#CCSSBlog Think Integrative Think Interactive

Common Core: What Works?

Common Core Cognitive Verbs

On a field trip with my sixth grade students, we stopped at a park across the street from an ice cream parlor. As I walked back from the store to the park with the last group of kids, one of them looked down at the crosswalk markings and asked, “What are those white lines for anyway?

Crosswalk. That’s a pretty important word for city kids for safety. It’s doubly important for a rural kid visiting the big city. But until we were there, walking in the crosswalk, the whole implication for its meaning was just a blur, a word we said without real understanding.

Vocabulary. The Common Core State Standards has plenty. Robert Marzano pulled from the CCSS a list of the common core cognitive verbs representing the thinking strategies students must do when accomplishing the standards. His ASCD article explains six steps to teach these cognitive verbs.

However, like the word crosswalk, like any word or concept, we must “Experience first; live in the world that the language is about,” says James Paul Gee in this Vialogue on Learning and Literacy  He adds, “If you have lived in the world the language is about, if you have an image and actions and practices with other people to associate the words, then it’s easy.”

As language arts teachers, we understand this. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey remind us that:

 “In particular, students need to use target vocabulary in their spoken language before they can be  expected to use it in more formal written language. As Bromley (2007) reminds us, Language proficiency grows from oral  competence to written competence. All  students benefit from purposeful use of new vocabulary within the context of meaningful and engaging activities. This is even more  critical for adolescent English language  learners who are simultaneously learning English while learning in English (Fisher,  Frey, & Rothenberg, 2008). “p. 4 [emphasis added]

Therefore, we and the students need to be doing these thinking activities and using the language, talking about them before we expect students to understand them and apply them in their reflections on “I can….”

With so many words and concepts to learn, and so many standards, how do we accomplish this?

Think Integrative. Think Interactive.


Integrate the standards into projects that promote interactive teamwork and discussion to create a product. During the discussions and conferences, use, define, and act on the concepts, strategies, and vocabulary relevant to that integrated goal. Live the experience of the goal.

For example, last February as Digital Literacy Day approached, many of our language arts students wondered these questions:

How do we share our information in a more interesting way, like a website does?

How can images add to and make more clear [complement] information?

On our topic, what information should be backed with media and how will we choose?

So we adapted an activity suggested by Digital Literacy Day at: Paper Cut Outs to live those ideas and decisions. See the activity in the embedded document at the end of this post (or here), which includes the integrated standards and the interactive team components [ “Team Discussions”].

At each step, students are collaborating to analyze the information and media in their research and their own decisions for media that matches their topic for their blogs.  As facilitator to the groups, I pop into their discussions to guide them in vocabulary, collaboration, strategies, concepts, decision-making, etc. This is where students “live in the world that the language is about.” This is the “context of meaningful and engaging activities.

As Fisher and Frey explain:

“Effective vocabulary instruction requires that words are taught within context, that definitional and contrastive meanings are provided, and that students have multiple, authentic experiences with using words in their spoken and written language (Beck, McKeown, &Kucan, 2002; Blachowicz & Fisher, 2000;   Graves, 2006.)” p. 9 [emphasis added]

With each team, questions are asked that include content, vocabulary, and processes; students discuss using the vocabulary:

How did you gather relevant information?

How did you analyze the information from the text to determine the central idea?

What in the text helped you see how this idea developed?

How did you paraphrase the conclusion?

How did you compose an objective summary?

How did you create visual displays that demonstrated the salient points?

How do you explain how the ideas and visual displays clarify your topic?

How did you build on each others’ ideas?

How did you cite your sources?

 It is during these intentional conversations that the concepts of content, vocabulary, and process come alive for the student, a crosswalk, a safe and guided path to understanding. We want to them to engage in a crosswalk, not just tell them or provide one model.

So, in teams and with frequent feedback and discussion with each team, the students who chose this goal completed their integrated project. The model and prompt provided guidance for students to plan, design, and publish their information in Kidblog. Other students chose other integrated goals.

Fisher and Frey explain an effective vocabulary program is one that:

 “offers carefully selected words that are presented in context and modeled by the teacher; associative experiences that emphasize both the definitional and contrastive meanings of words, accompanied by student interaction with words and one another; and generative experiences that allow students to make it their vocabulary. p. 9” [emphasis added]

But consider this part of the larger picture of the Common Core State Standards. If we want students to dig deeper and think critically, then they need to live this in authentic interactions and experiences, to verbalize with each other the concepts and processes to make them theirs.

Let them live in the language to understand it, whether it is a process, a strategy, a concept, a behavior, or vocabulary. Give them a crosswalk to understanding.

Common Core: What works?

Think integrative. Think interactive. Think living in the language.



Fisher, Douglas, and Nancy Frey. “The value of intentional vocabulary instruction in the middle grades.” Professional Development Series 16 (2010): p.4, 9.

“Vialogues : James Paul Gee and Embedded/embodied Literacy.” Vialogues. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2014 (about 06:20-30).


Digital Literacy Day Project


#napowrimo14 is what?

April is National Poetry Month

sponsored by the Academy of American Poets

What is poetry? What is a poem?

#napowrimo is National Poetry Writing Month!

started by poet Maureen Thorson

a challenge to write a poem a day

that’s write: 30 poems in 30 days 


Let it bloom !

Ready ? Set? Write !

Writer’s block?  Not sure what to do?

Try these:  Online Interactives from Read/Write/Think: Theme PoemsAcrostic PoemsDiamante Poems

or learn from poets how:

Instant Poetry Forms

Kinds of Poems by Kathi Mitchell

Ken Nesbitt’s Poetry4Kids

Giggle Poetry How To

Which kind fits you? Why did you chose it? Why is it poetry?

Write it up !

Draft your poem on your Kidblog  and edit. Let us know:

Which kind fits you? Why did you chose it? Why is it poetry?



Read it up!

Not sure you want to write a poem every day? How about reading one every day. Find one you like. Link to it in your Kidblog and let us know:

Which kind fits you? Why did you chose it? Why is it poetry?

A Poem a Day by GottaBook

Children’s Poetry Archive — hear poets read 

What do you notice?

Help document: Stuck on the questions: Which kind fits you? Why did you chose it? Why is it poetry?  review author craft in the help document.  Make two copies as directed and fill it out for a poem  your connect with.

Let’s discover:

What is poetry? What is a poem?


Teacher Resources


Close your eyes and think of somebody who is really influential in your life and/or who matters to you. Why is this person so important?


Who matters to me ?


Scott Hunter



Why is this person so important?

We live in a small town, actually we live in a community of five small towns, each with their own identities and government. As small town America began to crumble, my husband, Scott, stepped up to be part of solutions. He’s been President of Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce (sometimes at the same time) more times than I can remember. Years ago our hospital almost became defunct, but due to Scott’s diligence and research, the situation turned around, and in later years the community worked together to build one of the best small medical centers around. He’s been part of finding ways to build a new school, organizing and helping at the community festivals, maintaining the fish hatchery, building the fishing ramp for those with disabilities, and trying to bring a new community center here. As Publisher of the local paper, The Star, he keeps the community informed on the issues that affect our small towns and our lives. He’s not the only one, because we have many outstanding, active citizens; but I am inspired by the fact that he stepped up and became a leader for the community, always focusing on bringing all of our towns and people together. He amazes me with all he does.

Between the two of us, we have four children and ten grandchildren, and everyone of them would say, Grampa is the best ever. Scott is a sensible person, not a sensitive person. By that I mean, you can bet he’ll find a way to let you know the truth; he’ll give you the facts straight up. All of our family depends on this, a caring father and grandfather who’ll be honest about the problems expressed, or the politics, or any drama he is sure to squelch. “What do you think about…” is a question he gets often, by phone, email, or in person because our family respects his ideas, and the loving and logical way he presents them. He’s always reading everything on every topic from politics to economics to religion to history to black holes. I do believe he’s related to Leonardo da Vinci, although we do hire out any for any repairs. Storytelling, boating, walking the dog, visiting the bat cave, searching for dragons, discussing God: these are the things Scott brings to our family. We are so inspired by his wisdom, humor, and the fun times he gives us. Who wouldn’t be inspired?

And me. Throughout our years of marriage, we two have enjoyed each other’s company in love and respect. He has supported my time, all the extra time, devoted to my teaching career. People don’t realize how much time most teachers give to create a positive and challenging experience to their students. Scott has always supported those times, and even written a few poems about it. Yes, Scott is also a poet; his words wrap images onto the paper and into your mind; they are safely tucked inside a folder, treasured, too personal and powerful to share, but ever uplifting to pull out and remember. He gently picks on his guitar and creates melodies that invite you into new worlds that swirl in music in your mind. And when he sings, his resonant voice fills you with awe. So, I don’t think I have to tell you how easy it was to fall in love with him; so much romance and music, consideration and conversation. With our kids, he’s always made time (see above) to create a home, a family, for our blended crew.  We spend more of our time in intellectual conversations than planted in front of the tube; you’ll find us immersed in our iPads researching on a topic of interest and then discussing what we discovered, often on a hike or walk with our dog, Pooka. And as my teaching world crumbles around me, he is there reminding me to stay the course and do what’s best for my students. Scott fuels my fire, and, by his example and through his wisdom and humor, inspires me daily. I am amazed at all his talents.

So. My husband Scott is ever present and a steadfast supporter of our community. His wisdom gained from continual learning provides a foundation for our family. And I am every day blessed with his consideration and conversation, his prose and poetry, and his love.

He is inspiration.


Thanks, Scott!

You’re my inspiration!

Post is a suggestion by Larry Ferlazzo for Thanksgiving

SMILES from Summer

What events and people brought smiles to you this summer?

Think about your summer days: walking around town in blistering heat or pouring rain with friends; splashing through the waves to the dock; catching the biggest trout; screaming through Tremors Roller Coaster; helping Gramma and hearing her stories.

Make a list. Use active words (walking, splashing, catching, etc.).

Share your list with a partner; you may be reminded of more to add while you share. Revise your list for more action words– what else could you change or add to create a mind movie for your reader?

Write the word ‘smile’ vertically on your paper (your journal would be a great place for this). You can write the letters slightly indented, in case you need to add words before the letter. Look at your list. How can you fit five of those smiling events to include the letters, SMILE? Which would you include? Star them. Now, what else would clarify the event? Add details (5Ws: Who What When Where Why). Remember to change the names to protect the innocent and guilty. 🙂






Use the letters to write a poem of the events or people that brought you joy this summer.  Here’s mine:

Summer swimming and splashing in cool lake waters and stomping in the simmering sand

while walking Pooka and Munching on peanut butter and celery with family for fun at the beach;

watching Interesting movies like Avatar and Star Trek when the rain pounds the pavement outside;

Listening to stories and laughing together with grandkids;

Everyone hugs, happy to gather together again.

Take your time — be an author. What can you remember about writing elaboration strategies? Try these: add details and strong verbs. Include alliteration (examples: stomping in the simmering sand; pounds the pavement). Share with a partner for help.

When your poem is ready, go to our Google Form. Enter the S M I L E of your summer joys. When everyone has shared their poem, the survey summary will show everyone’s SMILE anonymously. What similarities and differences do you notice? Who can create a class poem?

Think about the writing skills we practiced/reviewed already:

  • Write about what you know
  • Prewrite and brainstorm
  • Peer feedback
  • Predraft
  • Revise
  • Vivid Verbs
  • Nifty Nouns
  • Details (5Ws)
  • Alliteration
  • Poetry

Think about what we learned about each other. What was similar or different?

What did you learn?  What did you like? What else could be improved next time to make the project better?

Welcome to our always asking, What Else? classroom.

People Power

People Power
Building Community

Without community, a classroom is just a room. Without community, a class is just a crowd. A community of learners starts with discovering each person’s talents and builds on the relationships that develop from respectful discussions and appreciation for the similarities and differences that make our uniqueness add to the day-to-day participation in helping one another learn.

How do we begin discovering who we are as a class?  Here is a summary of six activities to build community and one culminating activity to draw it all together. I’ll be posting details in the next posts.



Ask students what made them smile this summer. Students use the letters to write a poem of the events or people that brought them joy this summer.

While paper will do, I’ve decided to create a Google Form for students to enter the S M I L E of their summer joys; the summary will show everyone’s anonymously. Look for similarities and differences. Further poetry could result from those.


Make a list of favorites: animal, sports, team, food, book, song, pop (soda), candy bar, after-school activity, weekend activity, movie.

With technology the students could text into a polleverywhere.com prompt created by the teacher. Look for similarities and differences.


Students list interesting places they have been or would like to visit.  Places could be gramma’s house, the top of my tree, Disneyland, Keller Rodeo. Each student then chooses one from his/her list and writes three things they have done or would like to do in that place. Use paper or create a Wall Wisher for recording the travels. Look for similarities and differences.


On an index card divided into fourths, ask label and draw pictures of things they do well, either as an expert, or as someone who knows enough about it to talk about it. These could be: beading, hunting, dunk a basketball, poetry, running, horse-training, babysitting, making frybread, cooking pot roast, etc. The pictures could be photographed and uploaded to Flickr to share in a slideshow. The students could also, depending on other goals for the activity, search for,  find , and cite Creative Commons images to place in their slide of a collaborative Google presentation.


Students create a paper timeline of their lives — important events from toddler to today. The timeline should indicate two things: age and emotion. The emotion is how they felt with that event. With technology, students can create a Google Spreadsheet from a template. Column A, activities; column B, age; column C, emotion.  Then students can highlight and create a graphic representation of their timeline, trying different styles for the best visual.

6. Two Lies and a Truth

Students make a slide in a collaborative presentation based on the activities so far. Students consider their facts, and create an index card on which they write two lies about themselves (that could be true, but isn’t) and one truth. Students could place their information in a Google Presentation. Each student could do this in the next few days on their own to keep their slide secret. ( Template ) Once completed, the presentation or the index cards are shared, one each day. First students try to guess the person; then they guess the truth.

 Culminating Activity — more than one period

Finally, we bring together our shared parts of lives into team projects. Usually, I don’t use teams of three, but this activity does work well in threes. Pairs or quartets are OK, but threes are more fun and easier. During this time, continue daily sharing of Two Lies and a Truth, which isn’t part of this activity. There are three parts to this activity.

IMG_2767Part 1:


The teams of three share all their activities: SMILE, Favorites, Travels, Expertise, and Timeline. Using poster paper (kids often talk about the finished work all year; I display it online in a slideshow and in our hallway), the team draws a three-circle Venn Diagram (VD), labeling each circle with one of their initials to claim it. Students add details from the daily activities, and new ideas as they converse, to the VD. Of course, what is similar is written in the overlapping of the three circles, and what is unique is written in their own circle. Any similarity between two people is written in those shared circles. Students are looking for what makes them unique and their similarities. Finally, the team discusses what they would like to be doing when they are twenty-five years old.



Part 2:

Each team discusses their similarities and differences, and what is most important to each of them.  Then they decide upon a slogan that represents the team; usually students refer to similarities at this point. This slogan will be the title of Part 3.

Part 3:


Students create a colorful poster with that title and adding images only to represent the three people on their team. Each team presents their poster to the class, using the VD as a reference to how the team chose their images.

The posters and VD hang in the hallway; a picture of each with names removed are placed in a slide show for sharing online.

Discussions about the project reflect on the collaboration:

  • How did you choose your images?
  • How did the team create the drawing?
  • How did the team choose the slogan?
  • How did you work together?
  • Did one person dominate?
  • How does working together help you?
  • What words did you use to explain your ideas?
  • Do you think anyone felt badly during your project?
  • Do you think anyone felt joy during this project?
  • How could each team work to ensure everyone participates and everyone feels good about the project?

 Connection to Blogging

Before displaying posters and before team presentations, place the posters on separate desks. Students walk around silently with sticky notes on which they write helpful comments (what they like; what could be improved; using positive phrases) to place on others’ posters. Teams return to their posters and read the comments; revisions may occur. Discuss helpful and unhelpful commenting styles. This reviews our blog-commenting strategies.

Note About Teams:

In choosing teams, students can use  a random picker to pick random teams (can do random boy and random girl teams), or students can work with their friends. Many students want to repeat the project, which demonstrates the community building aspect of the project. Starting with random or friends, allows for another project to be done using another team.

Citizenship and Collaboration:

An important aspect of this project is the collaboration. Are the teams collaborating? How will the teacher encourage this? While students discuss similarities and differences, they consider what is similar and what is different, where should those items should be placed in the VD, and does it matter if they are the same or different? We’re working toward building a community of learners where we can all work together even with someone who is different. We’re being polite and kind, practicing the skills of citizenship in a real-world project so we demonstrate our ability to do so before we advance to online work as digital citizens. Collaboration helps us all succeed. Our class goal should be to help each other succeed. This project allows the teacher to guide students to practice civil behavior, a key to encouraging that behavior online.


After completing the project and the discussions on collaboration, ask students to complete a “Critical Incident Report,” which allows them to reflect on their own actions during the project based on some incident that occurred to which they were a part. By reflecting on what happened, and what could have happened, students can plan for similar events in their future.

Process, Procedures, Requirements:

During these projects students learn the processes of a project, the procedures for independent and group work, and the requirements for effectively completing a project. They develop a habit of self-evaluating during an activity that also builds community with each other; we become a community of  learners. And that’s why, “Writing class rules!” according to many of my students. (Pretzel Art by A. Stanczek during a writing class celebration)

 Final Note:

How do you build community in your classroom?  How do we help ourselves remember we teach children, and each child and his/her talents should be discovered, nurtured, and celebrated. It’s important to remember that we teach people, not programs and citizens, not statistics. Have a great year with your community of learners, and please share some of your favorite community builders.