Differentiating Notes for Struggling Readers

Differentiating Notes for Struggling Readres.001

I have always struggled with making notes for my inclusion class. The challenge is a lot of these students need notes to be taken for them or provided copies, but in my personal philosophy, you do not benefit from taking notes if you aren’t taking them. It’s taken me 2 years and a 6-weeks to finally figure out the solution to this problem and help students become better readers a long the way. Enter: Story Notes.

With the help of Ed Helper, I have started adapting my notes for my inclusion to be reading assignments. My inclusion class model is the same everyday. They come in and reading leveled provided material at the start of class (8:17). When they are done with this, they are allowed to read their independent reading books until 8:35. Providing them material ensures they are reading at their level. I try to filter the Just Right Books, but it’s not always possible to catch every book that comes in. At 8:35, I have them put their books down. We usually re-read the selected material out loud as a class. The resource teacher that aids me during this class always makes a fun game out of this and calls on kids by random labels–their clothes, their first initial, their seat proximity to the door, etc. Once the book is completed, we do a small activity or mini-lesson relating that book to the content we are discussing that week. I try to find material that is focused on that skill in the first place so it makes it easier to discuss all around.

With my notes, I type these into a story. I usually download Ed Helper’s version then adapt them as I need. Sometimes they are written on a 6th grade level and the students need a 4th, so I find places where I can cut down words or make the vocabulary easier. If I can’t simplify the vocabulary, I type in my own sentences that help to explain the word. Example:

Original Sentence: A catalyst often occurs that sets the conflict into motion.
What do I see wrong with this sentence? Catalyst is a hard word. Students will see that and immediately check out during their reading. “Sets into motion” is nothing a phrase that low readers often see or use.
Adapted Sentence: A catalyst (CAT-UH-LIST) happens in a story to help us learn about the conflict. A catalyst is an event that gets the conflict started or “sets it in motion” (think of someone pushing a ball down a hill. Their push is the catalyst).

Once we have read the notes, depending on their length, I have another reading out and ready to go. I read this to the students because by the time they are done with their notes they are usually mentally exhausted. Once I’ve read the read (usually a short 1-3 paragraphs), we discuss what I read in relation to their notes.

Today, we didn’t have time to read another story. Instead, I left blank space in the bottom of their notes and had students draw a plot diagram with the help of me on the overhead and my 2 instructional aides floating around. We labeled all of the relevant vocabulary on the plot diagram as well.

That’s all for today!

-Miss Wyoming


Story Elements–Setting

I think I win the award for worst blogger ever! Haha Oh well! I am currently in over my head again (though not nearly as bad as with cheerleading last year). I was appointed Technology Committee Chairman in a school year when we have brand new Chromebooks for students to use. My principal is advocating “use them differently than a regular computer” but in actuality—you can’t. I think my school thinks technology is going to change the face of education forever, but in reality, the kids are already using these things on a daily basis. We are just bringing them more.


We are currently in a unit on Short Story Elements. This is a long unit. I want it to take a good while (hopefully well into October) because I am focusing on key reading and writing skills on top of learning the parts of a short story. My focus is…..

Content: Short Story Elements (Character, Setting, Conflict, Plot, and Theme)

Writing: Composing in complete sentences, Composing on the computer, Revising on the computer, Writing using evidence from the text

Skill: Inferring and Concluding


I will post on character later, because I have a ton of fun resources for that. We are working on setting. Their notes include the definition of setting, how the author includes or shows you the setting, the impact setting can have on a story, and mood/atmosphere.

Day 1….We took a lot of notes and talked about those notes. I also introduced setting by showing them 6 pictures and having them guess where the picture was taken, when it was taken, and one word to describe the feeling they got when they looked at those pictures. They ranged from a run down mental hospital to the Jetsons to people playing the rain. I wanted to quickly expose them to a lot of “feelings”. This helped the ideas be fresh when we talked about mood.

Day 2….Student place “stickies” in their book when the author describes setting or the students can infer mood. We talk about these stickies as a class.

Day 3/4…Students use computer to make a Facebook page I designed for their character. This focuses on our last sub-unit of Characters/Characterization and our new sub-unit of Setting. They had to write status updates that focused on their character’s dynamicness (new word I just invented), about their setting, about their conflict (a little intro to this), and had to find cover photos of their setting. This made them think of places they could “connect” it to in their actual life.

Day 5….Warm-Up on Inferring Mood from teacher.depaul.edu (great resource if you have never used it before!) where students have to highlight their evidence they used to make an inference. We will then talk about and check the passage. After that, I am showing them  4 short video clips. In the first two, they have to infer setting. In the second two, they have to infer mood. I also give them a worksheet where they write their inference and then their evidence.

Day 6….They are doing a personal book application to show where they infer mood. In this,I make them write a focus sentence to introduce their book and the mood of that particular scene. They then have to give me background information on the mood of their story, a quote from the text to support it, an analysis of that quote, and a return to their focus statement. They hate doing this because thy don’t like to read directions, but it’s helpful for me to see who gets it and who doesn’t.

After that, they are going to do some whole class activities and take  a quiz being moving onto conflict.

Here are some of the anchor charts I have up in my room right now…Displaying photo.JPGDisplaying photo.JPG


Below are also the links to the videos I used for our video lesson. I like to do this to give them videos to watch so they can relate the skills to another media.

http://safeshare.tv/w/zjndrQyjuE (Titanic–Infer Setting: Early 1900’s and Loading Dock for the Ship. Evidence is the clothes, the cars, the ship right next to them, and the things they talk about)

http://safeshare.tv/w/TWXAAoiLwf (Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters–Infer Setting: In a cave in a magical realm in present day. Evidence: Cyclops, Looks like a Cave, Cell Phone and “Going Viral”)

http://safeshare.tv/w/iMEDqocQVl (Because of Winn Dixie–Infer Mood: Sad, Opal talks about being sad)

http://safeshare.tv/w/hHQbrpiidR (Twilight: Eclipse–Infer Mood: Serious, Confident, Important. Evidence: They are fighting and receiving instruction. Everyone is serious and doesn’t laugh. They hop right into the fight.)



Have a fabulous Tuesday!


–Miss Wyoming (:



Just Right Books

This year, I have really been pushing the students to read on their own. The traditional model of English class is to read class novels, use the text book, and stay very structured. I am fortunate enough to be at a school where this is not the model. My school models reading as an independent, unique practice.  We use two things to ensure the kids are making progress in their reading: 1) independent novels and 2) reading conferences.

I have had HUGE success with reading conferences. It’s a way to personally find out what the kids are reading, who knows how to self-select books, who needs help, and who is reading books out of level. With three of my classes, most kids are able to self select books within their reading level. I have a few kids in my low level class that just do not understand how to self-select their books. We have tried to work with them. I tell them “Pick a book, if it’s not right, I pick the next one.” These kids usually have been picking for the cover of the book and have no idea what the actual content is about. For some reason, the kids keep picking this book called “The Book” and no one can get into it. That being said, it has a bleeding crow on the cover and is very “minimal”. I think it attracts the non-readers.

Some resources I have used to build up my knowledge of mini-lessons and just right books are ‘The Nerdy Book Club” blog and The Book Whisperer by Donalynn Miller . She actually recommended Nerdy Book Club to me, but whatever (: I have used this site to build knowledge of popular books and ideas for “book talking” them. Another great website for book talks is http://www.nancykeane.com The book talks on this site are ENDLESS. Some are written by critics and professionals, some are written by students. It’s a great way for me to helps students select novels for themselves that are within their realm of taste.

Have I had success with this model? Between read all-days, mini-lessons, and discussion, I have had great success. Some of my readers that were reading at a 7th grade level are now reading at an 11th grade or higher. Some of my lowest kids are actually excited about reading books, even if their reading level hasn’t increased dramatically. I have had a ton of book recommendations made for me, and students are even discussing books in class and recommending them to each other. A few of my students have already read 30+ books this year and it’s just past second semester. It’s really exciting to see this model is actually workable!!

Below is a free PDF of my Just Right Books poster. This is the model I use with students when they are self-selecting their books. My main emphasis is that they can discuss their books in a conference with me. I will post more about that later, and also take you into my classroom library that I have quickly developed this year!! Please comment with any questions or ideas!!

JRB poster

Just Right Books Poster  (click here to download the PDF-uneditable)


–Miss Wyoming