Tag Archives: differentiation

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“Level Up” your Teaching with Newsela’s Free Features

So you’ve started using Newsela, but you haven’t done much besides having students access articles and possibly taking quizzes. I’ll offer some new ways you could use Newsela to “level up” implementation in your classroom. This post is the first in a series of three short posts, and it focuses on ideas for the free version of Newsela than any teacher can use.

  1. Highlight Purposefully as a Reading and Research Strategy

Newsela comes equipped with a highlighting feature. Students can use up to four colors to code text in different ways. For example, last year I had 9th grade English students participate in an inquiry unit called “The Grown-up Project.” Students were tasked at reading literary and informational texts for evidence that would answer the following compelling question: “What primarily causes someone to grow up: the aging process, external events, or personal choices?” For the informational texts, students selected articles from a Newsela text set that I created, looking for evidence to answer the question. I assigned students to use a different highlighting color for each of the possible types of evidence as well as the fourth color to highlight the quote they believed was most important in the article.

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2. Differentiated Reading Groups

One of the main reasons I love Newsela is that each text has a Lexile selector that allows you to differentiate readability at five levels. It is an amazing tool to differentiate with dignity.  If your students have access to devices, that can very easily select the levels for themselves. However, if you don’t have devices, you can print articles on whatever level you choose. One way to use this feature is creating differentiated reading groups.

Students can be divided into groups where each group reads a different article under a the same topic or theme. However, each group’s article can be leveled differently based upon the current proficiencies of that certain group (obviously, the teacher would need to create groups for this to work well). As an example, my colleague Lily, a biology teacher, created a genetics text set, where each student group read about a selective breeding and genetically modified organisms. Each article was leveled differently based upon the current proficiencies of the group. Then, a member of each group jigsawed with members from other groups in order to share information about their articles. All of the students were on equal playing field in regards to content, even if they had texts at different Lexile levels. By the way, since each group has a different article, it is not obvious that they have different readabilities. 

If you want to hear about any of these strategies in depth, access the Newsela “Celebrate the Educator” webinar in which I shared the 6 strategies for “leveling up” with Newsela.  

What are some interesting ways that you are using the free version of Newsela with your students?

Word Study Uno has been a favorite for reinforcing word study for spelling or morphology (roots, prefixes, and suffixes) knowledge.  Word Study Uno is just one of many fun word study activities in the book Words Their Way by Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, and Johnston.

In the traditional game of Uno, players match numbers or colors to the top card on an incrementally increasing stack.  Once a player lays down all of his or her cards, the game is over.  The first player to lie down all of his or her cards wins.  In addition, there are special cards that make players draw additional cards (Draw Twos), lose turns (Skips), and change the color of the cards to be matched (Wild Cards).

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Instead of matching by color or number as in traditional Uno, students match cards by either spelling patterns or morphological structures in Word Study Uno.   Traditional special cards like Skips, Draw Twos, and Wild Cards are integrated into the game as well.

To introduce the game, I ask students if they have ever played Uno before to determine their prior knowledge of the game. I often ask students who have played before to share their understandings of the rules with those who haven’t, offering  clarifications as needed.

The example photos I am including are from a Word Study Uno game used with students who struggled with short and long a spelling patterns.  Some of the words are different from words the students had studied in order for me to assess whether they could transfer spelling pattern knowledge.

Short a CVC

 

Long a CVCe (Please forgive this one’s “sidewaysness.” I can’t seem to get it oriented correctly!)

Long a CVVC

Other Cards

Students enjoy playing the Word Study Uno game. During this particular game, I asked the students to say the words aloud when they laid them on the table. Students were tentative about this in the beginning. I repeatedly asked them to pronounce the words, and I modeled saying the words as I laid down my cards. Students’ confidence increased, since they began to see that they would be able to pronounce the words correctly based upon the spelling patterns. For instance, bath and bathe made students a bit nervous, but as we discussed that the silent e denoted a long a sound, they tackled other unknown words successfully.

The same process can be used for roots, prefixes, and suffixes as well.  However, one potential morpheme learning activity is building words with cards. My friend and colleague, high school literacy coach Kathy Bonyun (@kathybonyun), developed a game called OPA! (Greek and Latin roots, get it?)  Students must build words from their hands (a little like Scrabble), but they must also lay down prefixes, roots, and suffixes on previously built words to create new words.  The student who is the first to lay down all of his or her cards wins (sort of like Uno).  You can easily create your own hybrid game such as this, or you can pick up a set that Kathy created from her Teachers Pay Teacher site.

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Are there card games that use to build students’ word knowledge?  What has worked for your students? What didn’t work?

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How QR Codes Support Teaching and Learning

A QR (Quick Response) code is a special type of barcode than can hold more information than traditional UPC barcodes. With a QR code reader app, information can be retrieved and displayed quickly using the camera on a smartphone or a tablet device. Most QR readers can also create QR codes. These barcodes can connect to web URL’s, text documents, e-mail addresses, and other information.

Information Stations

Are there certain areas of your space where it would be convenient for students to regularly access information? Consider creating QR codes that allow students to easily retrieve important information. For example, in a weight training class, a teacher could post QR codes at each piece of exercise equipment. The featured poster links to videos that show proper form for chest exercises.

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Differentiated Skills Groups Oftentimes, we need to differentiate instruction for varying student needs, but we are unsure of how to accomplish the task. QR codes can be linked to different online tasks that develop students’ skills. Teachers can assign students to scan a particular QR code, or students can self-assess and choose for themselves. The codes pictured were created after students had completed writing drafts. The teacher identified three areas for different groups of students to develop: parallel structure, subject-verb agreement, and correct use of apostrophes.  The QR codes link to related activities at chompchomp.com.

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Promoting Self-Selected Reading Connecting students with books that meet their interests is a vital for creating motivated independent readers. Online book trailers are an engaging way to convey information about books in the 21st century. Create a display of books with QR codes to initiate a visual “booktalk” that students can access on demand. The photo below is a book display created by Samantha Gallman (@hav2laugh), the media coordinator in one of the schools I serve.

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Group “Scavenger Hunts” QR codes are a great tool for classroom scavenger hunts. First, teachers can determine the types of information they want students to explore. Then, they can search for websites, videos, maps, and documents that support students learning the information. The pictured scavenger hunt had earth and environmental science students explore the effects of pollution in regards to ocean acidification, the greenhouse effect, and other aspects of climate change.

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Reading Scaffolds Teachers can create reading scaffolds for students with QR codes.  For example, QR codes can be attached to a text’s margins. When 9th grade students read “The Sniper,” I created QR codes that linked to background information, pictures, and YouTube videos that would support and enrich their reading experience.

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Create Your Own QR Reader and Qrafter are free QR Code apps that can create QR codes. You can also create your own QR codes on your desktop or laptop using The QR Code Generator. Please use the comments section below to share ideas about how you are using QR codes to support learning in your schools.