author's craft

Author’s Craft, Background, and Vocabulary

rsbsadmin 4.3 Streams to the River, River to the sea, Janet Erickson Leave a Comment

Things are happening in Room 211!  I’m excited to share a few recent experiences with you – and they all have to do with THINKING, which is my very favorite thing to see my students doing! Streams to the River, River to the Sea has offered great experiences in close reading and deep thinking.  Here are a few highlights:

Author’s Craft

I have to say that the lesson for Day 24, on author’s craft, is my favorite lesson of the year so far!  It’s the lesson where we read Maya Angelou’s poem and considered the symbolism in both the poem “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and Scott O’Dell’s writing about the arrival of Lewis and Clark. Maybe due to the increasing quality of the students’ turn and talks, or maybe the stars were just aligned, but whatever the reason, I was floored by the depth of thinking this lesson drew from the kids.  The use of a bird to symbolize freedom, the deep connection that kids have made with Sacajawea, and the powerful voice of Maya Angelou’s imagery led to an amazingly thoughtful discussion about symbolism as an element of author’s craft.  At the end of the lesson we did the stretch it activity where kids shared whether the poem left them feeling hopeful or hopeless.  My students shared their feelings with one another in respectful and encouraging ways.  Knowing the story of some of my kids, it was a really powerful conversation.

(Free tip of the month: has a large selection of nonfiction passages with related comprehension questions, and there is one on Maya Angelou that explains a little about her background and how writing helped her overcome hardships).

Building Background Knowledge

Recently, in a turn and talk that asked students to make a prediction using evidence from the text, one student said, “Remember when we were building our background knowledge? Based on my background knowledge I predict that…”  I love that students are acknowledging the importance of accessing prior knowledge and building background before reading a complex text.  Her comment led to a conversation about an interest in re-viewing the Lewis and Clark DVD.  I had the same thing come up last year at about this point in the book.  It tells me that the students understand the importance of using all the tools at their disposal to really understand a story.


I have finally found a way to post the vocabulary word charts in my room-with-limited-wall-space!  It’s made a big difference in the use of these important words/themes/ideas in our discussions.  It’s also helped kids use the words in their own writing and to make connections with books they are reading on their own.  I’m happy that this resource is supporting vocabulary development for my students.  I think it’s an important part of the CIA approach to teaching reading.

Finally, I am happy to report that my students’ scores on the DRA test last month showed remarkable growth (a year or more for all the kids in my below-grade-level group!), and I had done no “pre-teaching” on how to do well on the test.  I was especially happy to see the strength of answers to those tricky questions, like explaining how a character changed from the beginning to the end of the story or identifying the most important event/fact.  The carry-over from working on these concepts in Read Aloud was super encouraging!  And lots of kids used the format of a synthesis summary on their own, beginning with the title and author, using transition words to retell important events, and ending with the author’s message.  I was really proud of the progress my kids made, and I know they’ve developed these skills as a result of the close reading, modeling, and sharing of ideas together.

Written by Janet Erickson — 4th Grade Teacher

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