Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday's Minilesson Magic: Thinking about Theme Strategy

Drumroll please...Today I am announcing my new weekly blog post topic: Monday's Minilesson Magic!!!!! I really want to dedicate myself to posting about something each week and I think minilessons will be such a useful topic for other teachers, for me to document what I am doing and reflect on how it went, and to push me to seek out new ideas---I hope you think so too and will plan to tune in every Monday to catch the newest Minilesson Magic focus and grab some ideas.

I have been horrible at my weekly poetry post (uh-hem, please forgive me!). I can't seem to get the writing/idea/creative teacher muse inspired on my Love of Language Post so I thought trying something more general might work better: MINILESSONS :) I teach those everyday right? So, surely I can work up some magic once a week to come up with good ideas to share with you for Monday's Minilesson Magic.

I thought for my first post, I would focus on a new strategy I used this year for thinking about theme. I am always, always, always trying to push students' thinking about reading and trying to give them ways to push themselves that are tangible. I came up with the "It's About..." strategy. When I say "It's about" now my students know what I'm talking about.

I first introduced the "It's About" strategy in our first reading unit that I call "Coaching Your Own Reading Life." For this unit, I chose Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff as our main read aloud. Before this lesson, I brainstormed my own ideas for "It's About" and chose to model for students the ideas I came up with instead of letting them share their own. I wanted to ensure that they understood what I meant by "It's About" and I explained that I wanted us to get at what the book is really about. I wouldn't say "It's about a girl named Hollis Woods who is a foster child that always runs away from the families she is assigned to." This is a summary statement, and I want to get at what the book is REALLY about. (During this discussion, I never mentioned that I was talking about THEME because I wanted our thinking to be unlimited. I introduced these students to theme last year and did not want us to only be thinking about themes the way we had before.) This strategy also gets at author's message, what the author might be noticing in the world and trying to make a statement about, and lessons we could learn. Here's what I came up with:
As I continued this lesson, I told students "I keep having to stop myself from explaining why I think it's about this or that." I think holding myself back from discussing why I put it on the poster made students really eager to think about why that would be on the list. My next step in the lesson was to ask students to choose one of the it's about from my poster, list it on the top of their next clean Reader Response page, and start explain why they think it's about that idea. Of course, we closed the lesson by sharing some of our writing.

How did we take this brainstorm to the next level? In the next lesson, we discussed how we could use this to push our thinking and I modeled for students how I could plan for my written response by thinking about the examples and evidence from the text that make us think "It's About..." The "It's about" that stood out to me the most that I really wanted students to write and think about was "It's about Wishes and Wants." I modeled how we could list this idea at the top of our page and list the reasons/examples from the book that make us think it's about that. I also told them that my list could include some of my own thinking, like "Every child wants/needs a family." I told them this is my thought because this is what I know and think is true about the world.
This strategy has already started to spiral through our reading curriculum and I know it was so easy and tangible for students that I will continue to use it throughout the year. Recently, I posted about our Holocaust book clubs (our second reading unit was "Coaching Ourselves Through Historical Fiction.") We used the "It's About..." strategy to brainstorm ideas for what themes show up in our Holocaust books. Here's my "It's About" model for Rose Blanche (Roberto Innocenti) and Irena's Jar of Secrets (Marcia Vaughan), two picturebook read alouds I used during the Holocaust unit.
Sorry this chart is messy! Once we got going with our ideas, I quickly realized I should not have separated the chart for the two books because most of the themes/It's About ideas we had fit for both books. The beauty of this "It's About" chart and lesson was that I was really giving students ideas for their holocaust book club books because most of the themes show up in other books about the Holocaust. For active engagement, students began to brainstorm an "It's About" for their book club books and then used this in their book club discussions.

I hope you can use "It's About" in your classroom (although now that I have said "It's about" about a thousand times in this can choose to call it something else :)

Oh and, second drumroll please! :) My Monday Minilesson Magic will always include a list of Common Core Connections at the end that correlates the lesson ideas with the common core standards for those of you who are teaching through the common core.

RL3.2 Determine the central message, lesson, or moral in the story and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
RL4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
RL4.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
RL5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
RL5.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text.

What minilessons topics are you currently working on? What minilesson topics would you like FRESH ideas for? Let me know in the comments :)

See you again next Monday for more Minilesson Magic!


  1. I have just found your blogspot Life,love,Literacy. I am very interested in your mini lesson and the order in which you are teaching them. I teach 4th grade and would like to use these next year. Would you please send me a list of all of your Magic Mini Mondays? Thank you so much

  2. Hi Ginger, if you click the Monday's Minilesson Magic icon on the top right of my blog, you will find all of the posts I have written for Minilesson magic. These are by no means thorough, but give highlights of some of my lessons. I am however working on student reading notebook handouts that will read like minilessons. Hope you continue to follow along! Thanks!

  3. I just found your blog and I'm SO glad I did. I'm working on starting reader's notebooks for next year, with mini-lessons and such, similar to what you're doing. I also teach 5th grade and use many of the same novels you do for my read-alouds. What great info. you have here on your site and your mini-lesson magic ideas are terrific! Thanks so much! Common Core has really brought the education community together, on the same page, and I'm grateful for that!

    1. Wonderwoman50, thank you so much for this awesomely sweet comment. I am glad that my ideas work for your classroom! I hope to get back to my Monday's Minilesson Magic in the next few weeks as we start back to school MONDAY!!! I will try to include more ideas for the reader response notebook!



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