Teaching non-fiction text structures effectively can seem overwhelming, but teachers can (and should!) break the reading strategy into manageable chunks. The main purpose of learning text structures is not to be able to identify them, but rather internalize them to improve reading comprehension. When students understand how a passage is organized, then they can better identify the key topics and main ideas in the passage.
Learn best practices for teaching nonfiction text structures to students. Blog post includes a variety of lesson ideas as well as mentor texts.
How to Teach the Types of Text Structures
Hands down, one of the most popular novels I used in my 5th and 6th grade classrooms was Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen. This mystery book was a favorite of both boys and girls, voracious readers and reluctant readers. If you can find the audio version of the book, that was an even bigger hit with my students! Read on to find out more about the book and how I used it to teach reading skills in my class.
Are you looking for a great mystery to read in your grade 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th grade class? Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief is the perfect novel for a read aloud or a literature circle. Learn how to use the book to teach character development and citing text evidence.
Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

Do your students focus on reading the text but skip the text features altogether? Many students do not understand the importance of text features in a reading passage. In a nonfiction article, text features are used to help the reader identify and find information within the text. Additionally, text features can be used to add information that is not found in the reading. By using text features, the reader can more easily identify and remember the main ideas in the material they are reading.
Learn how to teach and reinforce the importance of text features. Blog post includes a variety of teaching activities that could be used in a text features lesson..

Do you have students that read without stopping - even when it's clear that they misread the text? I know I have had many students like that over the years. (Even my own children have done it - and one is a strong reader!) Teaching students to ask questions while they read can help improve their reading comprehension. Asking questions will slow down your speed readers who don't really comprehend what they are reading, as well as students that read slowly but struggle with comprehension.

Many students think stopping to ask questions is a sign of poor reading ability. However, the best readers stop and think about what they read. It is important for teachers to explain this to their students. No one wants to feel stupid, so if  asking questions makes you feel dumb you just aren't going to do it.
Learn how to use the reading strategy Questioning to improve reading comprehension. Blog post breaks down questioning into before, during, and after reading questions.
Teaching visualizing as a form of reading comprehension is a skill that should be taught to both beginning and struggling readers. When people visualize what they are reading, they form images of the story in their minds. This skill improves reading comprehension because it teaches readers to use input from all of their sense (sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touch) to form images about what they are reading. This enables the reader to 'see' the information. When people can see what they are reading, they feel more connected to the passage. Visualization also helps the reader retain the information in the text.
Students may struggle to visualize a story or a passage. It requires synthesizing many skills to create that picture - a reader needs to activate background knowledge, use phonetic abilities, and recall information from the story. It is important to help readers create those mental images, so teachers should model a variety of methods that readers can use to form mental pictures.
Learn about 5 different strategies to effectively teach visualization to students in order to improve improve their reading comprehension.
Here are a few visualization strategies teachers can model:

1. Start with an Auditory Piece

Remember, reading is hard work - especially if a student struggles with phonics or word recognition. If the goal is to have students understand how to visualize, then start with a piece that might be more accessible to struggling readers: an auditory piece. The teacher could read a poem, paragraph, or nursery rhyme to the class, asking them to draw what they hear. Teacher could also pick a popular song that has a lot of imagery - it is important to select a piece that has a lot of specific details for students to visualize. For example, the song 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' by the Tokens is a rather simple song, but students could imagine the lion sleeping in the jungle or the nearby village.

2. Listen then Read

Another great strategy is to read a paragraph aloud to students, then give them a minute to draw what they heard. Next, provide each student with the text and have them check their picture with the text. Students should highlight or underline parts of the text that support their image.

3. Practice on Short Pieces of Text

In this step, students should read the text on their own. As students learn how to visualize, use small pieces of text to help them practice - a long chapter might be too much information for them to remember. Nursery rhymes can be good introductory texts, especially if students are familiar with them. Poems could also be a good choice, as long as teachers select a poem that is more concrete in its meaning and has specific details.
5 Great Mentor Texts for Teaching Visualizing

4. Focus on a Specific Element

Another strategy to help students is to have them focus on a specific story element. Use mentor texts that have strong characters or settings, then ask students to draw that particular element based on the passage. For older students, a teacher could select a paragraph or section of a book that has a lot of description about the setting, character, etc. Scholastic has a good list of books with strong characters for different reading levels.

5. Nonfiction Texts

Visualization can help increase reading comprehension of nonfiction passages. When assigned a text in social studies or science, students should visualize what is taking place in the reading. For example, if the passage is about clothing styles in the Colonial period, the teacher can ask students to draw images of the different pieces of clothing. By illustrating how they visualize the information on Colonial clothing, students will feel more connected to what they learned while demonstrating that they actually understood the text. (Note: Keep in mind that not all students enjoy drawing.  Some students may draw rough pictures but choose to label the details.)

Visualization is most often taught in primary grades. However, upper grade teachers working with struggling readers should check to see how well students can visualize information in a text. For many students with processing issues, it can be very difficult for them to move information from short-term to long-term memory. Creating mental images might help those students retain what they read. Other struggling readers might focus so much on decoding words that they miss the meaning of the text. As visualization is a skill that is usually developed in beginning readers, difficulty visualizing in older students may be a red flag for teachers to investigate further. The student may just need more practice, but he or she might also have a undiagnosed learning issue.

A complete unit to teach students how to visualize while reading.
If you are interested in having some prepared activities for teaching visualization, my unit is available in my TPT store.

If you would like to learn more about other reading strategies, you may be interested in these posts:

If you haven't read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, you are missing out on a sad but beautiful story. I was introduced to this book while participating in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. Another teacher on the trip told me she read the book with her students every year. If you are looking for a story that helps students develop empathy, Sadako may be for you.

Are you looking for an engaging book to read with your upper elementary students?  Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is based on a true story and fits perfectly into a study of character development, Japan, or World War II.

Inference is an important skill for students to learn in order to really dig deep into a text. People use inference every day to make sense of the things people say and do. Students use inference all the time, but they need some guidance in learning how to use the strategy with a text.

How to Effectively Teach Inference To Students - Inference is a higher order thinking skill that helps readers to comprehend a text on a deeper level. Read about several strategies to teach inference to students.

There are a few basic reading strategies that will help students improve their reading comprehension. Teaching students how to identify the main idea of a text is an effective way to increase their understanding of the reading. The main idea is exactly what it says, the main or most important idea that the reader should take away from reading the passage. In other words, it is the point that the author wants the reader to understand.

Knowing how to find the main idea is an important skill for readers.  Learn some easy steps for teaching students how to determine the main idea.


Designing an integrated curriculum unit can seem overwhelming. Integrated instruction incorporates different disciplines in a lesson or unit of study. Just learning the curriculum for a grade level or class can be time-consuming, let alone figuring out how to teach different subjects in the same unit. However, for me, finding connections between subject areas really helps me to feel better prepared - and less overwhelmed knowing I can cover multiple standards in one unit. I think of integration as the magic power that stops students from asking that irritating question.  You know, "Why do we need to learn this? When are we ever going to need this?' With integration, they know right away how they will use the skills they are learning!

By the end of this article, I will explain both how to develop an integrated curriculum unit and show some examples of units I have created.

How to Develop an Integrated Curriculum Unit walks readers through the steps to develop a unit.  Examples of integrated units are also provided in the blog post.

Have you heard of the book, The Goldfish Boy? It is Lisa Thompson's first novel and it is a winner. This is an excellent addition to a classroom library, most suitable for grades 4 - 6. The strength of this story, is its character development, and students will really want to find out what happens to both the main character and supporting character.
Have you heard of the book, The Goldfish Boy? It is Lisa Thompson's first novel and it is a winner. This is an excellent addition to a classroom library, most suitable for grades 4 - 6. The strength of this story, is its character development, and students will really want to find out what happens to both the main character and supporting character.

Are you pressed for time in your classroom? Struggling to cover all the standards in your classes? Try teaching with integrated instruction! An integrated curriculum connects different areas of study by emphasizing related concepts across subject matters. Teachers who would like to use differentiation might want to consider using an integrated curriculum, as they two work well together. This style of curriculum makes it easier for students to make connections and to engage in relevant activities that can be connected to their own lives. (1)


Are you interested in increasing student engagement and saving time in your classroom?  Learn about integrated instruction and how the integrated curriculum model will benefit your classroom.

In our classrooms today, it has become evident that teachers need to multiple teaching methods in order for students to achieve at their greatest potential. Teaching the same way day in and day out just won't achieve the same results. Each and every one of our students are with their own needs, personalities, and skills. Differentiated instruction can be used to meet the needs of all learners. It is when a lesson, chapter or unit is taught in different ways. Teachers construct their lesson plans using a variety of learning methods in order to meet the needs of all students.


Learn how to increase student engagement and learning by implementing differentiated instruction in your classroom.

Recently a friend told me about the book, The Wild Robot. She told me her kids loved it - and they are not big fans of fiction books. This sweet story is a bit unconventional and has a lot of great themes that can be discussed. The book is listed for grades 3-7, but I would recommend it for grades 3-5 in school.

Read the Wild Robot with your students in grades 3-5. This is a wonderful mentor text for teaching theme. In addition, teachers can easily integrate science and language arts with this sweet book.

Since 1873, Memorial Day has been held in at least some parts of the United States. The day was originally known as Decoration Day, and people set aside the day to remember those who died in service to the nation. This post explains the history of Memorial Day and how people observe the holiday.
Since 1873, Memorial Day has been held in at least some parts of the United States. Learn about the history and traditions for Memorial Day in the United States.
Back in February, it felt like spring break would never get here - let alone summer! Now that summer break is almost here, give yourself a gift and prepare your classroom for next year. I know it's hard to do anything else right now when just making it through the day feels like an achievement, but you will thank yourself at the beginning of the year.  Each day, pick one or two things to do before summer break.  It will take a few minutes each day, but it will save you so much time later!

When summer break is almost here, give yourself a gift and prepare your classroom for next year. Each day, pick one or two things to do before summer break.  It will take a few minutes each day, but it will save you so much time later!

As testing ends and the school year winds down, teachers have a hard time keeping students focused. If your last month of school is like mine, you probably have already taught all the standards except social studies. Textbooks need to be collected (except for social studies, which you are cramming in from now until the end), so what do you do to keep students focused - and learning? The last month of school is the perfect time to fit in interactive activities and lessons that have high student engagement.  I have made a list of my top ten interactive activities to use at the end of the school year.
Looking for interactive activities to use at the end of the school year? Keep students engaged - and learning with these ten lesson ideas!

If you have not yet read The Chicken Squad mystery series, you are really missing out! Doreen Cronin, the author of Click, Clack, Moo and Diary of a Worm, has another hit on her hands with this easy chapter book series. This book is a great fit for 2nd - 4th grades. I personally used The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure with my struggling fourth grade readers at the beginning of the year - and they LOVED it. I found it hard to find new easy chapter books for those students, because they had either heard or "read" many of the popular series before or didn't want to read them because they seemed like "baby" books. I mean, no one wants to read the book that everyone else read in 2nd or 3rd grade.
Are you looking for an easy chapter book for your students?  The Chicken Squad will hook any reader, whether they love to read or are struggling. This mystery is a great mentor text for voice and character development. It is also a terrific example for visualization.

Summary of The Chicken Squad

This book is in part told by J.J. Tully, a retired search-and-rescue dog. Tully has to share his yard with a chicken, Moosh, and her crazy chicks. In this adventure, the chicks take on their first case when a squirrel asks for help. Unfortunately, the squirrel doesn't communicate well, and the Chicken Squad has to muddle their way through the mystery. Tully watches this whole thing unfold and decides he had better protect the chicks from themselves. In the end, Tully solves the mystery - and the Chicken Squad!

Teaching The Chicken Squad: Voice, Character Development, and Illustrations

This book is a great story to hook students. When J.J. Tully narrates, the story has a strong voice - the reader can almost hear him talking! Also, the story uses both a first-person and a third-person narrator. Teachers could use this book as a mentor text for learning the different types of narration, as the text could be used as examples for each.  Also, teachers could compare how the feel or sound of the story changed when the type of narrator was switched.

Also, character development is also strong in The Chicken Squad. Students can track the information they learn about each character in order to understand how the author builds them throughout the story. Teachers could also show how characters interact, as well as how one character's actions affect the events and actions of other characters.

Finally, this book has amazing illustrations.  If teachers are trying to help students visualize what they read, this book could be used as a read aloud.  Teachers could pause during the book and have students close their eyes to see a picture in their mind. As students have their picture, the illustrations could be used to show how someone else saw the story. Students could compare their visualizations to the illustrations. Teachers could also show how the illustrations were made using facts from the story. That will help students to understand how the illustrator created his images - which is similar to what readers do when they read.

If you have a student that is looking for an easy chapter book or needs support in order to improve his or her reading, try this The Chicken Squad.  Not only is the book itself fantastic, but it is also a series. Finding a great series has helped turned many children into readers. Once they read the first book, they want to read all of them!
Are you looking for an easy chapter book for your students?  The Chicken Squad will hook any reader, whether they love to read or are struggling. This mystery is a great mentor text for voice and character development. It is also a terrific example for visualization.
If you are looking for a literature guide for The Chicken Squad, I have a complete novel unit in my TPT store.  It has everything needed to teach the book: vocabulary, comprehension questions, grammar activities, and more!
Poetry is such a fun topic to teach students, but so many students resist it! Poems have so many different forms and can be written about any topic. In addition, poems can be written easily in every grade level - as long as teachers follow a few easy steps. Improve poetry writing in your classroom by implementing a few easy steps.

Learn how to teach your students to enjoy writing poetry! This post discusses seven easy steps every teacher can implement with students in both traditional classrooms or homeschool settings.

Read Poetry Often

This seems like a no brainer, but students need to be familiar with a lot of poems before they will feel comfortable writing them. Starting as early in the school year as possible, begin reading poems. Poems can be used to start the day, in short stretches of "dead" time, or even as journal prompts. Just try to work in one poem each day - and don't be afraid to repeat well-loved poems. The more kids read poetry, the more they will understand it - that it has different forms and different topics. It isn't all love and valentines!

Select Appropriate Forms of Poems

There are so many different types of poetry. Some forms have a lot of rules, while others have very few - or even none! If you are teaching younger students, stick with poetry forms that have few rules. Older students may be ready to write more difficult poems, but then again, maybe they aren't. It is important that you know your students and their writing abilities. When I teach poetry, I always start with free verse or a form of poetry the class already knows, then slowly move students to more complicated poems.

I Do, We Do, You Do

This is an old teaching trick, but I do think it helps students understand how to write poems. Every time I introduce a new type of poetry, I start by modeling how to write the poem in front of the students. Students see how I brainstorm ideas and then slowly write and revise the lines of my poem. After I finish a poem, we write one as a class. I have students suggest topics and pick one.  Then I have pairs of students work on different lines of the poem.  (If the poem form is short, I have the class work on more than one poem - I just assign the topic and line to a partner pair.) TIP: Give a reasonable time limit for them to develop their line. After we have finished these group poems, I ask kids to work on their own poems.
Learn how to teach your students to enjoy writing poetry! This post discusses seven easy steps every teacher can implement with students in both traditional classrooms or homeschool settings.

Free Write

It is important for students to just focus on getting their ideas down. There are always a few students who worry about getting everything perfect the first time, but that is very detrimental to writing poetry. It's okay to make mistakes - poems go through revisions just like stories. Often a poem will morph into something else as it is revised - and it's often better than the first idea! 

I usually start poetry writing with a brainstorming-only session. Each student should write down a few ideas for their topic.  I then have students brainstorm ideas connected to the topic they think they want to use. Sometimes kids find that they don't have enough thoughts about their topic to write a whole poem. Often this happens when kids think they have a topic that will be really funny, but it doesn't really mean much to them. They try to stick with it thinking it will make kids laugh, but in reality they just don't have any ideas to elaborate the topic. When that happens, I guide students to look at the other topics they brainstormed and think about what all they could say. Usually students will have one topic that means a lot to them or for which they have a lot of ideas. 

Allow Partner Writing

I don't always allow students to work with partners, but I offer it as an option frequently.  Providing the option to write with a partner has always increased student engagement in writing poetry.  It removes a lot of the risk for students - their is less chance it could be wrong or dumb.  (These are big fears for middle grades students.) In fact, my students have written a lot of very creative poems because they were able to bounce ideas off of a partner.  

Voluntary Sharing

Let's be honest, a lot of kids love to share. Love it. Other kids hate it. I try to leave a few minutes at the end of the writing session for kids to share poems. Instead of making everyone share a poem, I ask kids to share. If kids don't want to share, I don't force them to do so. However, everyone usually enjoys hearing what other students have written. 

After I have read through their poems, I will anonymously share a few on another day. This is a good way to acknowledge the writing of students who are just too shy or afraid to share their poems otherwise.

Have A Purpose

In my class, students seemed more motivated to write poems (or anything else) if their was an end goal to their writing. For example, our county holds a student book competition every year.  Each school can submit books in different categories. Sometimes students would use their finished poetry book for this contest. Another example could be that you have a binding machine in your school, and students can bind their poems when they finish. (I also timed this to fall close to Mother's Day, so students frequently gave their poetry books to the mom or grandma.)
If you are looking for a poetry writing unit, my teacher friends and I have used my Poetry Writing Unit with students, and it has been well received by students. Students learn how to write several forms of poetry. For each type, I included printables to help guide students through the writing process. I also included optional pages for final copies that could be bound as a book.


I hope you got a few new tips for teaching students how to write poetry. What works well in your classroom? I would love to know what writing tip you have used successfully with your students!
There are so many easy ways to integrate technology into your poetry writing! Many teachers have students type their poetry, but why not add even more technology options for your students? There are a number of free apps and websites that can be used to help students write poetry. Beginner poets will appreciate having the support some site provide, but even more advanced students will enjoy writing their poems with technology. I did find many paid apps, but for this post I only focused on free sites.
Would you like to integrate technology into your poetry writing lessons? This post reviews seven free apps and websites that can be used by upper elementary students when they write poetry.
Have you ever announced to your class that you would be working on a poetry unit and all the students cheered? Yeah, me neither. Usually there are a few students that love poetry, but the groans outweigh the enthusiastic cheers. So why do so many students hate reading poetry?

Let's be honest. Poetry has a bad rep among students, especially boys. Close your eyes and clear your mind. What are the first things you see when you think of poetry? I don't know about you, but I saw valentines and love poems. Not exactly the most popular thing in middle grades. So how can you, as a teacher, help your students to love reading poetry? By the end of this post, you will know four steps to introducing poetry, as well as have free poetry resources including apps and classroom resources.

Why Students Hate Poetry and How to Make Them Love It! - Teach poetry so that kids love it, and discover free resources including apps and classroom resources.

Poetry is one of those topics teachers seem to either love or hate. Students seem to feel the same way. However, Common Core and state reading standards are emphasizing figurative language more than ever. Not only do students have to learn how to read poetry, they also need to learn to compare and contrast it with other types of literature. Whether you love it or hate it, you need to teach it. So what's the trick to making poetry fun and enjoyable for both teachers and students?
12 Amazing Poets Who Make Kids Love Poetry! Learn about the poetry of twelve different poets that upper elementary students enjoy reading. Suggested books are provided for each poet.


In my experience, the most important part of teaching poetry is to make it fun. That's it. Even when I taught poetry to older students, it didn't take long for their grumbling to stop because I made sure that everyone felt successful during our activities. And as a lot of poetry is up to personal interpretation, it isn't hard for students to realize that their opinion is probably right!

In order to get students comfortable with poetry, teachers need to read it to them. But who should you read? For many adults, poems are remembered as long and difficult pieces of writing they had to dissect in high school. However, today there is such a wide variety of poets out there to read that teachers couldn't possibly fit them all in! A few poets write books specifically aimed at children, but my students have also enjoyed reading the classic poets as well. Teachers should take the time to read a variety of poets and earmark poems they feel are especially interesting or that they feel their students would enjoy. This will also help teachers to select a variety of poetry styles and topics, so that every students hears at least one poem that appeals to them.

I have selected a few of my favorite poets, as well as some that come highly recommended for younger students. By the end of the blog post, you will learn about twelve different poets your students will enjoy!
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It is never too soon for language arts teachers and reading coaches to begin planning for the FSA exams! Sixth grade reading standards expect student to go beyond mere comprehension of the reading, but also to understand the craft of writing. Understanding what the students are expected to do will help teachers and parents make sure their students are learning the skills they need to be successful not only on the state exams, but also in future classes. This blog post will break down the reading and language arts standards and how they are tested on the FSA.

How to Prep for FSA: Valuable Tips for 6th Grade ELA - This post unpacks the 6th grade ELA FSA test and standards and discusses which concepts to focus on during your test review.

This blog post may also be beneficial for teachers and parents in other states as well. If your state takes the AIR exam, FSA was modeled on that test. In addition our state standards are 99% identical to the Common Core state standards.

What Does FSA Cover in 6th Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These are a great tool for parents and teachers, but they do take a lot of time to analyze and break down.

As always, students are expected to be reading and spelling on grade level. Judging from the practice tests, the reading passages are longer and denser than previous grades. The passages will probably be be about one and a half  to two pages, single spaced, 14 - 16 sized font. Overall, students are expected to draw inferences from their reading. In sixth grade, students are expected to move past merely citing text evidence to being able to analyze the text. Students should be able to make inferences from the text and explains what part of the text made them come to that conclusion. Also, readers are expected to understand how the author builds the story or topic using words and structural elements. Students are learning how a story or text is crafted to create meaning.

Also important, students are expected to build comprehension and integration of multiple texts on the same theme or topic.  For example, students should be able to take a poem and a realistic fiction story with a similar theme and compare how the authors' approach the theme.

Sixth grade students should build their research and critical thinking skills . Students should also be able to compare two nonfiction texts on the same topic. They should also be able to identify which claims are supported by evidence and from those which aren't. Students should also be able to use the same skills in reading a text or listening to a multimedia presentation - or comparing the two.

Vocabulary is really just building upon what they already know. The categories of terms are basically the same as fourth and fifth grade, but sixth graders should be exposed to high level words.

Grammar standards for sixth grade focus heavily on pronouns.  Students should understand subject, objective, and possessive cases, as well as intensive pronouns.  They should also be able to recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun person or number, as well as vague pronouns with unclear antecedents.

Aside from pronouns, the standards focus on using Standard English and nonrestrictive elements.  

The four sections of FSA ELA are weighted nearly the same.
  • Key Ideas and Details - 15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure - 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing - 15 - 25%
Soon testing will be here, and teachers want to make sure they have covered as many of the standards as possible. The 5th grade ELA standards are a pretty big step up in reading expectations. The good news is that teachers and reading coaches can focuses on a few specific skills that will really help prepare students for the FSA tests.  This blog post will break down the reading and language arts standards and how they are tested on the FSA.

How to Prep for FSA: Valuable Tips for 5th Grade ELA - This post unpacks the 5th grade ELA FSA test and standards and discusses which concepts to focus on during your test review.
This blog post may also be beneficial for teachers in other states as well. If your state takes the AIR exam, FSA was modeled on that test. In addition our state standards are 99% identical to the Common Core state standards.

What Does FSA Cover in 5th Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These are a great tool for parents and teachers, but they do take a lot of time to analyze and break down.

As always, students are expected to be reading and spelling on grade level. Judging from the practice tests, the reading passages will be about one and a half pages, single spaced, 14 - 16 sized font. Overall, students are expected to draw inferences from their reading. Supporting answers with text evidence is not a skill new to fifth grade students, but it is something that they should be doing regularly. Students should come to fifth grade with some ability in using text -based evidence. However, the skill should be increased to providing reasoning for implicit answers. Teachers need to push students to answer inference-based questions and have students explain what part of the text led them to their response.

Students should be prepared to have 2-3 texts for prompts. They should be able to integrate information and compare characters, setting, organization, etc. of multiple texts. The great majority of reading standards ask students to compare two or more ideas/traits and/or at least two texts. Two texts may be a written text and an audio or multimedia presentation. In general, these standards are preparing students for the future. As students are expected to research and write reports, they will need to be able to use multiple sources and combined the information into one report. That is really what these standards are preparing students to do.  To practice these skills, teachers could do mini-units focused on one topic or theme, as well as research projects.

Fifth grade vocabulary is really just building upon what they already know. The categories of terms are basically the same as fourth grade, but fifth graders should be exposed to even more figurative language. Students are also expected to use context clues to determine the meaning of words and phrases.

The grammar expectations again just build upon what they already know.  Each year students focus on a different verb tense - in fifth grade they add the perfect verb tenses. They are also expected to be able to select the appropriate tense for their writing and write in one tense. Students should already know a lot about conjunctions, but now they should learn correlative conjunctions (ex. rather/than, either/or). The fifth grade standards also emphasize the various uses for commas.

The four sections of FSA ELA are weighted nearly the same.
  • Key Ideas and Details - 15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure - 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing - 15 - 25%
This test prep season, prepare smarter not harder for FSA! In this post, I will unpack the 4th grade FSA English Language Arts (ELA) test specifications and analyze the 4th grade Florida standards. This will help both teachers and parents make sure their students are ready to take the state tests.

How to Prep for FSA: Valuable Tips for 5th Grade ELA - This post unpacks the 5th grade ELA FSA test and standards and discusses which concepts to focus on during your test review.

This blog post may also be beneficial for teachers in other states as well. If your state takes the AIR exam, FSA was modeled on that test. In addition our state standards are 99% identical to the Common Core state standards.

What Does FSA Cover in 4th Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These are a great tool for parents and teachers, but they do take a lot of time to analyze and break down.

Of course, students are expected to be working on reading and spelling at the fourth grade reading level. Judging from the practice tests, the reading passages will be about one and a half pages, single spaced, 14 - 16 sized font. In addition, most of the skills are integrated into reading. For example, editing tasks are now done right in a paragraph. Some of the reading questions have students select a sentence from 1 - 2 paragraphs taken from the text. If teachers are not beginning to practice in this format, I recommend highly that they begin using practice activities like this so students are familiar with the testing styles.

The four sections of FSA ELA are weighted nearly the same.
  • Key Ideas and Details - 15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure - 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing - 15 - 25%
As Florida teachers begin prepping for testing season, time is frequently an issue. The Florida Standards Assessments are rigorous tests, and students need be familiar with both the question styles and testing formats. Both teachers and parents can benefit from understanding what students are expected to do on the exams. In this blog post, I am going to focus on 3rd grade English Language Arts (ELA). By the end of the post, you will know more about the FSA and how to prepare students for the exam.

How to Prep for FSA: Valuable Tips for 3rd Grade ELA - This post unpacks the 3rd grade ELA FSA test and standards and discusses which concepts to focus on during your test review.

The History of the FSA

Florida Standards are relatively new. The state adopted the Common Core State Standards a few years ago, then quickly switched to Florida Standards. In reality, the new standards are nearly identical to those pf the Common Core. The purpose of this post is not to debate the CCSS, but to help teachers and parents to understand the expectations.

FSA exams were created by the makers of the AIR test, which Colorado had used. FSA exams have higher expectations than the old FCAT tests, and their style is different. In addition, many of the exams are given on the computer, which is a new skill for a lot of students.

What Does FSA Cover in 3rd Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These documents are a great tool to analyze what students are really expected to know by the end of the year. The problem with them is that they are so long! I spent two days printing, reading, and matching the specifications to the standards. It isn't an easy chore when you are pressed for time.

In third grade, the test coordinates with the Florida Standards. Students are expected to read at a third grade level. Passages on the exams will be 3 - 4 paragraphs long and be between 100 - 200 words in length. In addition, almost all skills are now integrated into the reading passages. For example, grammar questions are written as an editing activity.  Instead of showing a sentence in isolation, students have to read a paragraph and correct the grammar error that is in the paragraph. (The error is noted - students don't have to find it.) Teachers should begin to focus more integrating grammar skills within their reading and writing lessons.

The four sections of the FSA of weighted pretty close together in 3rd grade.
  • Key Ideas and Details  15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing 15 - 25%
So, what skills should teachers really focus on in third grade? From examining the test information and grade level standards, there are specific skills that students are expected to know.
Now that Netflix has made A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket into a TV series, the books are making a comeback. Of course, they were wildly popular when they were first published!  The Bad Beginning, the first book in the series, is one of my very favorite books to teach in my classes. My students always loved these books. Although people have told me they use them with 4th grade, I would not use them below 5th unless the students were very high readers. There is a lot of tragedy in the books, as well as a lot of inferences that I am not sure younger students would necessarily catch.
Are you looking for a great novel to read in your 5th or 6th grade classroom A Series of Unfortunate Events:The Bad Beginning, book one, is the perfect book to hook your students. The blog post discusses how the book can be used in your ELA classes.

Summary of The Bad Beginning

This is the book that introduces the readers to the Baudelaire family and the woe that follows them throughout the series. The Baudelaires are very talented children. Violet is a brilliant planner and loves to create inventions. Klaus is an avid reader and is clearly extremely intelligent.  Sunny is a baby, but sadly no one really understands her. She, too, has a special talent that the reader finds out later in the book.

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are orphaned when their parents die in a mysterious fire. They are sent to live with Count Olaf - a nearby relative the orphans claim their parents never mentioned. Alas, their predicament becomes even worse when they actually meet Olaf.  His house is dilapidated, and he treats the children very poorly. Eventually, the children figure out that he is really just after the fortune their parents left in a trust. However, they cannot access the trust until they turn 18 - but that doesn't stop Olaf from scheming. The children need to use their special abilities to figure out his plan and stop him.

Teaching The Bad Beginning: Mood, Tone & Vocabulary

This is an exceptional book to teach the literary elements mood and tone. Mood and tone are often difficult for students to understand. With all the tragedy these characters face, there is a lot of mood that could be discussed. I have always found tone to be a little trickier to teach, but these books excel at tone - the narrator just comes out and tells you the books will be sad, that you shouldn't read it because of the tragedy, etc. (That is another great literary device you could discuss, too.) If your students are struggling with mood vs. tone, The Bad Beginning would be a great book for you.

This book is also rich in vocabulary. If you are trying to help your students expand their vocabulary, there are many words to pick in this series! The way the Snicket incorporates the new words is brilliant. He wrote the book in a way that is accessible to readers.  Throughout the story, a high-end word is used and then immediately explained by the narrator.

The best way to decide if A Series of Unfortunate Events is a good fit for your class is to read The Bad Beginning. But I am warning you, once you start you will want to read the whole series!
Learn about A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning and how to use it to teach literary elements.  Freebie included in the post.
If you are interested in teaching The Bad Beginning to your class, I have a FREEBIE with resources for the first chapter in my TPT Store.
One of my favorite things in school was logic puzzles. I know many people dislike them, but they are the ultimate close reading activity. I used them all them time with my students to help improve their reading skills. To solve a logic problem, you have to closely examine each clue and consider what knowledge you learn from it.  What student can't benefit from that?

Learn how to teach logic puzzles to improve students' close reading skills. Post discusses why logic puzzles are a good way to teach students to focus on details, as well as shows step by step how to complete a logic puzzle.

Why Teach Logic Puzzles?

Logic puzzles really strengthen students' ability to read between the lines. Close reading is a skill that is used across subjects.
  • When reading a novel, in order to to truly understand a character's motivations the reader has to synthesize everything that is stated about the character and fill in what isn't said.
  • In a math word problem, students need to pick out which information is important and how to apply it.  
  • While writing an essay in social studies or science, students need to comprehend their research, analyze it, and apply it to their topic or thesis.  
Learning to really zero in and what is written is important for every student in every class. It is a life skill.

When to Teach Logic Puzzles

One of the nice things about logic puzzles is that they are short. Not at first mind you. Until students really understand the strategies used to solved the logic puzzles you will need to make time for them. After the first few puzzles, you will have a few students that completely understand them and can mentor other students.  Once most students are independent you can use them in those filler moments - morning work, after recess, after pack up while waiting for the bus, etc.  Eventually students just enjoy doing them or even compete to see who can solve them first.

How to Teach Logic Puzzles

 If you are not a natural puzzler, it is important that you practice doing puzzles before trying to teach students.  It also helps to use logic puzzles meant for the age group you are teaching.

Logic puzzles really need modeling. Model, model, model. To begin students on logic puzzles, make sure everyone has a puzzle, highlighters/markers, and a pencil.  I use the highlighters to help showcase what I am doing.  I will switch colors on each step so students can follow along more easily.

When teaching logic puzzles, always start with a puzzle with a grid answer sheet.  There are more advanced puzzle that require the solver to create a diagram.  These are more complicated in general, and students will get frustrated.

Once everyone is ready, use your projector to show your page to the class.  I basically teach the first one as a think aloud.  Always start with the introduction.  Students always want to skip it, but it sets up the reader to understand what they are trying to figure out.  For my example, I am using a logic puzzle from Lindsay Perro.  In the introduction, I learned that I need to figure out which child did which activity at which time.  So I am trying to connect three pieces of information: name, activity, and time.

Interactive notebooks seem to be a love/hate issue with teachers. At first, I just thought they would waste a lot of class time. What I didn't realize was how much they would increase student engagement or how I could use them to support the content in any subject. Imagine getting less resistance from your low readers and exceptional education students? Are you interested in having your students work more independently? Do you want to integrate reading skills in your social studies class? Interactive notebooks can help make those things happen!

Learn how to use interactive notebooks as reading support for all students in any subject. Post discusses the benefits of using INBs and how to use them for assessments.

Who Benefits from INBs?

Interactive notebooks can help turn a very dry or boring subject into a fun and engaging class for students. Interactive notebooks have something for everyone:

  • Kinesthetic students can move around.
  • Visual learners end up with organized notes. 
  • Creative kids can color and doodle.
  • Social kids can talk to their neighbors while they prep the interactives.
  • ELLs/LD/Exceptional Education students can receive reading support.

The purpose of interactive notebooks is to enhance learning. Instead of students sitting and zoning out during your lesson, they can use the interactivities to get involved in the lesson by taking effective notes and drawing related graphics.

One word of caution is to not force daily coloring - not every student likes to color. If it is a map or a subject-related activity, I expect students to complete it. Otherwise I allow them the choice.

Using INBs as Reading Support

While this sounds like a simple solution to student note-taking, the problem does arise of how students take notes and what they should specifically take notes on.  Students are often given interactive notebook or lapbook templates with a general topic on the sections.  However, this doesn't help them know which facts are the most important and which details are just supporting information.

For my students, I found that providing guiding questions on the templates helps students to break down the reading. I think most teachers and students agree that textbooks are really dry and overwhelming. With guiding questions, students are better able to determine which details need to be remembered. Depending on the grade or ability level of my students, I also take this concept one step further and provide cloze-style notes, where they have to complete the blanks in the sentences.

Effective interactive notebooks can be used as a support system for reading comprehension. This helps my students that have reading comprehension issues to become more independent, as they can use the keywords to help them locate information. Like any strategy, students need to be taught how to use them. After we practice setting up and taking notes, I slowly give them more responsibility. Sometimes I even break the class into groups and have them complete a section of the notes while I circulate. That helps me to see who needs more support and who is on their way to independence.


A great art project for Valentine's Day is designing a mailbox for students' valentines.  So many students really need to work on fine motor skills - even in 5th grade - and designing a valentine bag is a fun and easy project.  I used paper bags for mailboxes, but cereal or shoe boxes could be substituted.
Create Beautiful Valentine Mailboxes with Students - Fast and easy Valentine's Day art project!  Teach students how to design a mailbox using only paper hearts and bags. Photos of examples are included.

Brainstorm First

In my class, I left this project very open ended.  My one design rule was that students could only use heart-shaped pieces on their project.  That may seem a little overwhelming, but I would have the class brainstorm about what they could possibly design.  Animals were a very popular choice, but students could design cars, abstract designs, or any other idea they imagined.  My goal was simply for students to stretch their thinking.

Are your students struggling to use evidence in their writing?  Are you preparing for a state writing test, such as MACS or FSA Writes?  Whether you are teaching DBQs or paired passages, teachers can use the TEACH method to break down the writing process.  The TEACH acronym is easy to remember, and with some practice students can really improve their evidence-based writing.

Improve Text-Based Essays in 5 Simple Steps - Learn how to use the TEACH strategy to improve Text-Based Essays.  A free Outlining resource is included in the post.
In my classes, no matter the grade level, students would get overwhelmed trying to include evidence in their writing.   It just seemed like too much work.  Make no bones about it, using evidence from multiple sources is a lot of work.  We need to teach students to work smarter not harder.  In general, students see the writing process as read, maybe plan, write, and if there is time edit.  As teachers, we need to break that down into even smaller chunks.  We also need to be specific as to how much time they should be spending on each piece.  In general, the majority of time should be spent understanding the reading and planning/organizing their writing.  The longer they spend getting organized the less time the writing will take.

Are you having trouble getting some students to read? For your fiction lovers, there are so many popular series right now - Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson to name a few.

Some of your reluctant readers might prefer nonfiction. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the fiction genre, it is also important that we incorporate non-fiction books into our classrooms and households as well. Nonfiction can help support learning in both science and social studies, as well as broaden students' experiences about the world and careers.
Discover ten must-have nonfiction books and series for every elementary classroom!  Post focuses on books for elementary and middle school students. Post summarizes each book and provides the target age range for the book or series.

With the new Common Core Standards, nonfiction readings are being heavily encouraged. At nearly every grade level, students are expected to develop research skills across content areas with a strong focus on nonfiction, including literary nonfiction, essays, biographies and autobiographies, journals and technical manuals, and charts, graphs, and maps (ASCD.org, 2012)

Here are ten must-have nonfiction books and series for every intermediate classroom!
I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in bringing you downloads of value and information about educational resources. The link below is an Amazon affiliate link. You can read my full disclosure here.
An easy way to freshen up your classroom is with photos!  Most phones today have a great camera, but instant cameras have also made a comeback.  Polaroid or Fuji cameras are both popular and relatively inexpensive instant cameras.  The convenience of instant cameras makes them extremely usable in the classroom.  Imagine how much time you would save - no more running to pick up photos (or having to remember to pick them up!)  Just make sure that you have good lighting with an instant camera - what you see in the viewer is what will print.  Also, don't overstock the film, as it does expire if you don't use it within a few months.

10 Easy Ideas for Using Photos in the Classroom - Do you love to take pictures but need ideas on how to use them? This post discusses ten ways teachers can integrate photos into their classroom organization and learning activities.
By the end of this post, you will have ten ideas for using photos in your classroom.  In addition,go through our blog hop of 10 teachers to get more fresh ideas to use in your classroom.  Links to the other posts are at the bottom.

1.  Seating Chart

I know I had to work really hard to learn the students' names the first few days of school.  The instant photos have a space to write at the bottom, so you could use permanent ink to write the students' names on each photo.  When you need to change your seating charts, you can move the photos around!  Subs would love this, too.

2.  Introductory Activity

Every year I did introductory activities, but I remember being shocked when students still didn't know all of their classmates mid-year - especially in middle school.  If you do a getting to know you activity, you could post the photos near the door so students can look at them on their way in or out.  That way they could learn peoples' names without being too embarrassed to ask.

3. Birthday Chart

If you are one of those teachers that is really good about birthdays - or aspire to be one of those teachers, you could use photos to organize the birthdays.  I know I would remember better if I had pictures to remind me!

4.  Label for Student Bins

One year I tried having student cubbies or bins.  The students were supposed to write their name on the end so it would be easy to identify each box.  Let's just say that not all of them understood the concept, and it was a struggle to grab the correct box.  Tape each student's photo on the end of their cubby or bin to help identify it.

5.  Star of the Week

One of the most successful things I ever used in the classroom - even in the upper grades - was to have a Star of the Week board.  Every Friday I announced the Star, and I made it a really big deal.  Students couldn't wait to find out who it was.  The way I announced it was by reading a personal note that I had written to the student's parents for him or her to take home.  I didn't announce their name until the end,  In the note I talked about what the student had done or how they contributed to the class.  It wasn't just based on grades or academics, but character traits.  On Monday, the student was allowed to bring in personal items to share with the class and hang on the Star of the Week board.  I hung a Dollar store certificate up with their name on it and whatever they brought in.  I know academics squeeze out almost any extra time, but this was so beneficial and it took maybe 10-15 minutes each week.  Adding the student's photo to their certificate would just make it a little more special.
10 Easy Ideas for Using Photos in the Classroom - Do you love to take pictures but need ideas on how to use them? This post discusses ten ways teachers can integrate photos into their classroom organization and learning activities.

6.  Select Student Partners or Groups

If you like to walk on the wild side, use photos to help you randomly select student partners or groups.  You may end up with some unfortunate pairings, but it would help randomize this activity.  Along the same idea is to use the photos to select students to answer questions.

7.  Time lines

Honestly, students are not getting enough practice using timelines.  Time lines help students with math skills (integer number lines) and are important o understanding history.  Students could create a time line of their life or you could make a time line of the students' birthdays.  Use their photos on the time line.

8.  Holiday Crafts

I know a lot of teachers try to do a craft around the holidays for kids to take home.  Photos are a great way to make those crafts personalized (and parents love it.)  I know before winter break I made solo cup ornaments (or suncatchers).  Students liked to put their photo on those.  (Learn to make them here.)

9.  Class Photo Collage

I know my team mate turned her door in to a class collage.  As the year progressed, she added pictures of her class to the door.  The students really enjoyed seeing all the things they had done.  At the end of the year, it was easy to take the photos down and put them in a memory book.

10.  In Progress Pictures

Sometimes it is helpful for students to take a picture of an experiment or project.  If they are working in stages, a photo is a great way to show what they have done or prove something happened during an experiment.  Instant film can be expensive, but it might be worth it once in a while.

I hope you enjoyed these tips.  For more fresh ideas, click the picture below.  Each logo is hyperlinked to their blog post - just click and you will be taken to the post.

I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. Your purchase helps support my work in bringing you downloads of value and information about educational resources. The link below is an Amazon affiliate link. You can read my full disclosure here.

The giveaway is over, but Fujifilm Instax Cameras and film are available at major retailers.

10 Easy Ideas for Using Photos in the Classroom - Do you love to take pictures but need ideas on how to use them? This post discusses ten ways teachers can integrate photos into their classroom organization and learning activities. Cinnamon's ClassroomAmy MezniKirsten's KaboodleELA BuffettMrs. Russell's RoomThe Room MomStudy All KnightBrittany WashburnMiss StefanyMeredith AndersonImage HTML map generator

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