Introducing the Mighty Yet Neighborly ‘igh’ Trigraph!

A couple weeks back we were talking about trigraphs.  I wrote <igh> and <ugh> on the board and we brainstormed words that had those trigraphs in them.  Then we further sorted the words with <igh> into two columns.  One column contained words with a consonant in front of the <igh>.  The second column contained words with either an <a> or an <e> in front of the <igh>.  As we read through the words in the first column (with the consonant in front of the <igh>), the students noticed that the <igh> represented long /i/.  This list contained words like right, frighten, mighty, and sigh.  As we read through the words in the second column (with either an <a> or an <e> in front of the <igh>), the students noticed that the vowel plus the <igh> represented long /a/.  This list contained words like eight, neighbor, straight, and freight.

When sorting the words with an <ugh> trigraph, we made one column in which the <ugh> represented /f/.  This list contained words like laugh, cough, rough, and tough.  The second column had words in which the <ugh> represented no sound at all!  This list contained words like though, through, caught, and bought.


Next the students practiced spelling out the words and pronouncing them.  The practice helped everyone single out the trigraphs as they spelled.  For example, the word <night> was spelled out as <n> <igh> <t>.  the word <knight> was spelled out as <kn> <igh> <t>.

When we finished with this activity, someone mentioned that they wished they had known this stuff sooner.  I asked, “Are these words you often had trouble with on spelling tests or in written work?”  There was a resounding, “YES!”  It was at this point that I threw out the suggestion that we offer to present this to some younger students.  My fifth graders were very enthusiastic to do this.  So I emailed the second grade teachers and asked if they would be interested.  They were particularly interested in the <igh> trigraph, so we prepared a lesson and presented it today!

I think the fifth graders were a bit surprised that the second graders enjoyed this so much and caught on so quickly.  We left our materials with the second grade students so they could review, practice, and collect more words after we left.

The teachers invited us back to do a lesson on writing out word sums.  One of the fifth graders thought we should prepare a lesson on the <-ion> suffix as well.   I’m thinking that the third graders might be ready for a lesson on the <ugh> trigraph.  Oh! The places we’ll go!

What a Difference a Prefix Makes!

When Michael investigated the word <president>, he found that it shared a base with the word <dissident>.  They both come from the Latin root sidere which means “to sit”.

The prefix in <president> is <pre> which means before, so we can think of a president as a person who sits before the people he/she represents.

The prefix in <dissident> is <dis> which means away, so we can think of a dissident as a person whose ideas sit away from those of others.  The dictionary defines <dissident> as a person who disagrees with an established religious or political system.

Still trying to really understand <dissident> in the same way we understand <president>, I asked the students to look online to find examples of people who were or are considered dissidents.  This is where the understanding deepened.

Names of people we have studied this year, as well as names recognized as having been in the news recently popped up.  Here is a short list of people we recognized who have  been named dissidents.  Some were peaceful dissidents, some were not.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
John Brown
Thomas Paine
Woody Guthrie
Pete Seeger
Edward Snowden
Sitting Bull
Nelson Mandela
Jesus Christ
Adolf Hitler

Are there names you recognize?  Do you know why they were/are considered dissidents?  Who would you add to this list?

Homophones – Springboards for Discussion!

We were in the computer lab the other day, and I was looking over a student’s poem before it was to be printed. She had incorrectly spelled the word <very> as <vary>.   I told her that <vary> is something the temperature has been doing lately.  I said, “It’s not consistent.  It varies from day to day.”  She shook her head and said, ” Ah.  I see.  It means changing.  I used the wrong word.”  When I asked her how to spell the word she really wanted, she spelled <very>, but with hesitation as she thought about which vowel to use.  She wanted to use <a> because that is the sound she was hearing herself say, but she knew that wasn’t right.  She settled on <e>.

It’s hard to fault our students who are using the strategies we give them:  “Sound it out.  If that doesn’t work, just plain memorize the spelling.”

Back in class I decided to talk about the word vary with the whole class.  I said, ” If I asked you to spell the word <very>, how would you do it?  Both spellings were suggested.  That led to a discussion of the word homophone and its meaning.

Then we went back to the two words <very> and <vary>.  I asked for a definition of each.  Students used them in sentences. They defined <very> as an adverb meaning extremely.  They defined <vary> as changing.  Next I asked for relatives.  For the word <vary>, students suggested <variety>, <variable>, and <various>.  We talked about what each means and how each might be used.  Then I asked for the spelling of <varying>.  Maya began with <v> <a> <r> … but then paused.  I knew she was questioning whether the next letter would be <y> or if that <y> would switch to an <i>.  I was giving her some think time when Ryan jumped in and said rather enthusiastically, ” English words don’t have two i’s in a row!  The <y> needs to stay a <y>!  Just as I was smiling and about to say, ” So glad you remembered that!”, Logan raised this question.  “What about the word <skiing>? (It seems that everything we look at in orthography leads to something else equally interesting!)

Ryan is correct in thinking that in complete English words there are never two i’s.  When we see such a spelling,  we know the word <ski> is a loan word from another language.  Loan words don’t behave the way English words do.

I wanted to visit the spelling of <skiing> a bit further so I wrote the word <skiing> on the board.  Right next to it I wrote <skying> and next to that I wrote <sking>.  I asked for the base of each spelling.  That helped us rule out <sking>.  Looking at <skiing> the students saw <ski> + <ing> and looking at <skying> the students saw <sky> + <ing>.  We couldn’t make sense of the word <skying> and realized that in the word <skiing> there isn’t a double <i>.  There is an <i> in the final position of the base, and there is an <i> in the initial position of the suffix.  It reminds me of the word <really>.  There isn’t a double <l> here either.  One <l> is the final consonant of the base, and the other is the first letter of the suffix.  Thinking about words in this way (as word sums) helps with spelling because as you are spelling you are thinking of the word sum and how the morphemes go together rather than a memorized letter order.

Now we headed back to our original query.  We tried adding a few more suffixes on to <vary> and talked about the suffixing rules before turning our attention to <very>.  “What are its relatives?” I asked.  We couldn’t think of any.  We decided that <very> with an <e> is very limited in the number of relatives it has, whereas <vary> with an <a> has a variety of relatives!   We also noticed that <very> is an adverb and only once in a while an adjective.  The word <vary> however can be various parts of speech, including noun, verb, and adjective depending on the suffix used.

A simple misspelling led to such a rich discussion!  Awesome!

Listen to the Sound of the Christmas Spirit!

When I finished reading aloud “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, I did a couple of things.  I collected drawings the students made as they listened to the story, I asked the students to write about some of the ideas brought up in the story, and I handed out scripts from parts of the story.

Here is a script reading from the part in the story where Fred invites his Uncle Scrooge to Christmas dinner.

Next is a script reading from Ebenezer Scrooge’s encounter with the ghost of Jacob Marley.  The visit (and conversation) is continued in the third script reading.

The next script reading is from the conversation between Ebenezer Scrooge and his fiance Belle.  This conversation takes place during Scrooge’s visit with the Ghost of Christmas Past.

This last script reading is from the part in the story in which Scrooge’s nephew Fred is talking with his wife at their Christmas Day celebration.  It takes place during Scrooge’s visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present.


When asked to write about some of the ideas brought up in the story, Zoe chose to write about Jacob Marley’s chains.

“When Jacob Marley’s ghost says, ‘I wear the chain I forged in life.  I made it link by link and yard by yard,’ he means that he has done wrong things and hurt many people by thinking only of himself.  Now he has to wear the heavy weight of that forever.  I think he realizes now that if he had shown people charity, mercy, and benevolence, he wouldn’t be forced to wear the chains.  Jacob Marley didn’t believe in charity.  He was greedy and wanted to keep his money to himself.  He never purposely wanted to hurt anybody, but he did hurt them by not caring about them or by not showing mercy when he could have.  Each time Jacob Marley turned someone who needed help away, he added another link to his chain.
I think everybody has at least one link on their chain.  Sometimes we do things and we don’t know we are doing them.  I guess that’s why it is important to think about your actions before you do them.  Think about what you are doing and how you treat people.”

Maya chose to write about Fred’s words : “And though it (Christmas)has never put a scrap of gold in my pocket, I believe that is has done me good and will do me good and I say God Bless it!”

“Christmas will do me good because it’s a time for me to get all the crazy distractions out of my head for a while and spend as much time as I can with my family.  One day I’ll be out of time to do that.  For me, it’s also a time to overstuff my stomach with turkey dinner and spend time with the people I most love.    When I was little I thought that Christmas was for the presents.  Christmas is really about spending time as a family and spreading joy to all the people of the world.”

Hannah had some interesting thoughts about Jacob Marley’s chains also …

“Jacob Marley must have done a lot of bad things to have it be yards and yards long.  I think my chain is very short.  I have teased my sister, but we’re usually just kidding around.  I wonder if thinking something bad would put a link on your chain?  I have thought some bad things, but have not done any.  I promise.  If I was like Jacob Marley, I might not have the friends that I do.  I would rather die again than have those chains.  Could he die again?  Jacob Marley probably regretted all the things he did.  I wonder exactly how many links are on Jacob Marley’s chain?  I also wonder if links could be removed.
Christmas has always ‘done me good’.  I love ice skating and snowboarding.  Making cookies is great too.  I love snickerdoodles!  My absolute favorite part of Christmas is when my grandma visits!”

Here are some delightful drawings of Scrooge, Jacob Marley’s ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

A Christmas Carol – The Quiz


We finished reading this wonderful story today.  I look forward to reading it each year because my students need to know the original story.    There have been so many versions of this (and some are pretty far fetched) that I like to picture the characters and scenes as he wrote them.  The words he uses create such wonderful images.  My students and I had fun finding delightful examples of personification.  Let’s see what you remember…

Global Read Aloud – Week One

Our class is participating in the 2013 Global Read Aloud!  That means that we are reading aloud a book that is being read to thousands of other 4-6th grade students as well.  The name of the book for our age group is Out of My Mind.  It is written by Sharon Draper.  Here is a trailer for the book.  It gives you a sense of what the book is about.

Last week we read chapters 1-6.  Melody, the main character, lays it on us right away.  She loves words.  She has always loved words … except that even though she is eleven, she has never spoken them.  And she never will.

In one of those chapters she talks about music, and how she sees colors and connects smells with different kinds of music.  Her favorite type of music is country.  When she listens to country music, she smells lemons.  She smells sweet lemons.  I asked my students about music in their lives.  Here are some of the responses they have posted on their blogs.

“To me pop and upbeat music has always made me happy.  Pop music is nice because you can dance to all of it.  I myself love to dance.  I took lessons for a little bit, but then after that my teacher stopped teaching for a while so I did it on my own.  My friend and I have made up a lot of dances which are all perfected in anyway possible.  Fast and upbeat music has always seemed like bright stage lights and loud comfident voices. I don’t mean like heavy metal or anything like that. I mean One Direction, Ke$ha, and artists like that .  How do you feel about music?  How does it make you feel?”      ~ Hannah

“Melody likes country music like I do.  It makes me feel really happy.  My older brother Mitch turns on country in our car all the time.   He turns the music up as loud as he can, and we sing as loud as we can.  When  people drive past us, they look at us like we’re crazy.   We kind of  are crazy in a good way.   My friend Sage and I do they same thing. We will be in her front yard playing, and we just randomly start singing.   Sage likes hip hop too so we sing a mixture of country and hip hop. ”     ~ Maddie

 “I love country music. There’s one song that reminds me of my grandpa serving  in the army.  I love hearing that song because then I don’t forget him.  I really miss him.  Hearing that song really brings my heart out.  The song really brings a lot of color in my life.  Only that song makes me move on.”      ~ Ezra

“Music really helps me  get through the rough times in my life. When I am down in the dumps, and I feel there is nothing that can make it better, there is actually a way.  I think of the country songs I love. I think of the song and how good it is.  A country song really tells a story about  life and how troubling it is during hard times. When something bad happens, I relate to the song that tells that same story. That is how I relate to music.”         ~ Ryan

“I like to hum songs in my head all the time. I think Melody singing in her head is a normal thing.  Music  sorta is my passion I like all types  of music –  rock,  pop , and country.  It helps me relax or calm down.  Music plays a big part in my life.”      ~ Landin

Further along in our reading we met Mrs. V.  Melody went to her house after school most days.  Mrs. V was different than any other adult in Melody’s life.  I asked the students why Mrs. V was an amazing woman.  I also asked if my students ever had a “Mrs. V. in their lives.  Her are some more responses copied from their blogs.

“We are reading a book called Out Of My Mind.  There is a woman named Mrs.V, and a girl named Melody.  Melody can’t talk, move her arms, can’t keep her balance, and can’t talk.  Mrs.V made  a commitment to help Melody.  When Melody was a baby, Mrs.V got Melody to roll over and grab her toy.

I am in gymnastics and my coaches are like my Mrs.V.  One time we were working on round offs and I thought I couldn’t do it, but my coach told me I could.  When I tried, I messed up, but my coaches told me to keep trying.”       ~ Abby

“My Mrs.V is my mom.  Every day I learn something new from my mom.  She taught me how to play recorder.  She is the best baker in the world.  When I was 2, years old she tried to teach me the alphabet, and I tried my best.  My mom bought me a Letter Board when I was three.  Man, I  would type in words and screech with laughter.  That’s why I picked her.”      ~Brogan

“Hi there.   Mrs.V is inspirational to me because she did not give up on Melody. When other people looked at Melody, Mrs.V just looked at her like anyone else –  not someone who is different or weird.   To me my Mrs.V is my dad because he pushes me to my very best with everything from soccer to school to everything.   My mom also.   Who is your Mrs.V?”     ~ Maya

“Mrs.V is another character in the book we are reading.  Mrs.V is the only person who doesn’t think Melody is dumb.  Melody would go over to Mrs.V’s when her parents couldn’t watch over her.  Melody would go over to her house every day after school.  Mrs.V gave Melody sweets and soda when her parents would just give her milk or juice.  Mrs.V taught Melody how to say some words by putting a plexiglass tray on her wheelchair with the words that she wanted to say.  She also taught Melody how to flip her body over, and what to do if she fell out of her wheel chair.  Melody loves Mrs.V.  My parents are kind of like my Mrs.V.”      ~Zoe

“I think Mrs.V is amazing.  Teaching Melody to roll over!  She did what the parents did not.”      ~ Austin

Please feel free to comment to this post.  My students and I would love your feedback!

Civil Rights Dodecahedrons





As we were learning about the Civil Rights Movement, the students were doing some reflective writing.  They wrote about Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges.  They wrote about the Bus Boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, the Voting Rights Marches in Selma, Alabama, the Sit-Ins at department store lunch counters across the south, and the March on Washington.  They wrote about prejudice and segregation.  All in all, they wrote on eleven topics.  Then we typed up the writings and glued them to twelve panels (the twelfth panel being the heading).  Putting the panels together was fun.  When finished, the dodecahedrons were interesting to hold and read!

We Would Read Books Anywhere!

As part of the “Read Across America” celebration Friday, we found out some interesting things about Dr. Suess.  It’s so easy to recall our favorite books from those days when we were early readers.  So many of them were by Dr. Suess!  We created this short fun video in honor of him.  We hope you recognize how he was our inspiration!

Author Visits via Skype

We’ve been very fortunate this year.  In October we had a Skype visit with author Derek Kent who prefers to be known as Derek the ghost.  I read both of his books aloud to the class.  The first was Scary School, and the second was Scary School – Monsters on the March.  We loved them both because of the way they left us laughing out loud.  Every time I picked it up the class cheered because they knew there would be something funny in the pages ahead. The characters were imaginative and unexpected and added drama to every chapter.

Last week we had a Skype visit with author Rob Buyea.  I read both of his books aloud as well.  The first was Because of Mr. Terupt, and the second was Mr. Terupt Falls Again.  We loved these books because we made such a strong connection to the characters and their lives.  The first book is about a class of 5th graders and their very cool teacher.  The second is the same group of students, now in 6th grade, having looped with the same teacher.  These books also made us laugh out loud, but there was more.  They made us cry too.  The situations among the students was familiar, yet unpredictable.  We waiting breathlessly to see what would happen next.

Two days ago, I asked my students to brainstorm a list of things that they had learned about writing by reading these books and talking to these two authors.  Here are some of the things the students wrote down.

Derek Kent

-Always put yourself in your story – meaning, have one of your characters be part you.
-Always have a big thing happen – something that the characters will have to deal with.
-Get ideas from your own life.  Think back to some funny events or situations in your own life.
-Have your character learn some life lessons during the course of your story.
-Include some well known people as characters and change their name and characteristics just enough to allow your reader to recognize and draw a connection.
-Add things that no one is expecting.
-Add humor to lighten the mood.
-Have your main character go against the crowd now and then.
Rob Buyea

-If you base a book on your everyday life, ideas will come to you more easily.
-Always carry a writer’s notebook.  You never know when an idea will pop into your head.
-Writing ideas seem to strike at the weirdest moments.  (The idea for Because of Mr. Terupt came to Rob Buyea while he was in his mother’s garden!)
-Take your own memories and change them to fit your story and/or your characters.
-Make the reader wonder what will happen next.
-Jot down ideas.  You may not use them for years, but it gives you a collection to draw from.
-If you don’t like the situation/character/story, your reader won’t either.  Sometimes you want your reader to dislike a character, but make sure you think about whether you want your reader to change their opinion by the story’s end.
-Base your characters and events on real life people and events in your life.


I’m very pleased to see that the combination of reading the books and actually talking to/asking questions of these authors has left the students with great advice and tips to apply in their own writing.

We love Rob Buyea’s first novel!

Today we finished Rob Buyea’s first novel.  It’s called Because of Mr. Terupt, and it’s about a classroom of fifth graders and their awesome teacher.  The book is sectioned off into months so it is easy to imagine where the students are in the school year.  The students love Mr. Terupt’s teaching style, but it ends up being questioned when the big event of the story happens. 

We loved the fact that we didn’t see it coming (the big event).  We knew something was coming because the characters kept alluding to it, but we didn’t know what it would be.  Mr. Buyea does a beautiful job with foreshadowing and creating believable and recognizable characters.  And much like in real life classrooms, as we read we found out that everyone has a story.

It was a book so beautifully written that towards the end we cried about a character that we only knew for one page.  The story really focused on the emotions that people feel when they are in relationships with other people and how those emotions change as the relationship changes.

Without giving too much away, here are some student responses to the book.

“I loved Because of Mr. Terupt because it had moments when I felt like I was really there.  When someone got hurt, I felt all weird, like I was part of it.”

“I really liked the book.  It is for sure my second favorite book!”         
– Kolby

“I liked the author because he used foreshadowing and hooked me in.  My heart was either beating fast, or I was laughing hard.”            
– Austin

“I loved this book because it really touched my heart.  The author really made the student’s lives …. real.  I also hated this book because it hurt me sooooooooo bad.  It actually made me cry.”          

“I felt really sorry for Jeffrey.  I can’t imagine living in his house.  I think that Jeffrey did the right thing by telling his parents he loved them.”         
– Allison

“My favorite character is Mr. Terupt because he changed everything for all the kids he had in his class.  He helped everyone in that class.  He helped Jeffrey talk to his parents, Lexi bring out her nice, and Danielle become more self confident.  Mr. Terupt is really awesome.”         
– Maia

“I felt bad for Anna because she doesn’t have a dad, and her mom is hated by Danielle’s mom and grandma.”         

“I loved this book because there were emotional parts, but there were many jubilant parts, too.”         
– Tyler

“My favorite character is Anna because she is always calm and quiet.”                  

“My favorite person in the book is Mr. Terupt because he is awesome, and he’s very kind.”