Our Trees Book Has Many Branches!

The New Year often means new plans.

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In preparation for a new start, Michelle, a home educator, asked me this question:

“I have Annotating Literary Elements and Trees in the Forest. Should I work on both at the same time or try one activity from one book and then the other?”

This request arrived just in time for the first anniversary of Trees in the Forest: Growing Readers and Writers through Deep Comprehension. It has been a fantastic year, with great sales, allowing us to reduce the price going forward. Thank you to everyone who has supported our launch as Rooted in Language. Thanks to you, we are able to share even more great teaching strategies and tools in the coming year!

To answer the question, I have to recap our production, a bit. So bear with me, as it answers the question in full.

When I wrote Trees in the Forest with Tracy Molitors, I wanted to present an overview of why deep comprehension matters, and include a few of my favorite ideas or strategies for helping kids improve this skill. The book was not meant to be all–encompassing; rather, it was meant to share some great tools to inspire learning.

During the book launch, we began to help others expand on the book’s ideas, leading to the publication of Explore-a-Story. Explore-a-Story provides direct insight into how to use one of the book’s methods.

We were unable to delve into the concept of annotation within the book, being aware that this complex and important idea would require its own exploration.  We originally developed Bookmarks, our tool to aid in annotation, but even that required more instruction. We needed to provide direct lessons, geared to both the independent student or the educator of younger students. So we created a multi-lesson approach to annotation called Annotating Literary Elements.

Now all these together combine to make a comprehensive approach to teaching deep reading! This leads us back to Michelle’s question: What order to teach?

Here is our recommendations on how to order our resources and use them to full effect:

  1. The educator begins reading Trees in the Forest through the First Tree (the first activity). Try the exercise for yourself, but don’t yet teach it to kids.

  2. Teach the Second Tree to your students of any age, and do the activity together. Fully engage in conversation, discussing what it means to “converse with a story,” and how one’s own internal conversation changes the story. This exercise can be repeated with other picture books throughout the year, or each year.

  3. Teach the Third Tree, using Explore-a-Story to support writing about characters. This is a Write-Draw-Think activity, so it is a multi-sensory way to explore character. Discussions on the character’s conflict and possible story themes should occur as a result. Use this exercise now and again throughout the year.

  4. Engage in the Fourth Tree with your students, sharing your writing as a form of poetry. Discuss the writer’s word choice and how chosen phrases came together to create a complete picture. Repeat as often as desired.

  5. Listen to our Podcast on Blart: A Little Blob of Art, and then do the Sixth Tree together. Notice how the exercise helps kids elaborate on ideas, as well as discovering theme. Discuss how writers use story to comment on the human experience. Use this method of writing throughout the year on various genres, including movies, poems, short stories, and novels. Use this method to help older writers develop a thesis and write introductory and conclusion paragraphs in literary analysis papers.

  6. Listen to our Podcast on Annotating Literary Elements (ALE), and then teach Lesson One. Do not be afraid to spend many months on this lesson, using various pieces of literature. Always engage in this exercise for any literature that will be analyzed in a formal paper. The bits and pieces of writing in this exercise are important warm-ups for both discussion and writing.

  7. Teach Lesson Two from ALE. Be sure to revisit this lesson when discussing or analyzing poetry or lyrical prose in the future. Use the vocabulary of Musical Elements when discussing songs, as well.

  8. Teach Lesson Three from ALE. You will notice that the exercise in this lesson is the same as the Fifth Tree in the Trees in the Forest book. You are coming full circle in teaching using our materials and ideas. Be sure to discuss how the writer uses images and figurative language to enhance a passage. Revisit the “Colors of the Canopy” lesson in the future, using copywork passages or poetry.

  9. Teach Lesson Four from ALE. Take your time. You are putting together many ideas, so it is better to go slowly. This will need to be practiced more than once, so we have also provided a follow-up lesson called Annotation Bookmarks Extension Activity. This will give your students an opportunity to absorb all of the information while applying their knowledge to a ballad poem.

  10. If you have younger children, you can teach them how to track literary elements using our strategy called Fishing for Meaning, rather than using the more advanced Bookmarks. Fishing for Meaning is a great strategy we use to help kids uncover and write what is hidden within the depths of a story. You may choose to use a different short story or a current novel for this exercise.

  11. Finally, read the Seventh Tree and have your children try the exercise from the First Tree. By now they have gained the tools to analyze text, and they have learned how to capture their thoughts in Bits and Pieces of writing.

Once you have worked through all of our strategies for improving comprehension, analyzing literature, and stimulating analytical writing, you can continue these strategies for years to come. As always, we teach our strategies using more simple text, but we help kids apply those strategies to more advanced literature as they mature. And don’t forget, analyzing poetry, videos, movies, commercials, magazine articles, short stories and non-fiction is all a part of creating a comprehensive language arts program, and helping kids learn how to learn!

Rita Cevasco