Archive for April, 2013

A lot happened in the last few days of fieldwork so these posts are going to have a lot of detail in them. I was able to teach Lesson 1 of my mini-unit to a group of three students.  Overall, the lesson when okay, but there were a lot of things that I could have done differently.  As I was teaching this lesson, I had to make some adjustments.  Since only one of the three students had heard of Snow White before I decided that I needed to read it through once before we began to highlight.  Well, reading the book took a lot longer than I had originally planned because of comments and questions by the students.  By the time we read through it once, I decided that we did not have enough time to go back and reread it to highlight important parts.  I took the chance and skipped this step to see how it would go.  When we started to fill out the chart, they were confused at first so I helped them a lot with the first one.  Then as we went along, I tried to stop helping as much.  Each student filled in the last line completely on their own, which I thought was very impressive. Below is a picture of their work. (Adriana’s is on the left.)

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Again, this activity took longer than I thought so rather than having the students write a paragraph summary, I had them give me a verbal summary.  I had Adriana go first so that it was fresh in her mind.  She still had a hard time, but was able to recall the very basic plot.  This was her summary:

“The Wicked Queen wanted to be the prettiest, but Snow White was prettier.  The Queen tried to kill her because Snow White was prettier.  Snow White went to the little house and she hid from the Queen.  The Queen found her and used a belt to kill her.  Then she took the poisonous apple to kill her, and the dwarfs found her dead and put her in a casket.  Then the prince came and made her alive.”

She had an extremely general plot, but I don’t think that she would have been able to get that much if she hadn’t worked on the chart before.  The other student that I was working with gave me a very descriptive summary almost quoting the book word for word.  He included every single detail, too.  Though I saw some downfalls in the lesson, the students seemed to enjoy it, even commenting that it was fun and asking if we could do it again next time.

Luckily for me, the three student found this lesson engaging so I thought I would try it again with a much shorter book so we could actually do all the steps.  This time I used the book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  It is a much shorter book with fewer characters. The students seemed to do very well with highlighting important events, too.  In turn, we got through all the parts of the lesson and the summaries were a lot better because they focused on the main important ideas that happened in the book.  I was much happier with the way that this lesson turned out.  Here are pictures of what they wrote as their summaries which I thought was a huge improvement from last time. (Adriana’s is on the right.)

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Chapter eleven is all about how to build comprehension strategies.  I had actually read this chapter a while ago when I was working on my mini-unit.  I took a few of my ideas from this chapter for my unit so I’ve had a chance to put some of them into practice.  First, though, the chapter gives many, many strategies for how to build comprehension and ways to focus a lesson on that.  Many strategies is about predicting, organizing events, picking out main ideas, and summarizing.  One strategy that is suggested in the chapter and which I used for my unit is the Somebody Wanted But So chart.  Students pick a main character (somebody), say what they wanted, but what happened so they couldn’t have it, so what did they do.  When I used this with a group of students it went over pretty well.  They were able to pick out main characters and fill in the chart.  One thing that came up, though, that might have confused students is that there were many possible answers for the same character.  When you have a more in depth book, it is important to help students figure out what is MOST important about the character.

Other strategies that the book talked about have a lot to do with different ways of summarizing. If students are able to summarize the book well, then it is a sign that they are comprehending what they read. It is the goal of the teacher to get students to the point where they can give a summary of the story by only including the main points necessary to the story.   Using different kinds of graphic organizers, appropriate level material, and prompts to get students thinking on the right track will help with comprehension.

Chapter ten talks a lot about how comprehension difficulties are often a result of not knowing the meanings of the words.  I found this to be true with Adriana, my case study child.  Since she is an ELL, she does not know what a lot of words mean which causes a lot of comprehension problems.  Because of this, it is important to teach students vocabulary, but it has to be in a more meaningful way than telling them the definition or having them look it up in the dictionary.  I am going to go through a number of strategies that the book discusses to solve this problem because I think that they are great sources, especially because I have seen some of them in action.

Incidental instruction is a very beneficial way to teach vocabulary.  When this happens, it is not planned, but just happens naturally.  When students come across an unknown word when they are reading, it is discussed right then and there.  Gunning says, “The main advantages of the incidental approach are that students apply their knowledge immediately and can see a need for learning the new words.”  I think this is one of the best ways because students can understand why they need to understand the work and it applies to them.

Another strategy that the book suggests, and one that I have actually been able to use, is to develop vocabulary through reading aloud.  Students will be able to learn more words when they read aloud because they are reading and hearing the words.  What I have found in my fieldwork experience is that students are more apt to ask what words mean when they are reading aloud.   When they ask, this can lead to the next strategy which is to build on what students already know.  This is completely necessary when talking about vocabulary and is probably the best way that students will be able to learn it.  An example of this came up in fieldwork.  Adriana came across the word ‘easel’ and asked me what that was.  At first I tried to explain it to her by saying it a wooden frame that will hold your paper while you paint or draw, but she still had no clue so I knew I had to try something else.  I decided to draw it for her (even though I am a terrible artist!) and once I showed it to her, she knew exactly what it was and even said, “Oh it’s that? I have one of those at home that I use!”  As teachers, we just have to find that one little connection so that everything makes sense.


My name is Sarah Coleman, and I am a senior at Concordia University, Ann Arbor.  My concentration is Elementary Education with a major in Language Arts, a minor in Early Childhood Education, and an LTD (Lutheran Teacher Diploma).  I have a passion for teaching and I love working with children. School has always come fairly easy to me, and I have always loved to read, but for some reason comprehension was always my weakest point. I would always day dream when reading my homework and then have to read the page 3 more times before I actually made it through.  Looking back, I never knew why I struggled so much, but after doing some research for this class, I may have found out why.

I am currently in a class entitled ‘Teaching Struggling Readers and Writers in the Elementary Classroom.’  The main focus of the class is in what ways students can struggle, possible reasons for their struggling, and strategies to help these struggling readers and writers.  We have talked about many topics from phonics and decoding to vocabulary and comprehension to various kinds of assessments.  Earlier in the year, one of our assignments was to create an annotated bibliography on a topic of our choice. In an effort to figure out my own comprehension struggles, I focused my research on why some students have problems with comprehension and what teachers can do to help them.  Though I would not consider myself a struggling reader, I did up with a couple possible solutions to my comprehension difficulties from my research.  One reason, the simpler one, may be that I was simply not interested in the readings.  The other reason is a bit more complex and maybe a little unexpected.  Many times teachers break reading down into very simplistic steps like decoding, spelling, vocabulary, etc. rather than looking at reading as a whole.  This could often turn students off, especially those who need a more holistic approach, like me.  I do better when I can see the big picture, rather than working in small steps.  I also believe that students are better able to comprehend when they can visualize what is going on in the story.  Creating a clear picture in a student’s mind is essential when helping them to understand.

I decided to use these ideas to create my unit plan because I figured that I am probably not the only person who has ever felt like this.  I also based my unit off of some ideas from the fourth grade classroom that I go to for fieldwork.  They are working on reading folk/fairy tales so I decided to go along with that theme.  I also kept my case study child in mind when creating this unit to try to play to some of her strengths as well, in hopes that I will get to try some of it out with her.  I hope this unit fun and helpful as you work with not only struggling readers and writers, but all other students as well.

It is so important for students to be able to understand what they are reading, or the whole purpose of reading is null and void.  I geared the following unit toward struggling readers, especially those struggling with comprehension so they will be able to enjoy what they read. It will work best with a small group of students working with a teacher; though using it in a whole class setting would be beneficial as well.  Students will use a variety of strategies to work on comprehension including some of the strategies recommended in my annotated bibliography.  More specifically, student will create a visual in their head, use graphic organizers, and summarize what they read. Using these strategies and more, students will be better equipped to understand what they read and learn to enjoy reading and writing.

Understanding what you read

  • Highlight details in the story about important characters and events
  • Use a ‘Somebody Wanted But So’ Chart to organize events
  • Write a coherent summary based on the chart

Compare and Contrast two versions of the same story

  • Use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast a book and movie of the same story
  • Write about the biggest difference between the two and how it changed the story
  • Use details from the book as a basis for your argument

On the completion of this unit students will be able to:

  • Use a text to describe important characters and events in the story.
  • Compare and contrast a book and a movie about Snow White using the book to validate the movie’s interpretation of the story
  • Organize their thoughts and ideas in a logical way in order to write summaries and ideas in an organized fashion.

The pre-assessment should take place before the first lesson, and it will be very informal.  The teacher will ask what the students already know about the story of Snow White.  Have the students read the book? Seen the movie?  Do they know what happens already?  The teacher should get a good feel for how well the students already know the story or what version of it they know.

Lesson 1

  • Lesson Title/Topic: Understanding the Story by Looking at the Details
  • Subject Area: Reading
  • Grade: 4th
  • Time Available: 1 hour


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.3 Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Objectives– Through these learning activities, the student will be able to:

  • Highlight important events and character descriptions as they read the book.
  • Summarize the story, using the “Somebody Wanted But So” Chart
  • Write an organized summary of Snow White from the chart in paragraph form


1) Show the cover of Snow White and ask: what do you think is going to happen in this book? If they already know the story of Snow White, ask: what scene do you think the picture on the cover is portraying? Is this how you pictured the characters looking?

2) Explain to students what they will be doing by saying: We are going to read a version of Snow White today.  We will do some writing activities to finish up, and then tomorrow we will watch a movie about the same story. You will compare the two so make sure you pay close attention to all story.

3) Have a print out of the words for students, and give each student their own copy.

4) Say to students: You have your own copy to follow along with while we read.  We will read the book twice.  The first time, I just want you to follow along with me. Read the book through once. (Reading through twice may not be necessary if all the students already know the story.  This can be determined by the pre-assessment.  If they are familiar, skip the first reading.)

5) Say: Now as we read, I want you to highlight in pink what you think is important about a character. In green you will highlight important events that happen. Ask if there are any questions about what happened in the story.  See if children can answer the questions the next time they read.

6) Read the book through again. After each page (or a couple pages if there are few words on a page) stop and give students a moment to highlight what they think is important on that page.  Ask students to give you a one or two sentence summary of what happened on that page.

7) When finished reading, ask students if they have any questions. Ask: were your questions from earlier answered this time?

8) Give each student a “Somebody Wanted But So” Chart (found below).  Fill this chart out in class, giving the first one as a model.  Somebody is the queen.  She wanted to be the most beautiful. But Snow White was prettier than her. So she plotted to kill Snow White. Work step by step with the students, filling out as many of these as the students can come up with.  If students get stuck, ask questions to get them thinking and tell them to reference the highlighted parts in their books.

9) When you finish the chart as a class, say: I want you to use the chart to write a paragraph summarizing the story.  Keep the events of the story in order and only include the details that are important to the story.

10) As students are working on the summary, collect their books so that they only use their charts to write the summary.


Look over the highlighted parts of each student’s book.  Make sure that what they highlighted is essential to the characters and the events in the story, and that they didn’t miss anything. This will tell you if they understand the story and are picking up on the main ideas.  Also, read their summaries when they turn them in to make sure their writing is in a logical sequence and they are using complete sentences.


For ELLs, have them put a question mark in the story by words that they do not know.  After the lesson, pull students aside to help them figure out what those words mean before they write their paragraph.

Resources Needed:

  • Snow White: A Tale From the Brothers Grimm, Illustrated by Charles Santore
  • Copies of the book for each student
  • Pink and Green highlighters for each student
  • Somebody Wanted But So chart for each student



Lesson 2

  • Lesson Title/Topic: Comparing book and video version of Snow White
  • Subject Area: Reading
  • Grade: 4th
  • Time Available: An hour and a half slot to watch the movie; then 30 minutes for the lesson


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.7 Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

Objectives– Through these learning activities, the student will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast the book and video versions of the story of Snow White
  • Write a paragraph about the biggest difference from the book to the video in terms of character or plot


1) If there were any major issues with what students highlighted as important from the last lesson, make sure to address those.  It is important that students understand the key points in the story for this next lesson especially.

2) Say to students: We are going to watch a movie of Snow White, but I want you to keep in mind the book we read yesterday.  As you watch, think about how the movie is similar or different than the book.

3) When the video is over, hand out the Venn Diagram Chart. Work on this together with the students.  Ask: What are some things that are different between the book and movie in regards to character and the events that happen?  As students name some things, have them write it down.

4) Ask: what are some of the major things that were the same? Have students write this down on the chart as well.  (It might be a good idea to print the chart on larger paper so students will have more room to write.)

5) Say: Now I want you to circle the event or character that you think is the biggest difference between the two.  What did you write down that you think changed the story the most?

6) After you circle that, I want you to write about why you think this was the biggest difference, and what impact or effect it had on the story.


Listen and observe children as they suggest answers for the Venn Diagram.  Collect students Venn Diagrams and paragraphs that they write.  Use these pieces of writing to determine if the students understood the differences between the book and movie.  The paragraph will also show you if the students understand the effect on the whole story based on the differences.


For students who have trouble writing, have them copy down what other students are writing on the Venn Diagram as you go through it in class.

Resources Needed:

  • 1937 Version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Movie
  • Venn Diagram Chart

The final project for this unit will consist of a picture and writing to go along with it.  Students will pick a scene from the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs video that they think should have been done differently based on the book.   They will illustrate how they think the scene should have looked.  To go along with their illustration, they will write at least one page describing their picture.  In their writing, they will include the following:

  • What part of the story their scene is from
  • Why that scene in the movie should have been different
  • A description of their illustration and why they illustrated the scene the way they did
  • References from the book to explain why their scene is more accurate than the one in the movie using some of the important characteristics and events talked about in Lesson 1

I am over halfway done with fieldwork, and I am starting to focus a lot more on my case study student, Adriana.  Adriana is originally from Mexico and was adopted into an English speaking family when she was in first grade.  Though she has been speaking English for 4 years now, she is still an ELL as she originally spoke Spanish.  Her biggest area of struggle is in comprehension because she just doesn’t know what a lot of words are or what they mean.  I decided to do a Qualitative Reading Inventory (QRI) with Adriana, and I started out with a second grade level reading.  Even though this is two grades below her, she struggled a lot with this reading.  She scored a 54% with the concept questions which assess her prior knowledge.  This tells me that she was partly familiar with the concepts, but not completely.  While read the 304 word passage, Adriana had 25 miscues, putting her at the lower end of an instructional reading accuracy. She was at an independent level when it came to meaning changing miscues.  This showed me that her fluency is not that bad, but I was very curious as to what she was able to recall from the story.

When I asked her if she could tell me what happened in the story in her own words, she started to complain a little bit.  She knew it was going to be hard and she didn’t want to do it.  She was only able to recall one idea before I told her to tell me anything that she remembered; it didn’t have to be in the same order.  This seemed to help her a little bit, but she still was only able to recall 10 of the 52 ideas in the story.  When asking her questions about the story, she still struggled, often commenting “This is hard” or “Uhh. I don’t know.”  She was only able to answer five questions correctly, putting her at the frustration level for the comprehension section.

Luckily for me, Adriana wanted to do another one.  Despite her frustration she found them fun.  This time, I gave her a first grade level reading.  She seemed to enjoy this one better, partly because it had pictures to go along with it.  Her prior knowledge score was much higher this time, with 78%.  Her miscues were cut in half, having only 12 in a 264 word passage.  This put her toward the higher end of the instructional reader for fluency, much better than the last passage. When it came to recalling events that happened in the story she still struggled, only recalling 13 of 50 ideas.  When I asked her questions about the story, she was able to recall 3 of 6 questions, again putting her at the frustration level for comprehension.

I asked her which story she liked better and she said the second one because it was easier, and she still wanted to read another one.  Adriana is an interesting, though not uncommon, case.  She has a very good fluency level and is able to read the words on the page, but she does not understand what she is reading.  It is hard to determine how to accommodate for this child because you don’t want to give them words that are way too easy for them because they will feel undermined, but if you give them something harder to read, they won’t understand what it is saying.  I have worked on a min-unit built around comprehension which I will post in a few days, and I hope to be able to teach the first lesson to a small group of students.  In this unit I focus on using a lot of visuals and graphic organizers to help with comprehension. I am interested in seeing if Adriana will benefit from these types of strategies.

During this fieldwork visit, I was also able to just talk with Adriana a little bit and interview her.  I learned that she was adopted when she was in first grade and has been at Estabrook since then.  She is not a fan of reading mainly because she comes across big words that she doesn’t know.  She doesn’t mind writing and says that it is a lot better than reading.  When she writes she can take her time and use words that she knows.  She sometimes reads at home when her dad makes her, but she said that her favorite books are The Cat in the Hat and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss.  It is my guess that these books are easier to read because of their rhythm and rhyme so she enjoys them more.

This fieldwork visit was very beneficial for me, and I learned a lot about Adriana from this visit.  There will be more to come in the next two weeks as I finish up my fieldwork and work more with Adriana.

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