, expository, and opinion prompts. So when students find out that procedural writing is a form of expository writing, they can instantly connect to this genre and use what they know about expository writing to write procedural writing pieces. Although procedural writing is a form of expository writing, students must understand that the purpose of procedural or “how-to” writing is to help someone succeed at doing something by following specific instructions. Students must teach the reader through their writing.

What Does Procedural Writing Sound Like?
I love to share picture books and modeled writing to help students hear what procedural writing sounds like. My favorite picture books to read as mentor texts for this unit include:

how to writing upper elementary
Another great way to show examples of procedural writing is to use modeled writing. By annotating modeled procedural writing together, students can see the elements of this writing genre in action and understand how to include these elements in their own writing pieces.

3 Easy to Implement Tips to Teach Procedural Writing
How is Procedural Writing Organized?
All writing forms have patterns and structures specific to their genre. By explicitly teaching students the structure of procedural writing they will understand the key components. When introducing this form of writing, these are the three components I expect from students:
  • Introduction: Hook your reader, introduce the topic, and state what materials are needed to complete the task 
  • Support Ideas: Include detailed and sequential steps, strong action words, and illustrations to support the topic
  • Conclusion: Restate what you taught the readers to do.
Once I have gone over the structure of procedural writing, we revisit the picture books that were read to kick off the unit and identify these three components. As we gather them, we record them in graphic organizers. This helps students to see the evidence from the books but also teaches them how to use the graphic organizer when they head out to write their pieces. Grab a procedural writing student reference page for FREE at the bottom of this post. 

What are Procedural Writing Key Words?
Students love using keywords to help move their writing pieces along. “How-To” pieces use temporal words (first, next, then, last) and strong verbs to explain how to do something. This is why we brainstorm a big list so that students have a word bank to select from when they are writing. Then we revisit the picture books to collect even more procedural writing keywords.

how to writing activities
What makes procedural writing so engaging for students is that it gives them the opportunity to shine through writing pieces that highlight what they are good at. I have found that students love to pick topics that they know a lot about, like playing a game or sport or how to make their favorite snack. Be sure to also provide students with opportunities to write to topics that you select to challenge their writing skills even further.

What are Procedural Writing Tips?
Who doesn’t love a good tip when writing? I know my students love to hear me share writing tips that they can implement in their own writing. My favorite tips to share with students for procedural writing include:
    how to writing anchor chart grade 3, 4, 5
  • Know your audience.
  • Be clear! Clearly state the goal and materials needed for the task that you are teaching.
  • Include specific step by step directions with strong verbs.
  • Use sequence words.
  • Take it further by including illustrations and diagrams to help your readers succeed!

Now that students know how to write procedural pieces, get them to work! Don't forget to grab materials to have them "test out" each other's procedural writing pieces. 

Procedural writing is a highly engaging form of writing for all upper elementary students, including reluctant and struggling writers. By introducing procedural writing lessons with a topic that students are already interested in, like holidays or allowing choice, students become invested in writing their best pieces. I love to introduce procedural writing at the beginning of the year so that we can practice it throughout the fall,  winter, spring and all year long. Follow these tips and watch your students succeed!

Want even more help growing your students into writers?  Check out the posts from these fabulous teacher-authors below!

It’s All About Revision // Tried & True Teaching Tools

Writing Prompts that Inspire // Feel-Good Teaching

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how to writing procedural instruction units of study

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.” (source: Section 5)


6 Valentine's Day Classroom Party Ideas with a Twist

Valentine's Day Activities Upper Elementary

February is my favorite month to be a teacher! It is jammed packed with different holidays and events that are always so engaging for the students. From Groundhog Day to Presidents Day and everything in between, the month always seems to fly by.

Even though there is so much going on during February, the real excitement present in the classroom during February is usually due to Valentine's Day! Whether you have a Valentine's Day party in your classroom or not, the excitement can still be felt. I love to harness all that excitement into unique lessons that allow students to truly feel like they are celebrating the holiday, but also be knee deep in learning at the same time!

After you pass around those Valentine's Day cards try something new and different this year! These are my favorite go-to activities that are perfect to use during any Valentine's Day party or as a stand alone lesson during the month of February.

Heart Health

February is American Heart Month! What better time to learn about heart health than February. My school always participates in Jump Rope for Heart, so it is the perfect time to learning about the heart, circulatory system, and living a health lifestyle. After reading, studying, or sharing facts about our hard working heart, have students conduct a heart experiment! Students check their pulse before and after rigorous exercise to see just how hard their heart works.

It's simple, here is how:
    Heart Health for Valentine's Day Science Activities

  1. Have students use stopwatches to find their resting heart rate (heart rate before any activity). Their pulse can be found on the side of their neck, below the ear, or on the inside of the wrist.
  2. Set the timer for a minute and allow students to jog in place or complete jumping jacks.
  3. Immediately have students use stopwatches to find their heart rate again.
  4. Have students compare their heart rates and discuss why it is important to exercise each day.

Community Service Project

February is Random of Acts of Kindness month and one way to tie together Random Acts of Kindness Week with your Valentine's Day party is to complete community service projects with your students. The past few years I have completed community service projects during our Valentine's Day parties and with students have loved it. Here are some that we have done in past that the kids have loved:

  1. Make Valentine's Day cards and pictures for service men and women.
  2. Make Valentine's Day cards and pictures for local senior citizens.
  3. Create bright and cheerful pictures and banners for kids in local hospitals.
  4. Write thank you letters of appreciation to someone that student loves (family member, staff member, coach, anyone!)
  5. Make joke books for anyone who may need to be cheered up.
  6. Make a book for their younger reading buddies.

We Love Books Day

Valentine's Day Bulletin Board Idea Upper Elementary
Turn Valentine's Day into We Love Books Day this year! Make it a day to incorporate books in each lesson of the day, being sure to share your favorite ones. During your, We Love Books Day have students share a book that they LOVE with their classmates. This is perfect to do during Valentine's Day Parties or any Friday during February. Grab these FREE book recommendations or have students cut out a heart from construction paper and write about their favorite book or series. After students share their favorite books with each other, create a display on your classroom bulletin board to serve as book recommendations. Looking for love-themed books to use throughout your We Love Books Day this month? Try some of my favorites listed below and then grab the FREE We Love Books Day Kit at the bottom of this post.
  1. Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch* Pairs well with lessons on character understanding. (Don't have the book? Watch a reading of it HERE.)
  2. Yuck, A Love Story* Pairs well with lessons on visualizing as you read.
  3. Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deeds* Pairs well with kindness lessons. 
Want even more Mr. Hatch activities? Click HERE.

Random Acts of Kindness Challenge

Free Random Acts of Kindness ActivitiesRandom Acts of Kindness Week takes place during the month of February and is a great way to get students involved in doing good deeds around their classroom and school community. Grab these free Random Acts of Kindness calendars and have your students fill the days with random acts of kindness they would like to complete before the year is over. Head to my Instagram page and view the Kindness challenge story for a quick video tutorial about how I use these calendars in my classroom. Use these additional classroom kindness ideas and kindness read-aloud books to really get into the spirit of kindness this month.

Research Something or Someone You Love

This is one of my favorite projects to complete during the week of Valentine's Day! The concept is simple-students complete a research project on something or someone that they LOVE. It can be an activity or sport, an animal or person, or anything that sparks their interests. The kids love completing these writing projects because it is all about their choice and interest. Use your Valentine's Day party to have the students share their writing pieces. You can make it a simple research project that includes looking up information on their chosen topic and writing a paragraph, or have students complete a more in-depth animal or biography research project that students research and take through the writing process throughout the month of February.

Teacher Tip: Before writing biographies with your students this month, grab this FREE biography on Milton Hershey to set the stage for learning!

Play a Game

Valentine's Day Math Games and Activities Upper ElementaryParties are meant for playing games, right? I am all about educational games in the classroom, especially during crazy months like February. These holiday and seasonal themed Tic Tac Math Games are a staple in my classroom and I love using them as much as the kids each month, especially during February. The math games are differentiated so students of all levels can play, and since they are completely editable they can be made into any skills review or challenge games of your choice. See the Tic Tac Love games that we play during February HERE.

Valentine's Day parties do not have to be sugar filled in crazy. Pass out those cards and then try one (or more) of these thoughtful and educational activities to engage your students and make your party time structured and purposeful.

Looking for more Valentine's Day games, activities, writing projects and bulletin board sets? Click the image below or  HERE

Valentine's Day Writing Bulletin Board Activities and Display

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Free Valentine's Day Activities Upper Elementary Mr Hatch

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.” (source: Section 5)


9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

kindness picture books upper elementary

Being kind is a way of life. Teaching one kindness lesson, or reading one book about being kind is not enough to have a truly kind classroom. That is why I teach about kindness all year long. By kicking off the school year with community building and kindness activities and continuing to weave them throughout the year, students truly digest the message that is being sent.

One simple way to create a classroom climate rich with kindness is to use your read aloud time to share books with kindness themes. There are so many books appropriate for upper elementary that have a strong theme of kindness. By discussing the theme of kindness you can easily tie in kindness read alouds with all of your themes in literature lessons, too!

While there are so many books about being kind, I have found that these nine work perfectly for upper elementary classrooms. You will love these books as each book can be re-purposed for other lessons in your classroom, helping to save you valuable time in the classroom. Teacher win!

Read about each of my favorite kindness books below and scoop up aligning kindness activities for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed
written by: Emily Pearson

ordinary mary's extraordinary deeds free activities

Bust out the chart papers and markers and get ready to calculate just how far one random act of kindness can go! I love that this in-depth story includes math concepts, perfect for the upper elementary classroom. Following a reading of this book, challenge students to figure out how long it would take to reach 100 people if they completed a random act of kindness to two people in their lives. Modify the number to meet the needs of your students. Want to go further? Watch this quick heart warming video to bring this story to the real world for your students.

Re-Purpose this Book!  Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed is perfect for identifying character traits and emotions. Revisit this book during character and making connections units.

Enemy Pie
written by: Derek Munson

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

This is one of my classroom favorites to read each year! With its themes of friendship and being kind, it is a great choice to read right at the start of the year. Enemy Pie pairs well with creating "recipes" for kindness and friendship. You can create recipes with students as a class, or send students off in pairs to create recipes to share with the class.

Re-Purpose this Book!  Enemy Pie is perfect for character development lessons in your classroom, specifically discussing how characters change throughout the story.

A Bike Like Sergio's
written by: Maribeth Boelts

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

This book is chock full of important messages for children: kindness, empathy, and integrity. The main character Ruben experiences it all. Students always connect with Ruben and cheer him on even as Sergio brags about his bike. This book lends itself to discussions on being kind, showing empathy, and using integrity. Try this: following a reading of this book, have students create a list of things that Sergio should have said to Ruben about his bike if he chose kindness instead of bragging.

Re-Purpose this Book! Use this book again during story structure lessons. Pairs perfectly with story elements, problem/solution, and cause and effect lessons.

Each Kindness
written by: Jacqueline Woodson

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

No list of kindness read alouds is complete without Each Kindness.  This book tells the story of Chloe, who chooses not to be kind to a new student in class. After the student moves away, Chloe regrets how she treated Maya and is saddened by the fact that she can not make it up to her. The teacher in the book explains kindness as a ripple in a pool of water. Grab a big bowl and mimic the lesson the teacher in the book gives with your own students. It is an amazing visual of the power of kindness that your students will not forget.

Re-Purpose this Book! Use Each Kindness to practice students' story ending writing skills. Since the book ends with Chloe feeling regretful, have students write the next chapter or sequel of the book.

The Big Umbrella
written by: Amy June Bates

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

I love that the red umbrella in this book is a symbol for kindness! This book tells the story of the "big, friendly red umbrella who loves to help others and spread its arms wide." Share this book with students during a figurative language unit and challenge students to create other symbols for kindness.

Re-Purpose this Book!  The Big Umbrella can also be used to kick off any figurative language unit. Using kindness as a focus, students can create similes and metaphors about kindness, too!

I Walk With Vanessa
written by: Kerascoet

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

This is a wordless book with a big impact! Students instantly connect with Vanessa and empathize with her. Students always cheer and clap at the end as they imagine the words that tell the story of the beautiful images they see on each page. This book lends itself perfectly to having students turn and talk throughout the book to tell the story with words. Pair students up following the read aloud and have them write a summary of the story. I also love to have students write letters to Vanessa to cheer her up.

Re-Purpose these Books! Use I Walk With Vanessa to teach students the power of images for lessons on visualizing. Try this! Have students write short kindness stories without any illustrations. When students share their writing with a peer or the class, have the listeners close their eyes and visualize what they are hearing. Students then draw a quick sketch and share how their mental images helped them to understand the writer's words more deeply.

Every Living Thing
written by Cynthia Rylant

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

If you are looking for short stories about kindness, this is it! Each short story has different characters, themes, and life lessons. Though each short story is different, evidence of kindness can be found throughout. This book is perfect to read aloud during those awkward chunks of time you often find yourself with. Create a class chart or bulletin board display of the different acts of kindness and other related themes that students find as you read this book.

Re-Purpose this Book! Use this book to reinforce how to site evidence from texts.

written by Todd and Peggy Snow and 
written by Rana DiOrio

Kindness Free Activities for the classroom

While both of these books have a more simpler text than the others, I love them both. They are perfect to help introduce how to be kind to others. Kindness to Share A to Z is perfect to read and then have students create their own A to Z kindness book of how they can be kind at school, at home, and their community. A similar activity can be done with the book What Does it Mean to be Kind?. I use a flip book to have students share how they can be kind. Grab the flip book for free below.

Re-Purpose these Books! I love using these books when my upper elementary students work with their younger " book buddies." The simpler text is perfect for their younger buddies and the activities mentioned above allow my students to truly promote kindness with the younger students that they work with.

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

When it comes to promoting kindness in your classroom, begin with a book. The conversations that develop among your students after one of these powerful read alouds is what will develop kindness in your classroom. Is there a book you read with your students that promotes kindness? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

Looking for more Kindness activities and bulletin board sets?
Click the image below or  HERE

9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

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9 Books to Promote Kindness in Upper Elementary Classrooms

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.” (source: Section 5)


How to Hold Debates in Your Classroom

how to run a debate in your upper elementary classroom

Holding debates in your classroom is an engaging way to have students practice persuasive writing, argumentative discussions, and speaking and listening skills in a safe and structured environment. Debates provide students with the opportunity to see that it is OK to disagree with their peers. It also helps them to understand different perspectives and points of view on a variety of topics. This can include different holiday and seasonal topics like a Groundhog Day debate over more winter or an early spring.

I love using debates in the classroom. Not only does it address multiple skills and objectives, it allows students to put all of their persuasive writing strategies and knowledge into action within a real world activity.

While working on debate projects, students will sharpen ALL of these skills:

  • persuasive writing
  • reading
  • research and note-taking
  • point of view
  • listening and speaking
  • collaboration and teamwork
  • public speaking and eye contact
  • conversation etiquette

The best part about holding debates is that it is naturally engaging for students. By directly teaching students how to participate in a debate even your most timid students and reluctant writers will be ready to participate.

Here is how I break down and explain this genre of writing for my upper elementary students to help them understand the nuances specific to debates, as well as make connections to persuasive writing.

What is a Debate? What is Persuasive Writing?

Writing debates is always part of our persuasive writing unit. I love that debates give students the opportunity to use their persuasive writing skills in real world situations. Here is how I define both persuasive writing and debates for my students:
  • Persuasive writing is a form of opinion writing used to convince others to think in a certain way, and persuade the readers to share the writer's point of view.
  • A debate is a formal argument in which there are two sides that take opposing viewpoints and discuss them in an organized and structured way, while trying to persuade listeners to share the speaker's point of view. 
By using these definitions, students can easily see the connection between persuasive writing and debate work. We also discuss that a judge will listen to both sides of the debate and decide which side made a better "case" and supported argument.

Why Participate in a Debate?

How to Hold Debates in Your ClassroomIt is important to me to let students in on the "why" behind the lessons that I teach. When students participate in debates they develop listening and speaking skills. They begin to understand both sides of an argument and gain perspective from their peer's point of view. Additionally, by practicing public speaking in the form of a speech, students' fear of speaking in front of peer groups will decrease. Students need a lot of time to practice speaking in public. Help students get over any insecurities and fear by having them work in groups to debate different topics throughout the year. The more practice they have, the better!

What are Genre Specific Key Words?

Just like other writing genres have key words to signal key points, so do debates. Together as a class we brainstorm persuasive writing words that would help them successfully write an organized debate speech. For example, In my opinion, Consequently, Therefore, Specifically, That is why, are some key words to help you get started brainstorming with your own students.

How are Debates Organized and Written?

debate templates prompts and free lessons for kidsDebate speeches are organized in a familiar format for students. It begins with an introduction, requires supporting details, and ends with a conclusion. This is the same structure that students use when writing about reading. The major difference is the rebuttal component. The idea of a rebuttal is new for upper elementary students so it takes center stage of my lessons. Here is the debate structure I use with my students:
  • Introduction: Introduce yourself, the topic and the side you will be arguing for, and your claim
  • Support Your Idea: Have 3-4 strong and relevant points to support your claim
  • Rebuttal: Address and state a reason that will counter what the opposing side is claiming
  • Conclusion: Restate your claim and points and then thank the audience with eye contact.
Grab this anchor chart and debate topic ideas for FREE at the bottom of this post.

What Makes a Debate Different than Persuasive Writing?

How to Hold Debates in Your Classroom
The key elements that students need to understand when it comes to debates are pros, cons, and rebuttals. To fully understand these concepts students need direct instruction and practice. I love to use modeled writing to help students identify the different elements of debates, especially these three areas:
  • Pro: The pros or proposition side of a debate is the affirmative side. It is the why you believe in the side of the topic you are debating. The pros are for the topic at hand.
  • Con: The con side of a debate is the negative side. It is the why you do not believe in the topic. A con is against the topic at hand.
  • Rebuttal: A rebuttal is a statement made about the opposing side's claim to explain why their claim is wrong.

What are the Steps of a Debate?

Once students write their debate speeches it is time to actually debate. Since debates are structured and organized in such a way that allows both sides to have equal time to speak, students must be aware of the format. Here is a shortened version of the debating speaking order that I use with upper elementary students.
  • Affirmative side speaks to state their claim and supporting details.
  • Negative side speaks to state their claim and supporting details.
  • Negative side states their rebuttal and closing.
  • Affirmative side states their rebuttal and closing.

A Few Tips and Tricks...

    How to Hold Debates in Your Classroom
  • Help students prepare for the debate by creating a checklist to keep them organized.
  • Allow students to pick their own side or mix it up by randomly assigning which side they will be "for". This is a great way to differentiate for your top writers, too. 
  • Assign cooperative group roles to help students stay on track! I have found the best roles to use for debating units are recorders, time keeper, and speakers.
  • Do not try to have students memorize their speeches. Instead, have students write their speeches in bullet form to help them read it fluently while they are presenting.
  • Encourage students to practice their debate speeches within their small groups several times before presenting to help build their confidence.
  • Since speaking in front of their peers can be intimidating, help them feel positive by giving a lot of encouragement and positive praise.
  • Make it fun! Make the kids laugh and giggle at YOU by dressing up as a judge complete with a gavel to take the pressure off the kids!
  • Use the holidays and seasons to engage students in meaningful topics to debate:
  • Use current events and topics of interest for debates, such as:

Holding debates in the classroom is a fun and engaging way to keep students working hard and practicing so many different skills at once. Provide students with many opportunities to debate over topics in the classroom. Not sure of an idea to have students debate about? Ask them! They always come up with the best topics to debate. 

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debate activities and lessons for elementary

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Simple Activities to Ring in the New Year in Your Classroom

new year resolution and reflection activities for the classroom

I love welcoming students back to school in January after holiday break. There is always a feeling of calm when school begins again. I love that my classroom is clean, all of our projects have been wrapped up, and we are ready to begin new units.

While I am always excited to jump back into teaching, I also like to take the first day back to school to encourage students to be reflective of the past year and set goals for the new year that we are welcoming. These easy to implement, yet meaningful activities are a great way to welcome the new year into your classroom.

3-2-1 Reflection

Simple Activities to Ring in the New Year in Your ClassroomI love using 3-2-1 reflection forms all year long. Their predictable nature and easy to respond to prompts make them easy for students to complete on both a prepared worksheet or blank piece of paper. The simplicity of 3-2-1 reflections allow students to stay focused and truly reflect on the topic at hand. Included on the 3-2-1 reflection form that I use when students return to school in January includes: 3 New Things I Learned, 2 Cool Activities I Did, and 1 Question I have About Something that I learned. The kids love writing to these quick prompts and enjoy sharing their reflections with their classmates. This is perfect to use on the last day before break or on the first day back from break. Grab the form that I use for free at the bottom of this post, or just have students respond to these prompts on a plain piece of paper.

Best Book of the Year

Simple Activities to Ring in the New Year in Your Classroom
This is one of my favorite activity of the year! I love having students fill out these best book reflection pages. Not only does it give them an opportunity to reflect on a specific book that they read, but it also allows students to reflect on themselves as readers and the book choices that they have made so far this school year. This activity provides students the opportunity to reflect on which genres, series, and authors they read most frequently. After all students have completed one of these best book forms, I display them on our reading bulletin board and they serve as book recommendations so that all students expand the genres, series, and authors they read in the upcoming year.

Goal Setting

Simple Activities to Ring in the New Year in Your ClassroomSetting goals with your students does not have to be a "first day of school" activity. It is a great way to welcome the new year. What I especially love about setting goals in January versus the first day of school is, that by the time January comes around I truly know my students. I know their strengths and weaknesses inside and out and am therefore better able to guide them into setting goals that are appropriate for them. Begin by having students brainstorm one specific area of focus. Improving Writing would be too broad of a goal for students to set. Improving written pieces by including detail and figurative language is specific enough that not only gives students direction, but can be measured. When the goals that students set are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and realistic, and timely and tractable) students succeed. Once students set goals, we set aside time each week to reflect on our progress. A simple reflection form is all it takes to make sure students are on track and working towards meeting their goals. Read about how I implement SMART goals in the classroom HERE.

When it comes to welcoming in the new year, go big! Invite students to reflect on their school year, reflect on themselves as learners, and set meaningful goals to continue the year strong! January is a great time for fresh starts and new beginnings. Give your students the opportunity to start the new year on the right path so that the rest of your year, is the best of the year!

I would love to hear from you! How do you welcome the new year in your classroom?

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new year resolution bulletin board ideas


3 Meaningful Reading Activities for Henry's Freedom Box

henry's freedom box lesson ideas

Every teacher knows that there is nothing more precious than time. We are always in need of more time! More time to help students learn, more time to assess students, more time to plan and create engaging lessons.

One way I love to save time is by re-purposing my favorite read aloud books for different lessons. This is a huge time saver since it cuts down on read aloud time. By being purposeful in selecting picture books to read aloud you will not only gain valuable time in the classroom, but also help students develop a deeper understanding of the books that you are reading aloud.

The picture book, Henry's Freedom Box* written by Ellen Levine is one of my all time favorites. It tells the true story of Henry "Box" Brown who mailed himself from Virginia to Philadelphia to free himself from slavery. His story is one of determination and bravery and became one of the most famous stories from the Underground Railroad.

Here are my favorite reading lessons to do following a read aloud of Henry's Freedom Box:

Character Traits

Connecting character trait lessons with biographies is a great way to help students identify traits in people that they know. Often times, character trait units are focused on fictional stories and characters. By shifting character trait work with biography reading, students begin to make the real world connection. When reading Henry's Freedom Box, try one of these two activities:
  1. Have students use a simple t-chart to record 3 character traits Henry shows throughout the book. On the left side of the chart have students record the trait and on the right side they can  record text evidence. To go a step further, have students reread their work and circle one character trait that they also have. Students can write about how they show that trait.
  2. Instead of having students create a list of character traits, present students with a list of 15 different character traits. Simply create a list on chart paper and display during the read aloud. Have students keep a list of the traits that they can find evidence for as they listen. After the reading discuss the character traits and evidence that students found. Here are a few to start your list: determined, loving, caring, self-control, brave, persistent, and patient. 

Determining Importance

determining importance lesson activities
Determining importance requires students to filter out all of the details within a text to focus on the big idea. I teach my students that information from a text is important if it directly supports the main idea. If it does not, then we consider that information to be interesting.  Henry's Freedom Box, lends itself perfectly to helping students distinguish important details from interesting.
Try this: Have students record information from the book on a t-chart labeled important and interesting. Remind students that in order to write something on the important side it must support the big or main idea. If it does not, it should be written on the interesting side. If you are just beginning work on determining importance, create a class t-chart to record events from the text under important or interesting headings. Grab free organizers for this activity at the bottom of this post.

Summarizing Nonfiction

Once students have sorted all of the events from the story, they are ready to write a nonfiction summary of the book. I have students use TSMIDS to help them summarize informational texts. This stands for topic statement, main idea, and details that support it. It is an easy to use format that allows students to take the important information from their reading and turn it into a paragraph that summarizes what they read. By having students write a summary from their previous determining importance work connects the use of graphic organizers to support writing during reading.

Here are some other lesson topics that coordinate perfectly with this read aloud:
  1. Reading Informational Text
  2. Understanding Biographies
  3. Black History and Learning about the Underground Railroad
  4. Theme and Life Lessons in Literature
  5. Context Clues

No matter which book you read aloud, be sure to use it many ways! Intentionally select books to share with your students that can be used in a multitude of ways. It is also a great way to show students that good readers read books more than once and with different lenses each time. Henry's Freedom Box*can truly be used across all content areas and will engage your students every time you take it off the shelf.

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Meaningful Reading Activities for Henry's Freedom Box

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