Category Archives: Comprehension Strategies

A study of character

In English we are looking at analyzing characters.  A reader is required to infer in order to understand the charcters (and people in real life) using evidence from the character’s behaviour and the reader’s own schema (background experience).


Our inquiry has involved looking a photographs of people and making inferences about them.  Since photos are static in time, we can’t use clues such as behavioiur and actions, language (what they say), thoughts (like in a narrative), or how they relate to others.  That leaves very few clues to any inividual characteristics yet we makes inference just the same based on physical characteristics and perhaps some action that we can see.  We decided that we use clues about group traits and individual traits to analyze and evaluate people and characters in texts.


Group Traits might include:

Race, sex, class, stereotypes (jock, goth, etc.), profession, age, etc.

Individual traits include:

Courageous, intelligent, kind, rational, proung, arrogant, loyal, etc.


We talked about how we infer these traits based on clues in the text and our schema.  We make assumptions about people and characters based on these inferences.  We read short passages about a variety of characters and watched some episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (the show has exaggerated characters).  The students recorded their observations and inferences about the characters in their thinking books and then we had a class discussion about each of the characters.  It’s pretty interesting that we all came to very similar conclusions based on the evidence and our background knowledge.  Perhaps culture plays a role here?


Our next step was to look at an open answer / short answer type question about a character and analyze it using the Ontario Achiement Chart.  That will be the topic of a future post.


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Asking Questions about Child Activists

Both classes are learning about the reading strategy Asking Questions.  As we are about to start writing reports, it is a good introduction to doing research.  Without questions we have nothing to find out!


We talked about thin & thick questions.  The students hypothesized that thin questions were simple and had straightforward answers, the meaning of a word would be a thin question, or the location of an event.  Thin questions are often answered in the text or with simple, quick research.


Thick questions have more complicated answers and sometimes can’t be answered at all.  Thick questions require inferring and complex research and analysis.


We started with a read aloud from the book Our Rights:  How Kids are Changing the World by Janet Wilson.

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The grade fours learned about Shannen Koostachin, a First Nations girl from Attiwapiskat who took a stand about her town’s lack of a proper school.   Shannen had to leave her family to go to high school right here at TDSS.  Tragically, she was killed in a car accident.

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Here are some of the questions the grade fours had after listening to Shannen’s story.    We will research some answers to their questions next week.


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The grade fives read about a girl in India named Anita Khuswaha.  Anita was born to a lower caste family so her future was marrying young and shepherding goats and having lots of children.  Anita stood up to her parents and her culture and decided to become a bee keeper.

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The grade fives have already researched their questions and will present their findings to the class next week.  I will post their findings here.


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Grade 4 are inferring & patterning!

In English Ms. Schinkel is teaching the class about inferring.  Inferring is a very important reading comprehension skill.  When reading we read between the lines, connecting our background knowledge to the information in the text to make inferences.


In this activity there is a mystery with clues that come in Postcards.  Ella has gone missing!  Where could she be?  Read the clues on the cards to solve the mystery using inferring.

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In math we are working on patterning and algebra.  For this activity the students designed a growing pattern with a letter from the alphabet.  Their pattern had to grow (have more squares each term).  They made a table of values for their pattern and wrote the pattern rule.  They also had to predict what the 5th term would be.

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Next, they walked around the class looking at their friends patterns.  They had to figure out the pattern rule from the drawing of the growing pattern.

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If we look at Dusty’s patter here we can see that it starts with 7 squares making his u and he adds 6 more squares each time the pattern grows (each term):


Here is what the table of values looks like:


In grades 4 & 5 the curriculum expectations are to predict a term number that can be easily figured out by extending the pattern in the term value column (adding 6 each time).  By grade 6 the expectation is to use the algebraic equation to find other terms, like the 100th term or even the 1000th term.  In this case I’ve written the algebraic expression at the bottom of the table of values:  6x+1 so the 100th term would be 6 x 100 + 1 = 601 There would be 601 squares in the 1ooth letter u made with tiles.


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Both the grade fours and fives are learning about inferring while reading.  Ms. Schinkel has started to teach them about this critical reading strategy.

She began by having the students read short vignettes that were one side of a telephone conversation.  The class had to infer what the conversation was about using the clues in the text and their background knowledge.  In one conversation they were going to McDonald’s for lunch and a big clue was “Big Mac” so we discussed how that might not be in some people’s background knowledge and if you didn’t know that a Big Mac came from McDonald’s you wouldn’t be able to infer what the they were talking about.

The next day Ms. Schinkel read them the book “Fly Away Home” by Eve Bunting.  It is a story about a boy and his dad who live in an airport.  She stopped to ask the class what they were inferring as she read.  You can see she used pink sticky notes to record her own inferences.  Going forward, the class will be using pink sticky notes to note inferences they make in their own reading.


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At the end of the story the students recognized the symbolism of the bird representing freedom and hope for the boy and his dad and use inferring to predict that they would find a home.



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Reading Logs

Both the grade fours and fives write reading logs.  The fives have been doing them for about six weeks and the fours have just begun.  With both classes we started by writing a reading log together based on books I read aloud.


The grade fours and I co-wrote a reading log about Teammates, a book about Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese taking a stand against racism.


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All the reading logs follow the same letter format.  They all have a brief summary, a reaction to the book, thoughts on the book based on a prompt and a description of a reading strategy used while reading the book.


Here is the reading log we wrote for Teammates :


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The reading logs demonstrate the students’ understanding of their reading in several ways.   Summarizing shows a literal understanding of the text.  A personal reaction demonstrates how they process how they read; can they relate to the characters, make connections to their own lives or other books they have read or movies they’ve watched.   The prompts elicit thoughts on a variety of topics such as character, writer’s craft, questions about the text, etc.  Finally, they write about a reading strategy they used while reading.  We study reading strategies such as making connections, inferring, visualizing, monitoring comprehension,  synthesizing and critiquing.  So far the grade fours have learned about making connections and visualizing so they would choose one of those two.




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More Descriptive Writing, Curriculum Expectations & Subtraction

The grade 5s are continuing with their descriptive writing.  Yesterday I reread the description of Mr. Twit’s dirty beard from The Twits by Roald Dahl.   We talked about how good descriptive writing allows the reader to create a vivid picture in their minds.  This is the reading strategy visualizing.  Good readers visualize what they read.  Good writers create vivid pictures for their readers.  In order to do that they use effective and specific verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives.  Here are some drawings of Mr. Twit’s dirty beard.  The students drew as I read the description:

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Today the class looked at the grade 5 expectations for writing from the Ontario Curriculum.  They highlighted the expectations that they thought applied to descriptive writing.  Tomorrow we will co-create success criteria for our descriptive writing.  Then we will look at the paragraph we wrote last week and we will revise it to match our success criteria.  Here are the students reading (there is some sophisticated vocabulary as it is written for teachers) the actual curriculum document and highlighting the expectations they will use.  I was very proud of their thought process today. 

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The grade 4s & 5s are working on subtraction right now.  I have given both classes problems to solve that involve subtraction.  I have told them that they can only use the subtraction algorithm (the procedure most of us learned in school) if they are able to explain it.  So far I have found that very few can explain the algorithm, they can explain the steps that they are taking, but they cannot explain the algorithm.  As a result, I have asked them to solve the problem in different ways.  Here is an example of students who solved it using expanded form.  This problem did not require regrouping (borrowing is the inaccurate term most of us learned).    Tomorrow I will post more student work and explanations of their strategies.  I will also post about how I am trying to get them to figure out what is going on when they have to subtract with regrouping. 


Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Descriptive, Math, Operations, Visualizing


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We Walk 4 Water – Water Campaign Launch

After a lot of fun and a lot of work we are ready to launch our water campaign.  

The grade 5/6 students have been working with Mme Moar’s class to create a campaign to raise awareness about the water crisis.  The students learned together about how difficult it is to access clean water in some developing countries.  We also learned about how buying disposable water bottles here at home has many negative impacts on the environment.  Even in Canada, the land of water, we need to conserve. 

On Thursday, May 16th we will be walking to the Lake to collect water.  We will carry large jugs to fill up and carry back to emulate the conditions for women and girls in developing countries.  Except our walk is shorter and our load will be lighter.  We are hoping the radio will play our ad and the local paper will turn up.  Our walk is on the same day that Spencer West’s walk ends.  He has been walking from Edmonton to Calgary to raise money for Free the Children’s campaign for clean water.  His walk is called We Walk 4 Water and can be found here.  Spencer is very inspiring and our classes watched his talk from We Day last year. 

For the next few days I will be posting the students work.  Some photos of poster, some videos, a radio ad, GLOGS and stop-motion animation.