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.

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