Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An Operation of Cooperation by James McDonald + a book giveaway

An Operation of Cooperation by James McDonald is a wonderful book about teamwork and cooperation. A brother and sister have a fort to play in but when Sami cannot get into it mom must step in to help the two figure out what to do.

Mom tells the two a story about a dream like place where islands float around in the sky with only one person living on each island. When two islands finally get close enough the kids that live all alone on their island want to get together to play and keep each other company. But unfortunately neither kid is willing to give up their one and only swing. When the islands start to float away they finally decide that together, with each of their swings they connect their islands. Working as a team they come together to become one.

This story that mom tells helps Sami and Thomas realize what they must do so that each of them can get into the fort. Together they come up with a plan that will help Sami get into the fort. After all, isn’t it more fun to have someone to play with than to just play by yourself?

This book is absolutely wonderful and is a great story demonstrating what cooperation and teamwork is all about. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend this book for your classroom library.

I was contacted by Rebecca at House of Lore Publishing and she has graciously offered two books for a give away. Following the review that I did you will find the Rafflecopter entry form and if you are the lucky winners you can use the following review to help you create a meaningful lesson using this book.

For more information on this book and other great books and poems visit the Rainy Day Poems website.

If you have this book, or are the lucky winner I have created a Problem/Solution Freebie to go with it. Whether you use my freebie or want to create your own using the below reading skills, strategies and ideas, I know you and your students will love this book!

Reading level: 2.4
Theme/subject: Cooperation
Genre: general fiction

Suggested Vocabulary/phrases: amiss, fray, blue (feeling blue), bleak, bore, paced about, fling, bad snare, dread, drifting, entangle, passed like ships in the night, reeled, bread crumbs left on a trail, threw forth, gracefully, crafted a plan, engineer, combined, fared, mastermind, concede, cooperation

Reading skills and strategies:
  • Asking questions - {possible questions before} I wonder what the book is going to be about. I wonder why there are islands floating in the air. I wonder what an operation of cooperation means. {possible questions during} I wonder why the kids are living on the island by themselves. I wonder if they will be able to connect their swings. I wonder what the kids will do now that they can be on each other’s island. {possible questions after} I wonder if the floating islands are real. **Remember to have your students answer/reflect their questions.
  • Author's point of view – Third person. Be sure to find 3 pieces of evidence to support this (they).
  • Author's purpose – entertain {evidence} The author wrote the story in rhyme. There is no such thing as floating islands. The kids would never be allowed to be by themselves on floating islands in real life. All these things make the story very entertaining.
  • Beginning, middle, end - {most important event from beginning} Thomas could climb into the clubhouse but Sami couldn’t. {most important event from middle} Mom told a story about two kids cooperating. {most important event from end} Sami and Thomas worked together to figure out a way for Sami to get into the clubhouse.
  • Cause and effect – Why was Sami pouting? Because Thomas could get into the fort and she couldn’t. How come no one could play in the place that was far away? Because they all lived on islands alone. How come the kids didn’t want to throw their own swing? Because the swing was their only fun and they were afraid of losing it. How come the islands were drifting apart? Because neither of the kids would throw their own swing. How come Sami could not use the rope? Because she was just too short.
  • Character analysis - describe Thomas. Describe Sami. Describe mom. {looks like, feelings, thoughts, character}
  • Character changes – In the beginning Thomas didn’t care that Sami couldn’t get up into the fort but by the end he understood and helped Sami be able to get into the fort. The kids in the story started by not wanting to give up their own swing but soon changed their thinking. They realized that once they drifted away they may not see each other again so they both decided to use their swing so they could connect.
  • Classify & categorize – Classify activities: things to do alone and things to do with help or a partner.
  • Compare & contrast – Compare and contrast Sami and Thomas. Compare and contrast the Sami and Thomas to the kids on the floating islands. Compare and contrast something you and your brother or sister did together to Sami and Thomas’s fort “project”.
  • Connections - {possible text-to-self connections} Having a fort. Not being able to do something that your brother or sister could do. Being alone and not having anyone to play with (the kids on the islands). Not wanting to give something up for fear of not having it anymore (the swing). Working together to get something done. Coming up with a great idea that will benefit everyone (the idea for the stairs). {possible text-to-text connections} any book that deals with teamwork and or brothers and sisters working together.
  • Main idea & details - {main idea} The main idea of the story is that working together as a team makes things better. {details} When the kids on the islands worked together and used each of their swings they were able to connect their islands. Thomas and Sami came up with a plan to help Sami get into the fort. Together Sami, Thomas and their dad build a staircase.
  • Plot - the turning point or climax in the story was when mom was finished telling her story about the kids on the island working together to connect their islands.
  • Predict – What do you thing the story is going to be about. What do you thing an operation of cooperation mean? What do you think Sami and Thomas will do to help get Sami into the fort? What are the kids on the island going to do to so they can play together?
  • Problem & solution - {problem} The problem is that Sami cannot get into the fort. {solution} They worked together and decided to make stairs so that it would be easier for Sami to get into the fort.
  • Sequencing – Thomas and Sami’s fort was finished. Thomas could use the rope to get into the fort. Sami was sad because she couldn’t get into the fort. Mom told the kids a story about kids on islands that sail. The kids on the island were alone. They bumped into each other. They wanted to play with each other but neither wanted to use their own swing to connect them. The islands started drifting apart. They agreed that they must both use their swing. They tossed their swings and they tangled together. They slowly pulled the islands together and planned all the fun they would have. After hearing the story Sami and Thomas worked together to figure out how to get Sami in the fort. They ran to their dad and told him the plan. Together the three of them build stairs. Thomas and Sami were happy having worked together so they could play together.
  • Story elements - list title, author, characters, setting, beginning, middle, end, or problem & solution.
  • Strong thought – What could Thomas have done or said instead of telling his mom that it wasn’t his fault that his sister Sami couldn’t climb the rope.
  • Summarize - {someone} Sami {wanted} wanted to go into the fort {but} but she couldn’t use the rope {so} so she was sad. {then} Then mom told Sami and Thomas to story about two kids working together to they could get together and play. Thomas and Sami {finally} finally understood what they needed to do so that Sami could get into the fort as well.
  • Theme – Two heads are better than one.
  • Visualize – Sami and Thomas had a brand new fort to play in. Visualize what your fort would look like.
You can pick up the Problem Solution Freebie from either one of my stores.
A TNStore A TpTStore
Use this picture as your pin for an extra entry.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good Luck!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

When students walk the walk and talk the talk

I just recently posted about my fluency process which you can read about here.

My kids worked with partners. They took their job seriously.

They became a teacher.

They were an attentive student.

They learned from each other.

Here are a few pictures of teaching at its best.


“Who is the main character?”


“I think I am going to give you a 3 on expression because you need to sound more like you are talking.”


“These are the words you are having problems with.”


“You were a little too fast with your pacing.”

I was so proud of them.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When a few simple words mean so much

I have this 4th grader that comes to me for both reading group and math group. He is my lowest reader and has just learned his 3 times tables. He is completely immature and he acts as if his sole purpose in the classroom is to make the other students laugh. Everything he does is disruptive and inappropriate. He is in trouble with his teacher every week if not every day. His teacher is constantly yelling at him. I can hear her in the hallway, outside of class, and I know exactly who she is talking to.

I love the kid.

In my room, he sits right next to me.

He helps me clean up after his group leaves.

He says thank you and have a nice weekend.

I ask him how his day is and what he did over the weekend.

We talk, we share stories with each other.

When he starts to act up I can just look at him and he refocuses and gets back to work.

We have a connection built on mutual respect and genuine like.

He works hard when he is in my room.

Working hard

I just found out, through one of our conversations, that he won’t be coming back after spring break. He is moving to another city. He is excited because he will be living with his older brother.

I have spent the past week thinking about him and his upcoming move. I am happy for him because he is so excited, but I am worried. He is so low and he doesn’t know how to be in a class without getting into trouble, I worry what will happen to  him at a new school with a new teacher.

Will they take the time to get to know him?

Will they just read his file and see that he is a trouble maker?

I am worried.

On Friday he came in my room looking for his pencil that he left, as he was leaving I called his name.

He stopped and looked at me.

I told him that I was sad he was leaving and that I was going to miss him.

He looked shocked, as if nobody had ever said something like that to him before.

He stared at me and said, “Thank you Mrs. Devoe” and then turned and left the room.

I wish him well and will think of him often. I hope someone takes the time to get to know him, I think they will really like him if they do. 

 It always amazes me how a few simple words can mean so much.


Saturday, April 5, 2014


It’s that time again, that monthly reminder that time is just F.L.Y.I.N.G by. If you are like me and haven’t joined the fun click on over to Farley’s blog Oh’ Boy Fourth Grade.

april currently

ListeningHave you listened to this station? If not I highly recommend it. It is so good!

LovingI just cleaned my house and it always makes me feel so good!

ThinkingMy mom died 5 months ago yesterday. There are days that I am overwhelmed with sadness. I can’t believe that it has been 5 months and I haven’t talked to her. I still have her number on my speed dial and I stare at it wishing I could make that call.

WantingI am having some issues with the teachers at my new school. They seem to forget to respond to my emails, and to let me know when they are not sending their kids. I am always having to call for the kids or even to find them (sometimes they are in the computer lab, the library, PE, etc.) They also, as a grade level, eat lunch together in the classroom right next to mine, and they have yet to invite me. I am trying to be polite and visible and friendly but it is hard when it is not returned. Hopefully time will make it better.

Needing & hours and last dayOur school hours are 9:00 to 3:10. Our spring break is 4/9 to 5/5 and I am so looking forward to it. Our last day of school is July 25th. By July I am going to have to keep reminding myself of the long spring break we had because June and July are going to be very L O N G months!!

Happy April!


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Top 10 Books - New Life Experiences or Changes

Spring is not my favorite season, but I do love the changes and rebirth that happens during this time. These changes always energize me and fill me with hope and excitement of what is to come. Because of this I chose New Life Experience or Changes as my theme for my Top 10 list. 

As I researched books for this list there were a couple of common themes that kept coming up, moving and starting school. Some of the books are tried and true and a few are new books to me. I hope you enjoy my list.

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 28, 2014

My Fluency Process

A long time ago, I use to have my kids practice fluency, I hated it. I hated the process, I never understood why reading for speed was so important. 

That was when I didn't understand what fluency was all about.

I have grown.

I have learned.

Since I started my new job one of the things the teacher's requested I work on is fluency.

I now teach fluency in a way that I think is meaningful and effective.

So now, I talk about fluency E.V.E.R.Y. D.A.Y. with my kids. We talk about the APE that makes up fluency practice. After 6 weeks they finally know what they are practicing and why.  

They can tell me that they practice their Accuracy, reading the words correctly by not skipping or changing the words the author wrote. 

They can tell me that when they practice their Pacing they don't read too fast or too slow and that they should pause when they see periods and commas.

They can even demonstrate their Expression by paying attention to quotation, question and exclamation marks. 

One of my groups even thought we should add an L to our APE and make it APE-L (apple) instead of APE. They wanted to make the L, Listening. I couldn't have agreed more and was so proud of them! Listening while practicing fluency is just as important as the APE because if you are just reading words and not listening to what you are reading, then you have done just that, read the words and not the "story".

Every day that my kids come to me they spend about 5 to 10 minutes practicing their fluency, sometimes alone and other times with partners.

I remind the kids E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y that they don't just come in and read their fluency page the same way, they need to practice it in different ways so when I test them I can hear, see and tell that they practiced their APE-L. I remind the kids all the time of the different ways they can practice. For example instead of practicing the whole story they might just practice the words that they stumble on or have trouble pronouncing. Another time they may just practice  reading the page for pacing, paying close attention to the commas and periods. The next read they do may just be practicing those sentences that require expression, the ones with quotation marks, exclamation and question marks. On at least one of the reads they should check their understanding of the story, asking themselves comprehension questions such as: What is the story about? Who is the main character? Is there a problem and a solution? etc. This helps to keep the kids from being bored reading the same story so many times.

About once a week I will do a timed read so they can see how many words they read per minute. They also need to make sure they are not reading for just speed, but for APE-L as well. After at least 2 timed reads they can put their clip up letting me know they are ready for me to test them.

I only test one or two students per day, because again we only do fluency for 5 to 10 minutes (I only have each group for 40 minutes or less). The students read to me for one minute. After that time I score them for each of the APE-L giving them a 1-4 depending on how they did (1 being they need lots of practice, 4 for doing an awesome job).

As we talk about their scores, I show them their accuracy (the marks I put on their page while they read) and we talk about the ways they can practice their pacing and expression. Once that is done I hand them a page with 4-5 questions and keep their fluency page. They need to go back to their seat and answer these questions without looking back into the story (I know, I know, this is so against Common Core). The purpose of this is to see if they are practicing the L. Did they actually listen to what they read or were they just reading the words. These questions are just simple questions that I made to go with each page. After correcting this page I give them their L score (1-4) and then we go over the questions with the story.

So this about sums up my process. 

I love it.

It is quick and easy, and so far pretty effective.
Do you do something different when you teach fluency? I would love to hear it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Importance of Main Idea

The main idea is what the text, story, book, or presentation is all about. When you are all done with the text, story, book, or presentation you should be able to walk away from it and tell someone what you just read or listened to with one sentence, “The books was about ________________”. Giving more information to explain the main idea are the details that support your thinking and the author’s intent. 

Without a main idea present the story or text is just a bunch of words with no real meaning or intention behind them. For example, a story about a little bear at school being mean to the other animals has the main idea of bullying but without that main idea the story is just about the aggressive things bears do.

The main idea is supported by the details. Taking the above example, the colorful illustrations in that book would help show how the bear is being a bully. The text that tells what the bear does and how the other animals feel about the bear also supports the idea of bullying.

We as adults usually have the main idea given to us before we do any sort of reading. When we go to the bookstore in search of a new book, we read the synopsis on the back which is wrapped around the main idea. When we sign up and go to presentations we are told what the class is going to be about before we sign up so we can decided if it is something we truly want to spend our money or our time on. With most articles the main idea is stated in the title of the piece. It is very rare for us to get finished reading something to then have to think about what it was all about.

Our students on the other hand are asked to find the main idea all the time. This is important for them to learn how to do this, so when the main idea is not specifically stated they have the tools and knowledge needed to figure it out.

To help students find the main idea there are 4 things they can do or use to help sort out their thinking.
  • Look at the title
  • Read the first sentence or first paragraph
  • Read the last sentence or last paragraph
  • Look for repeating words, phrases or ideas

This is how it works.

If the text, story, book, chapter or presentation has a title you are looking at the main idea. However, it more than likely is not the whole idea. For example, if the text is titled Mount Rushmore we know it is going to be about Mount Rushmore, but it could be anything about it: when it was made, who made it, a great vacation destination, where it is, etc. We cannot just say the text is mostly about Mount Rushmore and be done. We must look further to properly identify the whole main idea. If the text, story or chapter does not have a title, then you will have to look elsewhere.

For reading the first and or last sentence and or paragraph I refer to their own writing. We talk about that first and last paragraph and what they are called. We also talk about what they are doing when they write those paragraphs. It is amazing to me how many kids know that the first paragraph is called the introduction but do not know what introduction actually means (I work with many ELL students).  We also talk about the conclusion or closing and what is included in that. With this they start to see that the idea for their writing is introduced in the beginning and restated at the end and that most (but of course not all) authors do the same thing. As with the title, these two paragraphs may only state the general idea and not the specific idea (the who, what, how, where, why, etc.).

Looking for the repeating words, phrases and ideas is where we really focus in on the specific main idea. To do this, students look for a word or phrase that is repeated a lot (with some kids you need to be very specific about the kind of words you are looking for to be repeated, they will say the most repeated word is “the”). Usually (in the more technical pieces) the main idea is the word that is repeated the most. Once we establish this, I create a web around this word, phrase or idea with the other repeated words, phrases or ideas around it.

At this point it is also important to clarify that these repeated words, phrases and or ideas don’t necessarily have to be the same word, they can be synonyms for, variations of and or ideas that are repeated. For example, if the text is about almanacs some of the repeating words, phrases and ideas might be: reference book, book, information, years, specific years, events, statistics, tally marks, etc. Once we put all of these repeating ideas, words, and phrases around our main idea or most repeated word, we can then focus in on the specific main idea; with all of this information what does the author want us to know? We can then use this information to write our main idea and the rest of the info around the web then becomes our detail information.

You can see that we compared our main idea statement to the web and checked off the words that we are in both.
Here is the information all together for my students to refer to if needed. I also had them put this in their notebook for easy reference as well.
Once the web is complete you can have student show the main idea and list details in a variety of ways.
  • in a paragraph
  • in a circle map
  • in a tree map
  • in the depth and complexity big idea organizer
  • in a brace map – main idea{details{sub-details

Here are a few academic vocabulary words that your students should be familiar with.
  • mostly about 
  • mainly 
  • main idea
  • main reason
  • supporting
  • detail
  • topic sentence
  • heading
  • title
  • according to
  • infer
  • conclude
  • tells
  • text
  • introduction
  • conclusion

Here is a list of typical main idea questions one might find on a test or comprehension paper.
  • What is the text mostly/mainly about?
  • Pages ____ and _____ are mostly/mainly about ______?
  • Is the text mostly about _____ or ______?
  • What is the main reason …?
  • What are the two main reasons that ____?
  • Another title for this text could be ______.
  • The title is _____. What could another title be?
  • Why is the story called ____? Why is the text titled ____?
  • This text explains three (two, etc.) main ideas. Main idea number 1 is (give the main idea), idea number 2 is (give idea) and the third is what?
  • Which picture or page shows the main idea of the text?
  • What picture or page shows the details that support the main idea?
  • What is the main idea of this text?
  • What are some details to support the main idea?
  • Which of these is the main idea?
  • Which of these is the main idea and not a detail _______ or _______?
  • What is the main problem in the story?
  • What is/ are the character(s) doing?
  • What is the most important event or idea in the text?
  • Paragraph ____ tells mostly/mainly about _____.
  • What information in the text can you use to help you find the main idea?
  • What does the first sentence or paragraph or introduction tell you?
  • What does the last sentence or paragraph or conclusion tell you?
  • For nonfiction – The author is mainly focusing on ________ (the topic). Looking for the purpose in the blank, describing, informing, how to, persuading.
  • The author uses _____ paragraph to tell the reader ______.
  • Which book could someone read to learn about _____. Listing book title.
  • The information from paragraph _____ supports the idea that _____.

When students are answering question or talking about the main idea and the supporting details, here are some of the linguistic patterns or sentences that they should be using.
  • I can tell the main idea of this page/ paragraph is _____.
  • The main idea is …
  • The text is mostly about …
  • A supporting detail is… or The supporting details are _____ and _____.
  •  _____ and ______ are details that support the main idea.
  • The most important point/event/idea is…
  • A detail that supports this point/event/idea is…
  • One important detail from the text is…
  • The main idea is ______ and a detail is ______.
  •  _____ solved his/her problem by _____.
  • The main idea of paragraph/page _____ is _____.
  • I can tell from the heading/title that the main idea is _____.
  • According to the main idea, another title for this text could be _____.
  • In this nonfiction text, the author mainly ______ (describes, informs, persuades, tells how to).
  • The ______ page/paragraph supports the main idea ______, because.
  • The title is _____ so the main idea could be ________.
  • Another title for this text/story could be ________.
  • The first sentence/paragraph (last sentence/paragraph) tells me ______.
  • The repeating idea in the text is _____.
  • The author explains (where, how, why, when, who, etc.) ____ about the topic.
      Once students can find the main idea and distinguish between what the main idea is and the details that support it, they can easily move into looking at the most important events from the beginning, middle and end of the story. This also helps with figuring out problem and solution, plot, author’s purpose and sequencing.  
   You can pick up the main idea poster set from either one of my stores.

      How do you teach main idea?


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