Incorporating Computers within Language Arts

Computers, phones, texting and social media surround ourselves and our students everyday. It could be argued that students are free writing -writing by own motivation- more than previous generations. However, with shortened text, emojis and gifs ‘proper’ language can be lost. But, nonetheless we, as teachers, shouldn’t shy away from using technology and computer based writing output. Our students are going to be growing into a technology based world, and computer literacy is a valued skill. Showing students how to use technology to support their language development is the aim of this post.

        For older students, there is an increased focus on annotating websites, reading between the lines and extracting key information. These skills are developed first on paper, with highlighting in the classroom, but you can’t highlight a computer screen. This is where ‘scribble’ comes in. A site supported and co-developed by google edu, it is a youth inspired site that offers the ability to highlight. A chrome extension, it helps filters webpages for student to narrow the sites to more reputable sources, offers them a storage place for their site as well as annotating. This site itself, or the concept of ‘key wording’ is a beginning step in grade 6 and on words. Starting with deciphering keywords on paper and moving to webpages, this extension can help students visualize the key information.

        accelerated reader, a program designed both for students and by students is a great and easy way for intermediate, or even primary teachers to keep track of o students comprehension and fluency in reading. A program that can be purchased by districts, it allows any book to be inputted into the system and have quizzes generated for it. Each novel is assigned points either by teacher or the administrators of the program and it helps give a visual benchmark or goal. Students begin by taking a placement test, which then helps give them a predicted ‘point’ value for where they should be in 3,6 and 10 months. It then can also suggest books for students to read. Once students have read that book they can take the comprehension tests and it logs their points to help show their development. It is an individualized program that helps students develop their own accountability for their reading.

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How to Run Successful Lit Circles

The first step is to make sure every student understands the expectations of what to bring and what happens during a lit circle meeting.


  • Bring your lit circle book
  • Bring a pencil
  • Bring a short description of what you read (“say something blurb”)
  • Bring a positive attitude  🙂

A way I experienced lit circles ran was by having students bring a “say something blurb” to the group meeting.  With this “say something blurb,” it could have connections they had made with the book, a description of what had happened, or a prediction of what they think may happen next.  You may set deadlines for where each student should be at for the next lit circle meeting or could let the students read at their own pace.  If you decide to let the students read at their own pace, there must be a final deadline of when the book is to be completed and the assignments.  At the start of each meeting discuss who has read the least so they can share first and have nothing spoiled for them.  You will have to do a gradual release and after each student shares, they will then return to their desk.  With not giving a deadline for each group meeting, it makes it so the student who has read the most will only have one person to share with.   This is why I would recommend setting deadlines, that way you have the full group participating for the full time.

As each student discusses what they have read, connections, or predictions, every member of the group must then ask at least one question regarding the text.  It may be a good idea to have prompts for the students to use because often they will not come with questions prepared.

Below is a prompt and probes question sheet that could be used:

The teacher may have to facilitate the first few lit circle meetings to get the ball rolling.   After a few meetings, you should hope that the conversations the students are having start to sound more natural/organic and they don’t need the Prompt and Probe sheets as often.

There are many other ways to run the lit circle meetings, this was just a successful way I witnessed in an intermediate classroom.

My next post will focus on assessment regarding lit circles!



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How to Get Lit Circles Started in the Classroom

The first step is to pick out books that are all different reading levels.  Depending on the number of students you have in your classroom will depend on how many different books you have to choose from.  I would recommend having at least three to four students in each lit circle group to facilitate a good discussion.  You may have a theme for your lit circles.  I have seen one done with the main focus on residential schools and I thought it was very powerful!  It was great, not only were the students working on literacy skills, but Social Studies was also incorporated.

Once you have chosen the books, it is now time to share them with your class.  With each book give the students a brief summary of what the book is about and the reading level.  After each book is described, it is now time for the students to vote for their top three picks.  Hand out a slip of paper with the numbers one through three, one being your top pick and three being your last pick.  Tell the students you will do your best job to get their first or second pick.

If you are doing lit circles with a younger grade, you may not give them the option to choose their own book.  At the younger age, they may not understand how to pick a good book that is suitable for their reading level.  For lit circles to run successfully, you will need the students to be able to comprehend the story, so they can have meaningful discussions.

After the final decisions are made of who will be in each group, I suggest making a sign-out sheet of which student has which book.  This will result in having no lost books at the end (fingers crossed).  The last step to getting the students started is to decide on which day the groups will meet.  I suggest having the times written somewhere in the classroom for students not to forget what day they are scheduled to meet.

In my next post, I will be discussing how to run a successful lit circles meeting.

*This way of running lit circles was developed by my sponsor teacher last year. (Helen Fall)*

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Early Intervention Program (Reading Recovery)

Early Intervention is extremely important as we all know, yet often times students who are struggling to read find themselves falling further behind each year. Carol Lyons from “Catching Readers Before They Fall” discusses the brain research on children and the evidence suggests that the earlier they are given help the faster they will learn in order to catch up to grade level.

Marie Clay from “Catching Readers Before They Fall” developed a program called Reading Recovery as a early intervention program. The purpose of this particular program is for teachers to focus and work with the lowest 20% of students in their first grade. The program requires a thirty minute lesson once a day to individual children. The success rate for this program is 75% in just 12-20 weeks. This program has been extremely successful because thousands of teachers have bought into it. In the book they note that this includes students who have IEP’s. Reading recovery focuses more on teachers learning a new way of thinking about reading, a way of understanding the reading process. As opposed to main focus being on developing the specific thirty minute lesson each day.

In the text book “Catching Readers Before They Fall” they outline several things that a Reading Recovery teacher knows or does well. The outline is also beneficial for any teacher with struggling readers.

  • Understands the reading process and that each reader must construct it for themselves
  • Plan instruction from observations and assessments
  • Analyze running records with strategic actions in mind
  • Keep the student working just beyond their level of ability
  • Maintain a safe learning environment so that struggling readers do not feel discouraged
  • Know when to prompt, model, and cut back on supports, and when to reinforce specific behaviours; altering the level of support in response to the child’s reading behaviours
  • Teach toward independence so that the child takes more control over their own reading strategies
  • Provide many opportunities for the student to demonstrate authentic reading/writing opportunities. This helps strengthen their processing ability because they are constantly using their systems of strategies.

To sum up this particular early intervention program I thought I would show this video on Reading Recovery as it is gives a very quick yet informative recap of what it is and how it works. This program was developed many years ago now so for my next post I will focus on a more current early intervention strategy for struggling readers.

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