Returning to in Person Learning: Next Steps

Have you returned to full in person instruction yet?

I feel very lucky that here in MA, viral rates have been dropping over the past few months and teachers have had the option to register for vaccines for about 2 months.  The children switched from hybrid instruction (in September) to fully in person at the end of March.  Like many schools, I’m seeing some children who were remote learning rock stars and others who struggled.  Plus they haven’t interacted with half of their peers for over a year!  The building was closed from March to September, and then my students were separated into 2 cohorts for 2 days in, 2 days asynchronous, and 1 day of remote instruction.  So now what?

Now that I feel more protected (and my mom and husband are too) I feel like a huge weight has been lifted.  It’s true that group and partner activities don’t work like they used to.  Protocols around eating and general sanitation are still in effect.  But the brain fog I experienced with too much all at once has cleared.  I’m feeling a sense of cautiously moving on.  So I’ve started thinking about next steps as a teacher for my students to finish the year stronger and prepare for the inevitable learning gaps some, but not all children will have next year.  My first priority with this class was some extra social and emotional learning time during the day.  But at night, now that remote learning is out, planning differentiation is my biggest priority! 

The good news is TpT is having a sale, so if you are also prioritizing differentiation now (or planning for next year) you can save 25% May 4th and 5th. 

Differentiating Your Return to in Person Learning

Many people love my Long Division Matching Game.  It’s easy to explain how to play (flip them over and try to find a match).  But what about students who have been unable to complete their work for the past 15 months during remote instruction?  Yes, some fourth graders still haven’t grasped the concept of multiplication, and it can feel frustrating when we want to move on to fourth grade standards.  This game will help you bridge the gap.  This Multiplication Arrays Matching Game looks very similar to the long division graphics, but it features multiplication equations.  I like to work with my multiplication skills group this game while the rest of the class does the long division one.  I spend time modeling how to count rows and columns to match the equations and then matching it to the answer on their multiplication table.  Soon they are playing the game independently and getting that much needed repeated practice with the concept of what multiplication really is.  It also helps them transition to the long division concept. 

On the other hand, some of your students probably did fine over the past year, and a few may have really excelled at online learning.  I found that although many of my students need reteaching now that they’re back full time, others are ready to move on.  Many people love my Line Up! series for comparing and ordering fractions.  What started as a small, quick activity has expanded into bundle covering multiple standards, and then turned into a Google Slides version with a motivating superhero theme for remote learning (although as adorable as those cityscapes look on the Chromebooks, I prefer using the original because the kids get up and moving to discuss the sorting process).  But what about students who are ready to move on to decimals?  This new addition to my product line:  Line Up!  Compare and Order Decimals takes the game your students are already familiar with and has them apply the process to comparing and ordering decimals.   

Or if you want low prep practice to introduce the topic, check out these Decimal Number Line Worksheets.

And if you missed my last blog post (or were waiting for a sale…and now it’s nearly here) I have Compare and Order Peppers:  Numbers to the Hundred Thousands Place.  This product is priced for the 4th grade standard but comes with levels of differentiation above (over a million) and below (under 10,000).  Keeping with the spicy theme, the levels of the place value are grouped into mild, medium, hot and extreme heat.  The illustrations and Scoville Heat Units for each pepper were researched to be accurate because most years my 4th graders become seriously interested in this topic.  Comparing and ordering numbers for different place values has never been more relevant to them!    

Are there other math skills you find yourself reteaching this year?  Let me know!  I might have a product already, or it might give me an idea to put on my to do list. 


Take Care!

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How to Teach Comparing and Ordering Numbers

Are your students learning to compare and order numbers?  In fourth grade, our objective is to read, write, compare, and order numbers up to 999,999.  Here is how you can organize your lesson sequence for place value with numbers in the hundred thousands. 

Assess Prior Knowledge of Place Value

Students should know place value up to the amount you are asking them to compare.  In other words, if you want your fourth graders to compare and order numbers in the hundred thousands place, but they can’t read numbers higher than 9,999, practice finding the value of the digits in numbers such as 12,345 and 234,567.  I have a fun, differentiated game called Codebreaker to help them practice applying this skill. 

Students who can’t read numbers as high as your goal can still practice the skill of comparing and ordering numbers.  Start them with numbers that have fewer places (in other words, numbers to 9, then numbers to 99 before delving in to numbers in the hundreds and beyond).  As you introduce the skill of comparing, nearly all your students can participate as long as you differentiate the numbers you are using.  Then during small group instruction you can provide intervention with the place value of higher numbers. 

Provide Direct Instruction for Comparing Numbers

When we compare numbers, we start from left to right because digits on the left have a greater value than those on the right.  In the number 1,234,567 the number with the greatest value is 1.  That’s because it’s in the millions place so it’s not worth just one; it’s worth 1 million.  Use the place value when explaining.  The 7 is in the ones place so it’s not worth as much as any of the other digits. 

When we compare numbers with a different number of digits, the number with the most digits is greater.  In other words, 100 is more than 99 because it has 3 digits but 99 only has 2 digits.

When we compare numbers with the same number of digits, compare numbers starting on the left because they have the greater value.  For example, 876,543 is greater than 765,432 because 8 hundred thousand is greater than 7 hundred thousand.  Again, name the place value when explaining.   

When we compare numbers with the same number of digits and the numbers on the left match, move one space to the right on both numbers to compare (as many times as necessary).  For example, 999,991 and 999,992 have identical numbers until you get all the way to the right.  The numbers 543,210 and 546,789 have identical numbers starting on the left, and in the next place over, but we find a different number in the thousands place.

Provide Opportunities to Practice Comparing and Ordering Numbers in Context

Now students have the math knowledge they need to compare and order numbers.  But your work is not done!  Teach the associated vocabulary and provide and model a variety of contexts for applying this skill.  For example:

  •        Which number is greater?
  •        Which number is less?
  •        If I have this many and my friend has that many, who has more?  Who has fewer?
  •     Fill in the blank:  123,456 is __________ 123,210.
  •        Order these 3 (or more) numbers from least to greatest.
  •        Order these 3 (or more) numbers from greatest to least.

If you’d like a fun activity for your students to practice comparing and ordering numbers, I have a fun task cards activity: Compare and Order Peppers.  And yes, it includes a paper version as well as a Google Slides version.  It was inspired by some of my fourth graders who were very interested in spicy foods, bringing in spicy Doritos and arguing which is the hottest.  Some watch the One Chip Challenge videos on YouTube to see people’s reactions to eating spicy food.  My husband (also a fan of spicy foods) introduced me to the Scoville rating system and I realized the potential connection to math! 

Or, if your students have mastered comparing and ordering numbers in context, start planning your lesson sequence for estimating.  You can get more teaching tips specifically about estimating here on my blog.

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Stop Teaching Revising and Editing Like That; Try it Like This!

Do you teach revising and editing by having students mark up or correct grammar mistakes?  I mean, that's how I was taught to edit my writing.  And yet, no one taught me to tie my shoes or ride a bike by giving me 10 wrong examples.  So if you've never heard of Mentor Sentences for teaching grammar and revision, let me introduce you! 

How do Mentor Sentences Help Revising and Editing?

The way I see it, Mentor Sentences work because we are: Revising and Editing Sample Page
  • Teaching students to improve their writing by reading and analyzing model sentences
  • Naming the grammar concept we are learning to recognize and use
  • Taking time to craft our own sentences based on those models

All my Mentor Sentence pages incorporate these 3 elements. You can download a free sample here.  There are 2 model sentences with space for students to tell what they notice.  There is a small box with hints about the concept they are learning, along with a set of "note cards" that I chop up and distribute for students to glue into their Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics notebooks.  These note cards have a more thorough definition as well as more isolated examples.  And finally, each page has space for students to write their own sentence that incorporates the grammar concept we are studying. 

How Do I Use Mentor Sentences for Grammar Instruction?

I get asked a lot about what a revising and editing lesson plan looks like, so I thought I'd do a loose walk through. And I say loose because the way I use these Mentor Sentences varies according to the concept as well as students' prior knowledge.  If I'm moving from adverbs last time to coordinating conjunctions today, I will have a wider range of activities.  On the other hand, if I covered dialogue with tags preceding the spoken word yesterday, and today I want students to correctly punctuate dialogue with the tags after the spoken words, then quick grammar lessons on subsequent concepts are all they need.  So generally speaking, here's how I suggest you plan your weekly routine:

1. Introduce with models.  I present one page each week, such as the conjunctions, as an introduction to the concept. The grammar concept is taught in a sentences so students can see how the concept works in context.  They analyze the sentence for things that they already understand.  For example, they might notice it starts with a capital letter, or it ends with a period.  Hopefully they will recognize the subject and/or the verb that they learned in third grade.
Students also glue one of the note cards into their Editor's Notebook for future reference.  This will help them use academic language later on as they analyze future sentences.  As I said, at first you may hear a lot of students notice the capital and period, but as the year progresses, hopefully as they are learning about verb tenses they will recognize other grammar concepts they've learned this year, such as, "This sentence also has a compound subject."  Recognition is important before students can start using revising strategies independently.
2.  Try it out and share.  After you've taught the concept and students have seen the model, they write their own sentence.  For students who need a sentence frame, you can accept a sentence that is similar to the model but with a different subject or verb.  For students who want to push themselves, they might choose one of the examples from the note card that they haven't seen in context and they want to try out.
It is important to make time for students to share their writing.  Whether this is done in a one on one conference with you/a partner, in a small group, or whole class depends on what makes sense for you.  I have found that having 3 kids share with the whole class each day is a nice wrap up for our lessons.  I confer with a few students who need/prefer it.   
3. Practice.  If students appear to need more practice, I use task cards, songs, games, sorting activities, workbook pages, and so on as part of the Writer's Workshop block.  Of course, you can switch this step with the "try it out" step.  You can also spiral this step in revising and editing centers during your writing block (I highly recommend this).

4. Use proper revising and editing for grammar in context.  Near the end of a unit of study in Writer's Workshop, I review the relevant concepts from Mentor Sentences that I expect students to look for when editing. In the drafting stage of the writing process, we learn about the types of writing (what makes a good narrative, persuasive piece, and informational article).  During the revision stage, the real test of revising and editing ability is having kids edit their own work. Students have their Editor's Notebook with note cards to refer back to.

5. Summative assessment.  For a our standardized assessment, my district uses Journeys, which includes weekly tests in grammar. 

Do You Need More Revising and Editing Support?

I get it.  Grammar is just not fun for everyone.  I like it because it I feel like it's logical, like math, but also creative, because we use language to talk about, well, whatever we want!  So whether you are frustrated with all the language standards or just one specific objective, I can help.  I currently I have Mentor Sentences bundles as well as isolated grammar concepts for grades 3, 4 and 5.  You can browse them all here
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