An Engaging Week of Compare and Contrast

One of my favorite skills to teach is compare and contrast. There are so many different resources that you can use and lessons that you can teach, and it really is one of those skills that I find to be a lot of fun to do. I don't think I've ever taught it the same because I have so many different ideas that I want to try!

You might think that fifth graders have compare and contrast down, but I get a lot of blank stares when I say "Venn diagram" for the first time so I assume nothing. I start with the basics (What do compare and contrast mean? What key words and phrases are associated with each?). Day 1 includes an anchor chart and interactive notes with the key words and phrases for compare and contrast. I also read a short passage, highlighting key words as I read to demonstrate how key words and phrases may be presented in their reading.

On day 2, I introduce Venn diagrams. I use another short passage that offers comparing and contrasting aplenty. I read the passage, highlighting the key words and phrases from the day before, and then after I read, I model filling in the Venn diagram. I give students a notes page with the Venn diagram that explains how it used.

This year, I tried a different approach to engage students in their adventure with a Venn diagram. After I modeled the Venn diagram and gave them their work, I gave each student a blank Venn diagram with a twist: I put my the pictures of my teammate and I on the diagram! I asked students to fill the diagram in with similarities and differences that they already know of between us. Then I collected the Venn diagrams from the students.

On day 3, I give each student an informational passage about my teammate and I. We wrote paragraphs about ourselves that focused on the same things so that students would notice those things that were the same and different. Students were asked to read the passage, and then fill in a new Venn diagram with the information that they learned about us.

On day 4, students used the information from their two Venn diagrams to compose compare and contrast paragraphs that highlight our similarities and differences. This gave them the opportunity to create their own writing and use compare and contrast words and phrases in their writing.

On day 5, I introduced students to the different types of question stems for compare and contrast to show them the different ways that compare and contrast questions might be composed on a test. I then returned their writing from the day prior and gave each student an index card. On that index card, I direct them to write two questions about their writing, one on each side, using the question stems to structure their questions. After their two questions have been written, the students partner up. They give their partner their writing and index card. Their partner reads their writing and then responds to their questions.

I gave a quick assessment at the end of that week and they ROCKED it. There's always more practice to be done, but I was really pleased with their week and progress. It was engaging and fun for everyone and that's always the best learning of all!

If you want to grab all of these interactive notes and resources for the activity, I've put it together and have it available in my store. Click on the image below to view the product.



Snowmen in Disguise Inference Activity

If you read my last post, you already know that I'm knee-deep in teaching the art of inferring and you already know that I love to use riddles to teach students the art of making an inference. What's better than using already created riddles to infer? Well, how about creating your own riddles? My students LOVE to create riddles, so a few years ago I created Wanted: Turkeys in Disguise Inference Activity. The next year, we covered making an inference in December so I created Undercover Santa Inference Activity. Last year, my students enjoyed Undercover Santa so much that I created Easter Bunny in Disguise Inference Activity. Well, this year, we shifted some of our pacing around and I found myself focusing on making an inference in January so turkeys and Santa were yesterday's news and no one is quite ready to be thinking of the Easter bunny (except Target, because they are always three holidays ahead of the rest of us), so I had to think of something new. Lucky for me, Monster Wrangler Mike, my go-to guy for disguise clip art had an adorable set of snowmen in disguise! And thus, Snowman in Disguise: The Case of the Missing Snowcakes Inference Activity was born. My students loved it, as always, and I really enjoyed their creations. For each of these, I write a background story that will hook my students, so that they have a reason to create a disguise. We read that together and then they do the rest during our reading rotations in an independent center. We start on Monday and their riddles and coloring are due on that Friday, which is when we do a gallery walk. We do two rounds, the first with just the riddles on their desks and their inference sheet in their hands to record their inference. Then, a second round with the pictures out for students to find out if they were able to correctly infer the disguise. They really have a blast with this and I believe that it really helps them to understand that process of reading text clues + schema = inference. Here's a look at some of their work, along with some super cheesy headlines, in true Mrs. O form! 

If you're interested in grabbing this for an engaging activity for your class, click on the picture below to see it in my TpT store. 

I'm hoping making an inference falls on yet another holiday next year! These are such a blast to create and use in my classroom!



Making Inferences Using Animated Short Films

Want to start a great class discussion and get students buzzing with inferences? Use short films to get those inferences flowing!

During my first week out of three (and to infinity and beyond) that I focus on teaching students to infer, I try to incorporate many different ways to think about how we make an inference when reading. I like to kickstart each day during that first week with a different short film to get our inferences flowing. Students are given an inference chart and asked to record what they see, what they know, and what they infer. Now, I will say that these are a great tool, but when I first started to use these I had an unrealistic expectation…I thought that students would make their inferences in order from the start. In all actuality, they were more quick to make the inference. I found this discouraging at first, but then I realized that if they had the inference, then it would be my job to get them to think about their thinking, asking them to think about what they saw and what they knew that allowed them to infer at all. I don't change the order of the chart, because it's important  for them to recognize that the process actually happens in the order that the chart is in, and so we talk a lot about how this is helping them to understand the process of their thoughts as they make decisions about the text that they are reading. It's really a rather awesome discussion and by the end of the week, they ARE actually filling out the chart in order. Here are the links to the videos that I use, in the order that I use them.

We start with For the Birds, which students have usually seen at least once. It's fairly easy to infer that the larger bird is being bullied and the small birds don't like him because he's different.

Here's the chart that my students came up with. Again, they definitely had the two inferences immediately, but I had them go back and think about why they were able to make each inference. 

Here's one of our inferences from Geri's Game: 

I think this one is my favorite because it is chock full of inferences. Here's one of the many that my our class came up with: 

This is an inference that my class made about the first part, before the second musician entered the picture.

Since I do this one on our fifth day of this, students have made a lot of progress, which is great because this film is a bit longer and there are so many things that can be inferred when you watch it. I have them do this one entirely on their own for a classwork grade. I'd definitely recommend having several pages ready to fill out, as my students had TONS to share! It was awesome to see how much they had progressed in their understanding of this strategy by day #5! 

If you would like to use the charts and examples that I've shared here, please click on the image below: 



Teaching Students to Make an Inference

If there is one strategy that my fifth graders struggle with year after year, it is making inferences. Each year, I introduce this strategy with a chart that shows them the process of making an inference.

The thing about this, is what we cover observations and inferences in science so I'm always expecting my students will make the connection and a few of them do. I also know that we introduce students to this strategy in third grade, so it shouldn't be brand new. Nevertheless, each year, when I mention that we are going to begin to talk about inferences, I don't get the familiarity that I am hoping for, so I go back to the basics. 

To begin my introduction, I use the chart above with Inference Riddles from Phil Tulga. He has a lot of great riddles on his site. I sometimes mix up the order to build from the less obvious to the totally obvious, and I add my own clues in here and there, but his site is a great place to get riddles so you don't have to make up your own. Here's an example of how we might use one: 

Notice that I list all of the riddle clues along the left column. I do not list anything in the schema column until I have read all of the clues. This is because making inferences is about reading all of the clues, adding it to what you already know, and concluding the answer based on the combination of clues and your knowledge. Students are going to naturally guess based on the first clue, but those guesses are really more like predictions because they aren't putting all of the clues together yet and thus will end up with a lot of guesses that don't make sense as they add more clues. Imagine what students would think it was if the only clue were round. They could predict a ton of items, but they would be basing that on one clue. That's why, when we "picture walk", we ask students to predict. We are giving them limited information to "guess" about the story and then confirm that guess with a yes or no at the end. Now, don't get me wrong, I think we should encourage students to make predictions in their mind as they read, because we want them to use all of the strategies as they read. We just want them to understand that making an inference happens when they put all of the clues together, and students use their background knowledge (they love to say "schema") with those clues to make a decision about the text. A discussion about their background knowledge and how it may differ from others can be really helpful here. For example, if I lived in China, this could be a very challenging riddle for me because I won't have any schema about a penny. That is also why some questions that require a child to infer can be very tricky, as some students have much more limited background knowledge than others. 

After students understand the process of making an inference, I apply our learning to our current read-aloud (not usually in the same day, but in the next day or two). My students always have their own copy of my read-aloud so that they can follow along or listen, and so that we can do guided practice of the strategies that they are learning with a familiar story. 

We're currently reading my all-time favorite fifth grade read-aloud, Maniac Magee. Here are some of the inferences that students made as we read on our first day of applying our strategy.  Please excuse the writing residue, as I'm in great need of a new eraser! 

I was quite impressed by what they come up with for their first round and though it's not reflected in the chart, we talked about the fact that we want more than one text clue to make an inference (to again be sure that we are making an inference and not a prediction) and they did orally add more to their clues, I just ran out of room! I did need to guide them a bit more at first, but they are really getting the hang of it now and they are on their way to inference success! 

If you'd like a copy of my inference chart, click on the picture below. 



A Gift for Your Favorite Character Reading Assignment

I'm constantly looking for new ways to assess my students' comprehension, especially when it comes to independent reading. I love my tic-tac-toe reading response boards, but I don't want students to grow tired of them so at least once a quarter, I like to throw in something different.

In December (oh yes, I know it's February, but I'm in catch-up mode), my teammate and I were in need of a fun in-class assignment that would keep students engaged as they counted down the days until the winter break. We were also in great need of a bulletin board. I don't know why, but the need for a bulletin board really gets my wheels turning! Since we were focusing on narrative elements, I thought it would be great to narrow in on characters. After tossing the idea around a bit, I came up with A Gift for Your Favorite Character.

For this assignment, students were asked to choose a favorite character from the book that they were reading independently and think about a gift that they would give to that character. Of course, it couldn't be just ANY gift, it had to be a gift that was specific to that character based on what they had learned from their reading. They had to choose a character and explain why they chose that character first. Then they had to share the gift that they chose and explain why they chose what they did for their character.

When I shared the assignment, my students were super excited! I was looking for engagement, and I really got it. I was really impressed with how well my students did with the assignment. Here's a peek at a few:

Now, we did this at Christmas time, but the great thing about this is that you could really do it anytime. I loved how awesome our bulletin board looked with our Christmas theme, but I would definitely do it during any season! I hung their decorated "gifts" on top, with the gift inside, and the writing paper hanging below. We had lots of compliments from other staff that stopped to read them!

You can find my creation in my TpT store by clicking the image below!


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