Friday, January 22, 2016

Thinking Deeply About WONDER


Do you use task cards in your classroom? I started using them a few years ago, and I feel that they have really enhanced my instruction. I love the versatility of this teaching tool. Task cards can be used in so many ways. Until recently, I had only used task cards for skill instruction. Then I came across these task cards by Rachel Lynette for the book Wonder. Am I the last teacher on the planet to discover task cards for novel study? 

Let me just say that the book Wonder, by P.J. Palacio has quickly become one of my favorite books to read aloud to students.  This book has amazing characterization and a theme that moves you. My students actually show feelings towards the characters in this book, as if they were friends. 

With the increasing rigor of comprehension questions on state mandated tests, this year I knew that I needed to dig a little deeper. Instead of skimming the surface of this novel, I wanted my students to practice critical thinking skills. I wanted them to become actively engaged in the read aloud. These Wonder Question Cards were exactly what I needed to take things up a notch. 

My class enjoyed using them in three ways.


First, I used the carousel strategy to promote movement and active discussion. For this lesson, I stapled some of my favorite question cards to chart paper and hung them around the room. I carefully divided my class into groups of three and had them rotate around the room to the various stations. At each station, one group member would read the question aloud. Then they would reflect on the question and share ideas within the group before constructing a response to write on the chart paper. A special signal was used for students to rotate every 2-3 minutes. I assigned a different color marker for each group to record their responses. As the groups traveled around the room in a carousel, they had an opportunity to read the previous responses from classmates and then add their own ideas.


I was giddy with excitement over the conversations that were unfolding as a result of these question cards. Honestly, I have never seen my students so passionate about their answers to comprehension questions.


The second way I used the Wonder question cards is with a method I call "scatter". During this lesson, I placed laminated cards around the room at various desks and tables. With notebook and pencil in hand, the students scattered around the room to the various stations, on cue. No more than three students were allowed at each station, and the groups had to reshuffle each time, requiring them to interact with a variety of peers. This time, each student recorded his or her own response for each question after a short group discussion. This activity was fast-paced and lively, but the chatter was on task and meaningful. Third graders know a lot more about the world than you might think they do.


I really like the way these cards promote writing. Thanks to an incredible novel and some well-crafted questions, my students were so excited to write that it didn't feel like a chore!


Lastly, I projected the question cards on my Smart Board using a document camera. This time, we read each question together as a group, but the students wrote their own personal response on a dry erase board without any discussion beforehand. I asked them to hold up their board to signal a completed answer. Then, when all were finished, volunteers read their responses aloud to the class.


These kids were so eager to record their thoughts on the white boards. You could have heard a pin drop in my classroom and that doesn't happen often. This was serious business and let me tell you that the answers were DEEP. Some of the kids made connections that had not even occurred to me! One of the questions even stirred up a good, healthy debate.


So, I made a little storage envelope for my new question cards, as I know that I will be using them for many years to come. Click here if you want to find out about that nifty task card storage container. :-)

If you have not yet read the book Wonder, I encourage you to move it right up to the top of your list. It is truly a WONDERful novel for kids and adults alike. If you decide to read this book to third graders like I did, there will be some words and phrases you may want to omit due to maturity level. It is definitely necessary to read the book to yourself before reading it aloud to students. That way you can modify as needed.

I highly recommend Rachel Lynette's Wonder Question Cards as an accompaniment to the novel at any grade level. They will surely add depth and complexity to your lessons! 

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