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Not Your Average Novel Unit

Do you do read-alouds in your classroom?  I taught in a class for students with autism for 10 years.  I had students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade.  Some students were early readers, some students could not even identify their name.  Some of my students could hold an hour long conversation with me on the fine features of Thomas the Tank Engine and some students were unable to utter a single word.  I was tasked with helping every single student grow and thrive while learning what their typical peers were learning a few classrooms away.  One of the ways I did this was by reading novels to the class as a whole group activity.  Sounds a little crazy, but it was great.

My “not your average novel units” were born from this amazing experience.  I was not reading these novels to my students for a comprehension purpose.  I was reading to them in hopes of connecting on a personal level.  I was reading to them in hopes of teaching them to sit and listen (or at least be quiet) while an adult was speaking.  I was reading to them in hopes of sharing my love of books and stories.  So, with each chapter, I found myself trying to come up with an activity that would help them make a deeper connection to the content without relying on their ability to decipher and comprehend what I was actually reading.

These novel units do just that.  With each chapter, I develop one or two activities that tie to a concept introduced on those pages.  This isn’t as easy for me as it seems.  With each novel unit I start, I worry, “Will I be able to think of what to do with the next chapter?”  Sometimes the idea comes right away as I am reading.  It is easy to see a thread to pull on and use to build a great activity.  Sometimes, it is not so easy.  Sometimes it is REALLY difficult.  Some chapters, I just want to skip.

When I was doing the novel unit for Where the Red Fern Grows (a favorite story of mine from childhood), I totally forgot that one of the characters in the story falls on an ax and dies.  It took me 3 days and LOTS of conversations with my daughter (who was home from college) before I could come up with an acceptable activity.  I really just wanted to skip that chapter, but in the end, I decided it related to when you really need to call 911 and when it is not really necessary.

I currently have competed over 20 novel units.  They take me a long time, usually about a month.  There is a lot of love, time, and thought that goes into creating these.  If you are looking for a different approach to teaching your novel units, check these out.  I hope you love them as much as I have loved creating them.  Click on the image below, to download some free activities to go with the novel, Matilda by Roald Dahl.

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Here are the other novel units I have in my store:  Special Needs for Special Kids.

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Using Color Coding for Differentiation

Our special education classes tend to have such a HUGE variety of learning levels and needs.  It can drive a teacher to insanity trying to come up with separate lessons for each child that is differentiated to their specific learning style.  Here is a quick way I found to take one task and make it accessible to more of my students.

We did a lot of cut and paste activities in my class.  Most of my students had difficulty writing, so I needed a way to produce a product for parents to see as well as a concrete way to gather data and perform assessments.  Pictured above is such an activity.  The students were sorting pictures with words into different word families.  This was perfect for my 3rd-5th grade learners, but not so much for my K-2 students.  So, I would outline the various pictures/words with a certain color that matched the color of the construction paper for that particular word family.  That way, it turned into more of a color matching task (with a high degree of distraction) which even my younger students could do.  For even more support, I would color in the entire square rather than just outline it.  In the end, I had one sorting activity that almost all my students could do with very little prep time on my part.

Consider trying this technique to easily make more rigorous tasks engaging and more independent for your lower level learners while still utilized grade level content.