No Words? No Problem!


Wordless picture books, believe me, are for ALL ages! In class, the preservice teachers shared wordless picture pictures in small groups. While it would seem a picture book without words would target early childhood or elementary, my students saw (and suggested!) the possibilities for middle grades and high school students. Here’s a short list of their thoughts:

Reading comprehension:

-Even without words, students sequence a story line…Great way to develop what is often referred to as a Story Mountain, where the plot is developed from problem through climax to solution…Inferencing possibilities-no limit!…the strategy of Synthesis!…Summary!…Monitoring Comprehension!  We worked all semester with Ellin Oliver Keene’s Mosaic of Thought, 2nd ED Unknown where seven reading comprehension strategies are presented. I like to save the Wordless Picture Books day for the end of the semester, after students have worked separately with each of the seven strategies (monitoring comprehension, activating schema, inference, questioning, visualizing, determining importance, synthesizing), so they see how each strategy is at work in comprehending the story line of a book with no words.


-Students could work together to sketch out a story sequence…to sketch a character map…to add words to each page…the possibilities are endless–

What I enjoy best about this day in class is the conversations in the small groups. The swapping of thoughts, the AHA moments, the laughter, the questioning…IF you teach middle or high school, wordless picture books are a wonderful resource!

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When words aren’t enough….visual response

As in past semesters, I had my preservice teachers work together to create visual responses to one of two short texts by Sandra Cisneros  (check Authors tagline on this blog). They worked as small groups to draft ideas and then got busy. The sharing at the end of class session was powerful. As often as I have read the two texts: Salvador, Late or Early and Eleven, I am still amazed at how much more I know from their visual responses. The middle grades are so verbal-linguistic-heavy, yet visual response can also reveal deep comprehension of text. In past blog entries for this assignment I haven’t provided captions for the posters; I decided to do so at this time, as well as my own brief synopses of the two Cisneros texts.

The texts:

Salvador, Late or Early Is the story of a young, impoverished boy with adult-like responsibilities (sibling care). Shy and harboring untold grief, Salvador is the story of a boy you won’t forget.

Eleven is the story of Rachel, whose birthday is missing the “happy” part. It’s her birthday, but it’s hard to let go of the sadness and tears that are the result of being unfairly accused of leaving an ugly red sweater in the class cloakroom.


Salvador’s–late or early, but always whipping around from one responsibility to the next–taking care of young siblings, helping out with the baby at home with Mom. Facing the schoolyard gate, Salvador is gray, unnoticed and weathered. His younger siblings have yet to become “adults” at such young ages; they can still smile and be children.


Salvador as two people–the sad, forgotten, boy with adult responsibilities on his fragile shoulders, and the boy who enters another colorful world of school each day, a world in which he does not belong.


Rachel is eleven years old today; she wears the ages on sleeves of the ugly red sweater she’s accused of owning; and 1. The happiness that should come with a birthday is unraveling….


Her family celebration is supposed to be happy, and they will sing to her and shower her with presents, but her birthday cake has layers of happy and sad.


Even at home with a family who loves her, Rachel is alone and broken.

when words aren’t enough, visuals reveal deep comprehension, and texts that bring out heavy emotional responses are the best choices for letting images reveal thinking. My quick summaries above don’t come close to the fabulous share sessions we enjoyed following this work.

Read Works…for really good expository articles!!

My students (preservice teachers) use this website, as do I for quality short texts we use in class activities. The website lists informational articles by grade and Lexile levels. There are many options as well for locating what you need–search by topic, by units of study, and more. Reading research informs us, and the trend today, is to use short pieces of text when we wish to focus on comprehension. Read Works is an amazing site!!


Hashtag summaries

When teaching my preservice teachers methods of making quality use of benign textbooks (when they must use them)..I give them a chapter from a middle school History textbook. Benign because…dense text, voiceless, boring….I ask them to read it as groups and then summarize the chapter with hashtags. No rules other than that. Here is one from last semester—can’t wait to see what this semester group does:

The chapter below focused on the Pilgrims.

Here are their hashtags:

#Mayflower   #pilstruggs  #missingthemotherland   #demWampananagos   #originalThanksgiving  #churnthatbutter  #Jesus4life  #Squantowho?   #workingafarm   #wigwams4ever   #seriouslongwinter     #allinaday #nomoreboattripsplease #Plymouthrockrocks #BFFSquanto #worstcasescenario #thankfulforSquanto #sickonaship #praytheedontkillus #holierthanthou

Results: Well, for starters there is always a whole bunch of laughter and fun. But, they do get it. We ask kids to summarize, summarize, summarize. When it is not so important that they write ample amounts, why not allow some levity and have groups hashtag summarize short texts? They will capture the critical points and their hashtags can launch class discussion.


More “cake baking” with Synthesis strategy…

For my post of last semester, check out Baking a Synthesis Cake… on this blog.

This week my current group of preservice teachers revisited familiar texts to synthesize meanings they created from close, deep reading. Following the cake baking strategy, which requires the cook to know what kind of cake is desired before s/he can compile the ingredients, the teachers did the same with their meaning creations. They had rich discussions and decided as small groups at least one powerful meaning created from their chosen text–that was the “cake,”–and the “ingredients” became significant pieces lifted from the text that helped them create meaning. As always, the group work and the opportunity to “create” visuals added to the powerful engagement in the project. Here are their visuals and a list of the texts from which they chose.

“The Flowers,” by Alice Walker          “Salvador, Late or Early,” by Sandra Cisneros       “Eleven,” by Sandra Cisneros

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..just thoughts

As my classes leave the Unknowntext today we focus on the final of the seven strategies–Synthesis. I confess, as a former middle school teacher, that I really do not like the concept of “main idea,” and here is why….I find the following to be true:

…In the search for ONE big thing–ONE main idea, many important ideas are dismissed along the way…. I know we call them “details,” but why can they not also be main things?

…Looking for the main idea seems a “school thing” to kids–something they do for the teacher and not something they do when they plow into a self-selected book they love

I think we can ask kids to reveal meanings created from text, supported with text evidence. I would rather pose the questions: What’s Interesting/What’s Important? and What meaning did you create from this text? rather than What is the Main Idea….?

I like the quote below…and can relate it to comprehension…

No idea is isolated, but is only what it is among all ideas.  (Friedrich Von Schlegel)

I know students will meet “main idea” questions on standardized tests, but if they experience many opportunities to have good and targeted conversations about texts, if they read closely and deeply, I feel confident they will be able to choose ONE main idea of a passage presented on any standardized test.

Teach strategically and they will surprise you…just saying

Visual/Emotional Responses x 2

Again, I had my preservice teachers collaborate to create visuals that portrayed emotional connections to “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros–a short text about a young girl who experiences her eleventh birthday with hurt and pain as she is wrongly accused (by the teacher and a few classmates) of leaving a raggedy red sweater too long in the cloakroom. The short story is powerful–so much so that invariably a few of my students choose to use this short text with various strategic teaching lessons in their field classrooms.

Here are the visuals they created from “Eleven,” and the link below is to my post of last spring–amazing how art can reveal what words cannot.

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When Visuals are Just Right…

The text, “Eleven,” can be found in the following collection of short stories by Sandra Cisneros..available on Amazon or BN, or your favorite online resource: Unknown

She also has a fabulous website


Learning from my students….

I love when one of my students gives me an idea that I had never before considered. I love when they teach me. In class one day last week we focused on the strategy of Inferring in our class text, Mosaic of Thought. Students keep a Double Entry Journal as they read chapters, to record their personal connections and responses to the text. My student lifted a quote from the text wherein the author stated that each time she read a particular piece of literature it took her to a different place.  My student response is as follows, with her unique and powerful idea inserted at the end of her response. I love her thinking!!

I chose this quote because it speaks to the power of literature to take us on journeys to different places. I think it is important to note that the number of times we read a texts does not necessarily affect the impact that it can have on us. I am always amazed at where a text can take me after the third, fourth, or fifth time I have read it. I think that is another way you can tell if a piece of literature is really great. If one keeps coming back to a specific text to dive deeper and deeper into it that is a sign of the quality of literature it is. Another sign is based on the numerous places literature can take you. I think this has a lot to do with what is going on in our lives during this time and how we feel like we relate to the book, as well as the number of inferences and connections we are able to make with the book. Every time we read something our response to it will be influenced by what is going on in life such as current events, what we are reading at the time, and how we are feeling. I think this is important to mention to students because they can read a text one time and not get much out of it or they may respond in a certain way, but when they read it again they are able to get much more out of it and may be able to respond to it in a unique way. When I was thinking about this quote I thought it would be cool to do something like this in a classroom someday where my class is given a piece of small literature to read at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. The piece would be the same for each period and then I would have them respond after each time. It would then be interesting to have them compare and contrast their responses after each time to see where the literature took them.

(thank you, J!!)



Tell Me…

So, today in my Hope College class  of preservice teachers we engaged in the Tell Me strategy to express thoughts about the first two chapters in our course text, Mosaic of thought: The power of comprehension strategy instruction, Ed 2, by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman.. The teaching profession is “hot” today with strategies to help students to comprehend “complex texts,” and for the students in the class, Mosaic is indeed a complex text. They respond individually to me through Double Entry Journals, but the Tell Me strategy allows them a structure within which to mingle their voices in small groups–to share their thoughts and to listen to the thoughts of their classmates.

I engage them in use of strategies they will eventually use themselves as teachers. Tell Me is socially-driven, which is so beneficial to middle schoolers. So, here is how the strategy plays out:

There are three “Sharings” of focused thoughts about the text they read (in this case, first two chapters of our class text).

First Sharing: Enthusiasms   What rocked you? Made you think, wow, that’s cool. Got you excited?

Second Sharing: Puzzlements, Wondering, Difficulties  What places in the text made you stop and question–what’s this about? Or, were there statements or passages with which you disagreed? Were there passages or concepts that you didn’t quite get?

Third Sharing: Connections  How did you connect to your lived experiences? To other things you have read? To life, in schools or otherwise?

They worked in small groups, each member contributing to all three Sharings. Then, we came back together as a whole group to share.

I cannot take credit for this strategy–I have adapted it over time from an unknown source. All I do know, is it works!! I hope you give it atry!



“Baking” a Synthesis cake…


cake analogy for synthesis strategy

So…we used the cake baking strategy (click link above to open) in class today. Students had choices of a few texts to use—texts we had previously used in class, texts even referred to on this blog: “Eleven,” and “Salvador, Late or Early” [Sandra Cisneros], and “The Flowers,” by Alice Walker. I try to model what I would have them do as teachers. So, for the synthesis activity, we worked backwards, as I would do with middle school students. We have followed Mosaic of Thought, 2nd ed this semester—by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman. The text introduces seven strategies for teaching reading comprehension (monitoring your thinking, activating prior knowledge and experiences, inferring, sensory responses, determining what is important (as opposed to what is just plain interesting), asking good questions—for students be happy they ask any!, and lastly, synthesizing. Synthesis is the last strategy introduced because in essence, it really is a blending of all of the other six strategies. It is NOT summarization. It is more than a reporting of just the facts, ma’am. It’s the fact plus so much more. But that “so much more,” is difficult to retrieve for many students because it takes…work. Tenacity. And, lots of practice before it becomes second nature. And even then, the text makes all the difference. I can tell you for sure that there are some texts that leave me saying…huh??? I have to work hard at them. So, to introduce practice in synthesis as a strategy, I ask students to choose among three texts that they are already familiar with. This provides a comfort zone of sorts. No need to do a “first” read. In the cases of the three text choices, all students have participated, at a minimum, in a second reading as they used the texts for other purposes. They worked in teams. An option, for sure, and sometimes you will need to see what a student can do alone, but for this initial learning experience I wanted the students to collaborate and hash over their thinking. I wanted and they needed the dialogue. I suggested they begin at the end and work back. So, I asked them first to consider and agree upon what the author’s message, intent, purpose was for their chosen text. And, as a class, we agreed there could be more than one message, intent, purpose. This would be, as in the analogy: the cake.  They then had to decide what “ingredients” helped them to determine their author purpose. What in the text led them to understanding? Below are some team results. They got it. Not only did they get it, but I listened in on fabulous dialogue.  At close of class, they presented their “synthesis cakes.” What I think they found pretty compelling was that of the teams that chose like articles, every message was either different (but correct!), or if same message, arrived at uniquely. 
As a “writing” person, I do not mean to minimize the power of writing with my last few blog entries, but I cannot emphasize enough the power, as well, of visually representing and following up with oral presentation. If team work was involved, yet another language bonus.

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