elementary teachers

The Importance of Feedback

We all need people who will give us feedback.

That's how we improve.

- Bill Gates

 

Many of us make New Year’s Resolutions in January.  By February, some of those resolutions are beginning to wane. The difference between keeping and forgetting a resolution can often be traced to the amount of feedback we receive on our goal.  Whether it be the number on the scale, a count of books read, or the steps taken on our fitness app, timely and meaningful feedback helps all of us stay on track.

Writing and speaking in complete sentences is a classroom expectation.  Including a reason or detail within that sentence is part of our daily routine.  Imagine my chagrin when a student once asked me if that rule included me. Was I expected to write in complete sentences when I commented on their work, including a reason to justify my comment?

Not soon after, I received an appreciation note from a parent. The parent expressed specific examples of why their student enjoyed being part of our classroom community. The note meant so much more than a card that stated I was the world’s greatest teacher!

In the same way, our students need and deserve specific and timely feedback from us in order to grow. An article in a 2014 issue of Edutopia lists 5 Research-Based Tips for providing students meaningful feedback.  (edutopia.org/blog/tips-providing-students-meaningful-feedback-marianne-stenger)

1. Feedback should be Specific—A star or “Good Job” on a paper does not tell a student what they have done well. Instead of “Nice Writing” on a paragraph, point out a specific strength. “You placed a transition word in every big idea sentence. These words help the reader understand your reasons in this paragraph.”

Providing students a skill to focus on and improve in their next piece of writing is also important. For example: “You did a great job writing complete sentences. Many of your sentences start with the word “I”.  Let’s work to have a variety of sentence starters in your writing next time.”

2. Feedback should be Immediate—The more immediate the feedback, the more powerful it is for student learning. Look for ways to streamline your grading process. Think about grading writing as students complete each portion of the writing process. For example, provide feedback on topic sentences as students complete them.  “This topic sentence clearly explains what the paragraph is about. I understand your topic!”

3. Feedback should reflect a student’s progress towards a Goal—Perhaps a student is working on editing their writing, including correct punctuation and capitalization in sentences. Comment on a student’s progress towards that goal.  “Wow, I can see that you worked diligently to put a punctuation mark at the end of every sentence.”

4. Feedback should be given Gently—Know your students. Feedback must be given knowing the receiver.  Choose words you would appreciate receiving if someone was giving you feedback.

5. Feedback should involve the Student– Students should be involved in choosing what is assessed. This may be as simple as asking students what writing they would like you to assess. “What would you like me to look at in this piece of writing?  We’ve been revising sentences. Put a check next to the revised sentence on which you would like me to comment.”

Feedback is essential for everyone. The growth you will see in your students is well worth the effort!

         

Opinion Writing - More than just "Favorites"

“You have been given the opportunity to choose two after-school activities per week.  Think about what you would enjoy doing during this time. Write an essay explaining what two activities you would choose.  Include reasons which support your choices.”

We begin to teach students the writing process through the genre of opinion writing, using prompts such as the one above. Through the use of opinion writing, students learn the writing process – gathering ideas, planning, and writing a rough draft.  Prompts which focus on opinion writing provide students the advantage of knowing the topic. They do not need to gather information about the content of their writing, as opinion writing can focus on personal preferences or favorites. 

However, we do not want to stay with these limited topics.  Opinion writing is so much more than simply writing about a favorite restaurant or TV show.  How can we expand this writing genre to include both curricular areas and responding to texts?

One suggestion is to consider curricular areas. What is happening in the classroom that can be expanded to writing?  Here are some examples:

After a unit on Space:

You have been invited to participate in a two-year space mission. During that time, you will travel throughout space without returning to earth.  Write an essay explaining whether or not you would choose to take part in the mission.  Include three reasons why you would accept the position or three reasons why you would decline the invitation.

Or. . .

After completing our unit on space, think about what you have learned about each planet. Choose the planet you find most interesting and write a letter to a friend describing what they would see if they were to visit this planet. Make sure you use evidence from the texts to support your response.

After a field trip:

The Third Grade just completed our first field trip to the City Council as part of our unit on local government. Would you recommend that next year’s teachers take their students on the same field trip?  Write an essay which explains your thoughts on the field trip. Include two reasons why you think the trip is valuable or two reasons why you would not recommend repeating the trip.

After a read-aloud:

Our first read-aloud this year was because of mr. terupt.  I am deciding whether or not to begin next year reading the same novel aloud.  Do you think this is a good choice to begin the year?  Write an essay explaining whether or not you believe this is a good selection for next year.  Include two reasons to support your opinion.

As a classroom community:

As 6th graders, the freedoms and choices you have at school are increasing.  Write an essay explaining to your teacher two choices you would like to be able to make in your classroom.  Be sure to give reasons to support your choices.

Primary Classrooms

Although many primary students are not yet planning, teachers can still introduce the concept of prompts and planning to young students.  As you experience concepts with students, be thinking of ways to introduce students to planning. Create a chart with students, listing the topic and big ideas on the left side. Fill the t-chart in together, adding details to the right side of the chart.

Student Community

We have been working and learning all semester.  We will celebrate our accomplishments with a party.  Think about activities you enjoy participating in at a party.  What three activities do you believe we should definitely include at our celebration?

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Social Studies

We have been learning about people who help our community.  We can invite one community helper to visit our classroom.  Using the information we have learned, think about whether you would like to learn more about firefighters or police officers.  Together, we will make two t-charts.  The first chart will list three reasons you would like to invite a firefighter to visit our classroom and the second chart will list three reasons you would like to invite a police officer.

Science

 We have been learning about three different habitats: the ocean, the jungle, and the desert.  As a table group, choose one habitat you would like to visit.  Using what you have learned, think of reasons why this habitat is unique and interesting. Together we will make a chart organizing reasons why people might travel to each habitat.

Or . . .

We have been learning about habitats.  We have just completed a book on jaguars.  Using what you have learned, which habitat do you believe would be the best place for a jaguar to live?  Give reasons to support your answer.

Applying Opinion Writing To Responding to Text

Students are now ready to write an opinion paragraph in response to text.  The skills needed to write the paragraph are the same, but students will need instruction on using those skills in forming an opinion in response to text.

1.)     Choose a topic which relates to either content area curriculum or a shared classroom experience. Write a prompt which clearly addresses the topic and format you want students to use.

A class of third graders was ready to write an opinion paragraph in response to text.  They had been studying local government in Social Studies and taking care of the earth in Science. The teacher combined these two curricular areas with the following prompt:

Read the article on recycling. Write an opinion paragraph stating whether or not you think recycling should be mandatory in our city.  Be sure to include three reasons that support your opinion using information from the text.

2.)    Choose a text which is easily accessible to the majority of your class.

Provide students with text which is easy to comprehend. The focus for this lesson should be learning how to respond to text, not how to read a difficult text.

3.)     Teach note-taking skills 

Instruct students in specific note-taking skills. If students are being asked to respond to a text, they need strategies for locating the required information. 

4.)     Model planning with students

Students need to know that the skills they learned and used for writing an opinion paragraph are the same skills they use to write an opinion paragraph in response to text.  Their opinion will be based on the information they have read in the text.  The teacher will model taking the information found in the text and placing it in a t-chart plan. 


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5.)    Go slow to go fast

As you write the first paragraph together as a class, encourage students to share their writing as they complete each step of the writing process. This helps ensure the students are on the correct path.


Opinion writing can be so much more than writing about “favorites.”  Continually look for opportunities to encourage students to express their opinions in writing.

We love to talk writing with teachers.  Please let us know if we can be of service to you in any way.

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” - William Wordsworth

Be sure to read the lesson adaptation for the Primary Classroom at the end of this blog!

Over the past two years, our district has put an emphasis on helping teachers and students focus on their emotional health in addition to their intellectual growth.  Much time and energy has been spent on helping both educators and students recognize and name their emotions.  At the same time, teachers and students are learning how to successfully manage these emotions.

Many students find writing to be a positive tool for recognizing and acknowledging their emotions. Planning specific lessons which provide students an opportunity to reflect on their emotions is a powerful experience for all.

With this in mind, we began the year with the poem ”Keep a Poem in Your Pocket”  by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers. http://home.nyc.gov/html/misc/html/poem/poem1b.html  This classic poem describes a child keeping a poem and a picture in their pocket to help them when they are feeling lonely at night when they are in bed. After reading the poem, students made an origami pocket and described a significant object they would keep in the pocket.  The writing provided students a safe place to express their feelings and share something personally important to them.  origami.lovetoknow.com/about-origami/how-make-paper-pocket

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As our school year came to a close, we visited the theme of things that have personal importance to us again.  The focus this time was a Special Place.  We began with reading picture books on special places, including All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan www.amazon.com/All-Places-Love-Patricia-MacLachlan/dp/0060210982 , Owl Moon by Jane Yolen www.amazon.com/Owl-Moon-Jane-Yolen/dp/0399214577 , Peek-a-Boo by Allan Ahlberg www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=peek-a-book+book+by+ahlberg&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Apeek-a-book+book+by+ahlberg and Up North At the Cabin by Marsha Wilson Chall www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=up+north+at+the+cabin+by+marsha+wilson+chall&sprefix=up+north+%2Cstripbooks%2C186&crid=109CNK231UQDH&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Aup+north+at+the+cabin+by+marsha+wilson+chall

Each of these authors focus on special everyday places, using vivid details and descriptive word choices to help the reader experience the importance the place has for the characters. 

To begin, students brainstormed places which were significant to them.  After a minute of brainstorming, students chose one place from their list.  To better focus their writing, the chosen places needed to be specific.  For example, California is a broad place, but the beach is a more specific place. I encouraged the students to think about an everyday location, although they could make any choice they wanted.

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Next, students brainstormed activities they did in this place. By focusing on what they did at their place, the students’ writing became more than a list of locations.  After brainstorming this list, they chose three activities that would be interesting to the reader. 

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As we had read the mentor texts, we had noted the authors’ uses of figurative language. Students spent time collecting ideas of figurative language they could include in their writing.  In Up North at the Cabin, Marcia Chall uses metaphors as she describes her cabin activities, which the students had especially enjoyed. 

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Feeling confident, the students eagerly began their writing. Their writing was truly a breathing of the heart.  One student wrote about the time she spent at the hospital while her mother received a treatment they hoped would save her life. 

At the hospital, I count the familiar squares in the ceiling. I look around at the room, watching the medicine drip into my mother’s arm, hoping it will be the cure she needs. As the hours stretch on, I wander down the hall to the vending machine, staring through its windows for a treat.

One child had lost her grandmother in the fall and remembered visiting her house.

At grandmother’s house, I am an explorer, discovering new places and finding interesting old objects. As I walk through the familiar rooms, I think back to where these items are from. Looking at the dusty pictures, I travel back in time remembering past vacations with Grandma. As I go outside, I climb up the crumbling rockwall.  I spend a moment not worrying about anything, just being a kid.

Happy times at a grandparent’s house was a familiar theme.

At my grandparents’ house, I am a detective searching for clues of sea life. Putting on my snorkeling gear, I am submerged in the great blue sea.  Slowly moving my arms and flippers, I move through the water, gazing at the ocean floor.  A school of fish suddenly surrounds me like ants on an ant hill.

This writing was a learning experience for both my students and myself.  As students reflected on places that were significant in their lives, their writing helped me learn more about them.  All of us were reminded that writing provides both the author and the reader an opportunity to connect on new levels. As I plan writing engagements for the next school year I will continue to look for ways that my students and I can use writing as a way to connect emotionally, helping us both recognize and manage our emotions.

 Lesson Adaptation for Primary Students

The lesson can be adapted for primary students.  First, ask students what everyday places are special or important to them.  Where are some places they like to go?  Gather their ideas on chart paper. As students share ideas, encourage them to be specific in their places.

Read the book All the Places to Love aloud to the class.  As you read the book, collect the places that were special to the boy and his family.  Point out the phrase “Where else can . . . “ that is repeated after each place.  What is meant by these words?  Why might the author have used this phrase?

Return to the collection of special places.  Students will brainstorm activities they do in each of these places.  What do they enjoy doing at the park or at the library?  List these activities next to the places.

Provide students drawing / writing paper.  Using the chart as a reference, students can choose a favorite place. On the top of the paper, students will draw the place they have chosen. Provide time for students to include details in their drawings.

Students will now write about their favorite place. For example:  One of my favorite places is the arcade.  After they have identified their place, students will complete the sentence stem: Where else can   . . .   For example:   One of my favorite places is the arcade.  Where else can you play games for just a nickel?  Where else can you find games for the whole family?

Students can create a book about their favorite places.

 

 

 

Informational Writing, Text Structures and Prompts

We have been transitioning from writing opinion to writing informative paragraphs.  As we began our study of informational writing, it was a natural time to review the different types of text structures. A text structure is how the author chooses to organize the information in his/her writing. To help us better understand each text structure, we created the following chart as a class.  We filled in the first three columns together. We listed the text structure, wrote a definition and then recorded signal words which would help us identify each text structure as we found it in text. The last column was left blank for future use.

Chart 1.jpg

While reading informational text, we practiced identifying the text structure used by the author. Highlighting clue words and justifying our choice of structure helped solidify our learning.

I now wanted students to stretch their thinking and practice writing informative text in a specific structure.  To begin this process, we needed to identify what structure was being asked for in a prompt. The students were ready for the next step; reading a prompt and determining the text structure they would need to use in response.

We returned to our chart. As we had been exploring trappers and traders in Social Studies, I chose that as the topic of the prompts the students would sort. To focus on the text structure required, I provided the students with five separate prompts. They now titled the final column in their chart Prompts.

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After reading each prompt, the students placed the prompt in the appropriate section on the chart. Students discussed their choices with partners, justifying their decision of which text structure to choose. When students reached an agreement, they glued the prompt in the appropriate row. 

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The time spent on the chart proved invaluable.  We were ready for the next step – making plans and writing topic sentences!

The time spent on the chart proved invaluable.  We were ready for the next step – making plans and writing topic sentences!

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E.L. Doctorow

For the first few weeks of school, we have been concentrating on the components of opinion paragraphs.  My students have learned to gather and categorize ideas, organize plans and write opinion paragraphs which included all the essential parts.  Now that students understood how to effectively write about their opinion, it was time to take the next step: writing opinion paragraphs in response to text.

I wanted the content to be accessible and engaging for all the students. To facilitate that goal, I decided to have students read about a topic which they would easily grasp – choosing a local attraction to take guests to visit.  We began with the following prompt:

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

You have friends travelling to Colorado Springs on vacation. You are responsible for choosing one place to take your friends to show them the sights. To help make your decision, you will choose and research an attraction in Colorado Springs to visit. After making your choice, write an opinion essay explaining the attraction you have chosen to visit. You must include three reasons why this attraction is the best location to take your friends.

The focus of this learning engagement was for students to write in response to text. With that in mind, I chose two websites for the students to use as research. The websites contained information about the local attractions using words and pictures. We discussed possible factors we might use when choosing a place to visit. Suggestions such as price, discounts, activities, food options, uniqueness to the area and being family friendly were all given.

Students were assigned the websites through their google classroom accounts. After previewing the possible choices, we selected five attractions to focus on as a class. Students then selected the attraction in which they were most interested and researched the appropriate site. Wanting the information to be accessible to all students regardless of reading ability, I wanted students to share the information they had learned. I provided students chart paper labeled with each attraction. As a group, students discussed and recorded the information they had found concerning each place to visit.

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On the following day, students were asked to create their individual writing plans. Reviewing the prompt, we remembered that our writing required three big ideas. Using the chart paper, students looked for similar ideas to classify together. As they had spent time gathering and discussing ideas, the planning came easily.

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With completed plans in hand, the students eagerly began to write. Many chose to begin their paragraphs with an “Although” topic sentence, acknowledging that other activity choices would also be enjoyable. They easily incorporated information they had learned from the text, the goal of the lesson.

The students’ engagement with their writing made it an appropriate piece to take all the way through publishing. With green and red pencils in hand, students edited their work, tracing all punctuation in red and all capitals in green. They typed their finished product, adding an image of the attraction to provide the reader with additional information.

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The transition to opinion writing based on text had gone seamlessly as we had the needed writing skills in place from previous lessons. The students had been interested in the topic, engaged in the research, and excited to edit their work and share it with each other!  We had definitely been exploring and learning.

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Would You Do It Again?

We just returned from a “bucket list” trip to China!  Our days were packed with sight-seeing, people-watching and eating new foods.  As we returned home and began to share our stories, we were asked two questions:

“What was your favorite part of the trip?”

“Would you do it again?”

First, our favorite parts.  Many of our favorite moments were the planned experiences.  Walking a section of the Great Wall without any other tourists was a highlight.  Visiting the Terra Cotta warriors and considering the ego of a leader who had them built so people would remember him was overwhelming.  Looking at the shattered pieces and realizing the patience needed to recreate these statues was humbling!  These experiences had been planned far in advance and lived up to our expectations.  There were also some spontaneous favorite moments.  Meeting a young local girl in line at Shanghai Disney and trying to communicate about Elsa from Frozen was an unplanned delight. Getting lost on a rainy night in Shanghai while searching for the second tallest building in the world is another unplanned, and now favorite, memory.

 

Would we do it again?  While we will choose other places in the world to visit before returning to China, I would certainly encourage others to take the trip!  I would also have ideas on “must see and do” places and experiences for those thinking of visiting China.

As the new school year creeps closer, I find myself reflecting on these same questions as I look back on the past school year. Having been away from school for a month helps me put the past year in better perspective.  I’ve been making a list of “favorite learning engagements” from last year and answering the question: Would you do it again?

Here’s a portion of my “things to do again next year” list . . .

·       Implement Writer’s Notebooks – a definite do again!  These notebooks are an invaluable organizational tool for both my students and me.  This year I plan to add an Anchor Chart section, where students can keep individual anchor charts for easy access after we have completed them together.

·       Expand Student Vocabulary, with a tweak – We have been collecting new vocabulary words in our Writer’s Notebooks, but I’m not sure that system is working as well as I had hoped.  The students have simply written the words as they found them, resulting in a disorganized list. Next year we are going to organize the words by topic.  For example, all the movement words will be collected together. We are also going to study words by word origin or roots, looking for commonalities. 

·       Focus on Academic Vocabulary – Next year I will continue to embed more academic vocabulary into student directions and writing prompts. The goal is for students to become used to deciphering and understanding directions prior to beginning a task. For this to be effective, my students will require explicit vocabulary instruction.  A great resource for teaching academic vocabulary is Teaching Academic Vocabulary K – 8: Effective Practices Across the Curriculum, by Blachowicz, Fisher, Ogle and Taff.    www.amazon.com/Teaching-Academic-Vocabulary-K-8-Curriculum/dp/1462510299

·       Read aloud every day – This is my favorite time of day with my students. In our high-tech days, it is so important to expose children to the joy of listening to an engaging book read aloud.

·       Look for areas to encourage student choice – Last year students loved choices, from where they sit to how they present their learning. Although I do not have the newest flexible seating furniture in my classrooms, I allow students the freedom to work in the area that is best for them. Instead of telling them that every assignment must be completed the same way, I’ve learned to present the students an expectation or rubric for an assignment and then allow them to choose the presentation method. The increased engagement and enthusiasm has been exciting to watch! Last year, a student asked if she could type her narrative into google slides, putting each portion of her story on a separate page. This idea spread throughout our classroom and greatly increased the students’ understanding of parts of a narrative.  Click on this link for past blogs on teaching narratives. writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one

·       Follow the spontaneous learning moments – Just like the spontaneous moments that happen when we travel, I look forward to those spontaneous learning moments in the classroom. We never know what comment or thought may turn into a learning moment. We all spend time creating lessons and are eager to share them with our students. It can be difficult to put those aside and spontaneously follow a student question or inquiry.  Yet, these unexpected paths can often become our favorite moment of the year! 

We would love to hear from you!  What items are on your list?  What was your favorite part of last year and what are you looking forward to doing again? What goals are you making right now to improve your learning environment? 

A Successful Mistake

Sometimes we all need a different perspective!  We had been working with kindergartners on writing a narrative.  The students had drawn pictures prior to writing, illustrating the setting and 2 events that took place in that setting.  They had written about their time in the library, an event on the playground, and a special time with their families.

We now wanted to expand their writing to include a problem that the characters needed to solve.  Along with a problem to solve, I wanted to provide students an opportunity to add details to their writing.  I brought in sheets of paper cut in 4” by 18” strips for them to draw pictures onto to help plan their writing.  I folded the strips into four rectangles and we were ready to start.  Purely be accident, I taped the paper to the board vertically beside a piece of chart paper. With the paper hung vertically instead of horizontally, the order of the pictures matched the writing we would be doing on the paper.  We decided to try a different perspective on writing.

To model the process, I began writing a story about buying some apples in the grocery story. Before writing the story, I told the students we would sketch out the essential events.  The first box was for my setting. I quickly sketched a picture of me standing in front of a display of red, juicy apples.  This was where my story would take place.

The next box was for the problem.  As a group, we discussed the importance of the problem.  Just putting the apples into a bag and putting the bag into my grocery cart did not make a very exciting story.  What problem could I encounter?  In the second box I drew a picture of me placing apples in a plastic bag.  Unfortunately, there was a hole in the bottom of the bag and the apples were dropping out all over the floor.

The third picture was where we would sketch the solution. The very kind grocery store worker had come and helped me gather up all the apples I had spilled. I drew a picture showing this solution. The final box was designated for the conclusion. The story could not just abruptly end, but needed to show how the character reacted to the events.  What happened at the end of the story? How was the character feeling at the end of the story? In the final box of my paper, I sketched a picture of me happily leaving the store with a bag of apples in my hands.

Now that the story was planned, it was time to write.  Leaving the picture strip taped next to the chart paper, we began to write.  How could we start our story?  What is happening in the first box? Together we wrote:

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch.

 

We folded the first square behind the second square, so our second picture was now on top.  Students could easily see what we were writing about next.

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch. I opened a plastic bag to carry my apples.  I didn’t know there was a hole in the bottom.  As I put the apples in the bag, they all fell on the floor.

We repeated the process for the third picture, folding the first two pictures back. The third picture was now on top.

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch. I opened a plastic bag to carry my apples.  I didn’t know there was a hole in the bottom.  As I put the apples in the bag, they all fell on the floor. I was about to cry. A kind man who worked at the store came and helped me collect all my apples.

We are ready to conclude our story. We want to let our readers know how the characters are feeling at the end of the story. 

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch. I opened a plastic bag to carry my apples.  I didn’t know there was a hole in the bottom.  As I put the apples in the bag, they all fell on the floor. I was about to cry. A kind man who worked at the story came and helped me collect all my apples.  I paid for my apples and left the store feeling happy and ready for a snack.

The students were ready to write on their own, with some support.  To help guide their writing, we all chose the park for our original setting.  Students drew a picture of the park in the first box.  After brainstorming ideas, students drew a possible problem they might have in the park in the second box.  The third box was used for drawing the solution and the final box showed how the characters felts at the end of the story.

Although the students wrote independently, we followed the steps together. I was impressed how easily it was for them to fold the paper and write their story in order.  They were able to write a story with a setting, problem, solution and conclusion.  Accidentally hanging the paper incorrectly had been a successful mistake!

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Concrete Poetry

Don’t you love spontaneous teachable moments?  As a class, we were sharing spring poems and had read Bobbi Katz’s poem “Spring Is.” http://blog.lrei.org/ls-poetry-archive/spring-is-bobbi-katz/  The physical layout of the version we read made the reader feel as if they were running in their sneakers down the stairs.  As we discussed how the words’ placement impacted the poem’s meaning, my students began to look for other examples of poems written in a shape. It was the perfect time to change the direction I had planned for the morning and introduce the concept of concrete poetry.

A concrete, or shape poem is one whose meaning is told through both the words and its graphic shape on the page.  To begin our exploration, I simply googled “image of concrete poems for children.”  As the class viewed these images, students quickly ascertained that in a concrete poem a poet conveys his message in two ways, both through the text and through the shape in which he puts the words on paper.  

I wanted students to think about a topic for their own poetry before I showed them more examples. Each child was asked to think of a noun about which they were interested and had a lot of background knowledge. After writing their item at the top of the page, they were given three minutes to list attributes and/or what you might do with this object.  Once the attributes were gathered, students were asked to put these words into phrases.  We quickly reviewed similes and metaphors and looked for ways to add figurative language to the brainstormed list.  For example:  “spinning bike wheels” turned into:

My bike wheels were spinning in circles like planets orbiting the sun.

Wanting the students’ content to be just as significant as their drawing, I gathered some books with concrete poetry examples.  The three we used for examples were Technically, It’s Not My Fault by Grandits, Meow Ruff by Sidman and Outside The Lines by Burg and Gibbon.  All three authors write their concrete poems in unique ways.  As we read the poems, students identified different ways the poems were put together.  Some poems were written in the interior of a shape while in other poems the words were written so the words outlined the shape.

We were ready to write.  Two important decisions had to be made. Using their completed phrases, students first chose the format for their poetry.  Like the poems we had studied, some chose to write in phrases, some students wrote following a rhyming pattern and others used complete sentences.  The second decision was what shape would best convey the message. 

As I met with students, I was amazed by their creativity.  The room was abuzz with excitement and engagement as students matched their poetic words to a shape. As a class, we had spent an amazing morning learning and creating together.

 

 

 

We love to talk writing!  Please contact us at

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Let's Write A Story . . . Part 3

The past two blogs have focused on working with students on narrative writing.  www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one and  www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-2 Students are now ready to compose their events.  It is typical for young writers to simply list the events on their plan.  For example:  We built a fire to scare the bear, but he simply cuddles up next to it and took a nap.   Next we tried banging pots to scare him away, but he put his paws over his ears.  Instead of painting a picture for the reader, students put the events in the form of a list.

Prior to writing the events of a story, practice writing details through the use of wordless books.  A wordless book tells a story only using pictures.  The Red Sled, by Lita Judge, is a student favorite. www.barnesandnoble.com/w/red-sled-lita-judge/1100163318 Show students a single illustration from the book. Students will now write this portion of the story using words.  As a group brainstorm vocabulary that might be found in the book.  Only show one picture at a time, having students focus on writing 2-3 sentences which tell what is happening on that page.  Students love sharing their writings and this will encourage each other’s descriptive writing.

Returning to their own narratives, students now have practice including details when writing their events.  To help encourage detailed writing, students should write each event on a separate sheet of paper. This allows room to edit and expand the writing as needed.  Continually ask students to share their writing, listening to one another’s details and word choice.  Students will have 3 attempts to solve the story’s problem – two unsuccessful attempts and a final attempt that solves the problem.

The final solution and its success is not the end of the story.  A story does not merely end when the problem is solved.  The narrative requires a resolution – which requires two components.  The first component is a recounting of how the main character is feeling.  The second component is what the character has learned.  What did the characters take away from the bear experience? 

 

As they shared their writing with peers, the students were proud of their hard work and their focused, entertaining stories.  They were eager to write a second narrative.  They had accomplished what all writers desire – a story that was engaging for both the author and the reader.

 

We’d love to hear about your experiences writing narratives with students.  Please email us at darlene-and-terry@writenow-rightnow.com to share experiences or visit our website writenow-rightnow.com to read past blog posts and newsletters.

 

You can find complete lesson plans for writing narratives in the Write Now - Right Now Writing Curriculum.

Let's Write A Story . . . Part 2

In our last blog post, we planned our narratives and discovered different ways to begin a narrative. http://www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one It was now time to write the introductions to our narratives.  Returning to the original plan about a bear, I decided we would first practice writing an introduction which focused on the setting.  The setting includes items we might see, hear and feel. 

 To begin, I asked students to close their eyes and imagine elements they would see, hear and feel in the forest.  Together we listed these words or phrases on the board.  Examples were:  tall trees, leaves blowing in the wind, blue sky, puffy clouds, birds singing, a trail through the woods, crunching leaves, etc. Using these words, we first wrote a setting introduction together.  The students were then asked to write a Setting Introduction independently.

The next day, we returned to our chart listing ways to begin a narrative. This time, we decided to try beginning our narrative using a Dialogue Introduction.  (This also proved to be the perfect time to teach quotation marks.)  To help students refrain from the “Hi,” said the girl.  “Hi,” said the friend dialogue trap, students went back to their novels to find examples of engaging conversations between characters.   The students and I wrote a dialogue introduction together and then they completed their own introduction independently. 

Students had now written two compelling introductions for their fictional narrative. They were asked to choose the one they felt was the most interesting and put a star next to it.  With the introduction complete, they were now ready to continue writing their narratives.  We had moved beyond a basic introduction and had practiced adding the details necessary to hook our reader from the beginning.

Taking the time to plan their narratives and then write a compelling introduction gave students the confidence they needed to begin their writing.  They understood how to add details and were confident in their abilities to write a story.

 

We would love to hear about your experiences with narratives!

Happy writing,

Darlene and Terry

 

Please visit our website at writenow-rightnow.com to read past blog posts and newsletters.  

 

 

 

Step by Step, (or not giving in to “Get it done, Now!”)

Every class has its own personality.  This is both a joy and a challenge of teaching.  Organization and classroom management styles that work perfectly one year may prove ineffective the next year.  I have been reminded of this truth during the current school year.  To insure student engagement and success with this year’s students, I need to provide instruction which adds new skills in a heightened sequential manner.  Definite strategies are needed to help students deepen their critical thinking skills.

            For the past week, we have been studying the prehistoric people of Colorado.  My goal was for students to make the connection:  As prehistoric people moved from hunter/gatherers to farmers, they had time to build homes and improve their lives. I knew that this required higher level thinking skills and that students would need to follow specific steps in order to reach this understanding.

 

We began by setting up a chart where students could record their notes.  The chart was divided into Dates, Homes, Food, Hunting/Farming and Additional Facts.  As we studied each group of people, students completed the correct portion of the chart. 

The students had acquired knowledge about these groups of people, but I now wanted them to draw some conclusions from this history lesson.  What could we learn from these people outside of the facts of their existence?

 

Using chart paper, students drew pictures of the prehistoric people in chronological order.  They illustrated the homes, food sources, weapons and tools used by each group of people.  I was thrilled to watch students use ipads to discover ways to draw a kiva or an atlatl.  Every student was engaged in drawing their chart and putting forth their best effort.

Now it was time to do some critical thinking.  I introduced the phrase: “conclude or draw a conclusion,” which means to make a judgement based on evidence.  Students studied each column in their chart and drew a conclusion.  Student examples included: “Studying the prehistoric peoples’ homes, I can conclude that the people moved from living in caves and lean-tos, to building pueblos.  When they lived in caves they moved from place to place.  As they built homes, they stayed in one place.” 

We repeated the same process for food sources and weapons / tools.  Now it was time for the point of the lesson. What conclusion could students draw on how each aspect of these people’s lives impacted other areas?  I was thrilled as I listened to students draw this important connection!

As a culminating activity, students were able to share their learning using a photo and voice recording program.  (I gave my students a choice between Adobe Spark or Explain Everything.)  As they had already given their conclusions deep thought and had written their responses, this final step was seamless and enjoyable!

The point of this learning engagement was not only for students to learn about Colorado’s ancient people, but to also deepen their critical thinking skills. In addition to the content, the goal was for students to learn how to learn, to learn how to document their learning, and most importantly, how to draw a conclusion and share their thinking with others.  Slowing down and going step by step had worked well for all of us.

 

 

    

 

A Very Messy Thanksgiving – Improving Sentence Fluency

Since the beginning of the school year, we have been focusing on organizing and writing complete paragraphs.  Students can now organize a plan, write a variety of topic sentences, and compose a complete paragraph.  It is now time to make our writing better – we are going to revise!

For years, we told our students to “add more details” or “make your writing more interesting.”  Looking back, I’m sure they were all thinking, “It is already interesting.  I don’t know what she’s talking about.  I know – I’ll write my final copy in cursive.”  Adding details and variety to sentence structure takes deliberate instruction and practice.

In mid-November we began a writing engagement which links both sentence fluency and preparation for the holidays – “The Messy Thanksgiving Table.”  Imagining a Thanksgiving table which has been visited by some rather rambunctious guests, we wrote a basic sentence in the middle of our paper: 

The turkey sat on the plate.

Prior to writing, everyone sketched how they imagined the turkey looking on the plate. As a group, we added a phrase to the beginning of our sentence, along with inserting adjectives and a where to our sentence. 

Sitting on the silver platter, the leftover turkey is laying in a forgotten puddle of gravy.

After sharing our expanded sentences, we repeated the process with the sentence:

The mashed potatoes dripped.

It was soon transformed into:

Dripping down the side of the bowl like an avalanche, the mashed potatoes settled on the tablecloth and hardened into rocks.

 

 

The students were ready to take off on their own.  As they chose their Thanksgiving treats, we discussed different ways to vary the sentences.  Students considered when, where, and why as they revised their basic sentences describing the messy Thanksgiving table. 

In order to transform these descriptive sentences into a piece of writing, we needed both an introduction and conclusion.  As we discussed appropriate ways to begin and end this piece of writing, the students naturally realized that the sentences would flow into a compare and contrast piece of writing.  All they needed to do was write a description of the table prior to the meal, with their newly revised sentences describing how the table looked after dinner!  Excited about the writing, they eagerly went to work, brainstorming words which would be used to paint a picture of a dinner table waiting for Thanksgiving guests.  Some student samples:

 

Before the Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey was warm and the table was shinier than a knight in shining armor.  After dinner, the table looked completely different.  

 

Before the Thanksgiving meal, the silverware was shining and the tablecloth was clean.  The lights were shining like crystals on a sunny day and the food was in pretty bowls. 

 

Before Thanksgiving dinner begins, all the food is steaming, mouths are watering, the tablecloth had no stains, all the napkins were clean, the silverware was sparkling and everyone was dressed nicely.  Thanksgiving dinner was perfect, until dinner was over.

 

 

It was simple to add their stretched and revised sentences describing the Thanksgiving calamity to their introduction.  A simple conclusion completed the writing!

It took us hours to clean up the mess.  We are never inviting those people to dinner again!

As students shared their writing with peers, they were eager to repeat this process with another topic.  Their suggestions were to describe the aftermath of Christmas, a birthday party, a sleepover or the classroom on the first and last day of school. 

As we continue writing in class, whether it be in response to text, curricular areas, or prompts, we will reflect back on our Thanksgiving writing as an example of sentence fluency!  The activity had achieved my best hope for my writers – they were engaged writers who were successful in improving their sentence fluency.

 

What's Your Character?

We are beginning a unit that focuses on biographies and I wanted my students to concentrate on the subject of character traits.  As we were reading our current read aloud, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. https://www.amazon.com/Fish-Tree-Lynda-Mullaly-Hunt we were continually discussing the traits displayed by the characters.  Words like funny, nice, kind, mean, and sad were being put forward by the 4th graders.  It was apparent that we needed to expand our understanding of character traits. My homework for the night was to look for resources that would help enhance my students’ understanding of character traits.  What a treat to find the following blog on Scholastic by Genia Connell.  http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2012/11/teaching-character-traits-readers-workshop

                Following Ms. Connell’s lead, we first had a discussion around the difference between an emotion and a character trait.  Together we decided that an emotion is fleeting, while a trait is something inside you that you continually exhibit.  Using this definition, we brainstormed a list of character traits, discussing whether each word offered was an emotion or a trait.  Students added to the list as they independently read their own free choice books. 

It was time to practice what we were learning.  In small groups, we read the simple picture book, A Whistle for Willie by Ezra Keatshttps://www.amazon.com/Whistle-Willie-Ezra-Jack-Keats/dp/0670880469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476848367&sr=8-1&keywords=whistle+for+willielink  After reading the book again together, I asked the students what traits Peter exhibited in the book, reminding them their choice must be supported using evidence from the text.  We gathered together to discuss our thinking about Peter. Students explained that Peter was imaginative because he dressed up and pretended to be his father and Peter was perseverant as he kept trying to learn new ways to whistle when he failed the first time.  While responding to this discussion, a student commented that some traits are thought of as more positive while others have a negative connotation.  We went back to our chart and highlighted positive traits in pink and more negative traits in yellow.  This led to an interesting conversation on whether a trait might be both positive and negative depending on how it was used. 

Following Genia Conell’s suggestion, we focused the concept of traits on ourselves.  Students created silhouettes of themselves and chose 4-6 character traits which they felt best reflected their own character.  

 

Our reading genre over the next few weeks is biographies.  To begin the unit, we are reading the biography of Mala Yousafzai titled Who is Mala Yousafzai  by Dinah BrownWe will be looking at the character traits she possesses which motivate her in her quest for education for all.  To begin the study, we read out loud the powerful picture book Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan:  Two Stories of Bravery by Jeanette Winter. https://www.amazon.com/Malala-Brave-Girl-Pakistan-Iqbal/dp/1481422944/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476848770&sr=1-1&keywords=iqbal+a+brave+boy+from+pakistan  

After reading the story of Iqbal, a boy forced into servitude in a carpet factory, I asked the students what character traits he displayed.  Pencils quickly went to paper as they described both the traits they found in him and the evidence they used from the text. 

Iqbal was rebellious, as he secretly wove kites into his tapestry.

Iqbal was courageous when he returned to the factory to inform others they were no longer slaves.

Iqbal was faithful, as he continued to work at the factory to support his family.

Gone were the responses students had given prior to these lessons.  The words sad and unhappy were no longer to be found.   

I’m anxious to watch my students transfer their new understanding of character traits to both their reading and their writing.  This will be the perfect time to begin lessons on showing, not telling, in writing.  Given a simple sentence, The boy is joyful, students will be asked to write what the boy was doing that helped the reader know he was joyful.  How does the boy in the sentence display that trait?  I’m sure that all the time we have spent practicing showing different traits will show in their writing.

For other writing ideas and to read past blogs,  visit writenow-rightnow.com

 

 

Revision and Editing

Any job worth doing – no matter how big or how small – is worth doing well if worth doing at all.

While growing up, this phrase was my dad’s standard response whenever we complained about any job we were required to complete.  As an adult, this mantra has proven to be both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing, for if you’re going to embark on a task, it is part of a strong character to do your best.  A curse when I just want something to be finished and decide that good enough is good enough.

This phrase haunted me this summer as my husband and I embarked on a remodeling project.  He was in charge of the “big stuff,” such as cutting tile, hanging doors, and installing cabinets.  The progress he made each day was evident.  His projects resulted in, “Look, there’s a kitchen sink where there used to be a hole, and that doorway now has a door where there used to be an empty space.” His progress was grand and noticeable. 

I however, was in charge of grout (check out our earlier blog!), caulk and paint.  These tasks require a large amount of “touch-up”, fixing drips, missed spots, and rough edges. My progress was slow and meticulous and often focused on mistakes I had made. Trying to be helpful, my husband often pointed out the errors that needed to be fixed.  Overwhelmed, I announced to anyone that would listen that I planned to yell at the next person who used the phrase “touching up” with me.

While scraping the front door paint for the 5th time, I reflected how this process mirrors revision and editing in writing.  Revision consists of the big, flashy changes.  Sentences are rearranged, verbs are improved and adjectives are added. People notice revisions and they often leave the reader with a sense of accomplishment.  There is a feeling of satisfaction in looking at before and after, and seeing the improvement that’s been made.

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Editing, however, is tedious and often completed when you feel like you are already finished.  Instead of making things better, editing often feels like we are fixing up mistakes we’ve made, a whole different perspective.  I am sure that many of my students could echo my feelings, “I’m going to yell at the next person who tells me to fix my writing.”

So, the question becomes how we can hold our students to a high editing standard without frustrating them? A few things come to mind . . .

1 – Take editing one step at a time. Students can focus on one editing area, whether it be capitalization or punctuation.  (writenow-rightnow.com)

2 – Teach students to use the resources they have around them to spell correctly.  How many words in your answer can you find in the question or the text if applicable?  We may not be able to spell the word from memory, but we can use the words around us to help us be better spellers!

3 – Create a safe place to edit.  No matter how lovingly, “You missed a spot” was uttered, at times it felt like criticism.  I’m sure my students feel the same way when they hear, “You forgot a capital letter.” Finding a time and place to have students correct editing errors is always a challenge.  I use a few minutes each morning to meet with students individually. 

4 – Prioritize corrections.  It is overwhelming when we are faced with a long list of “things to fix.”  How can I use my students’ individual needs to prioritize their editing tasks?

My touching up is complete, at least for now!  I must confess to a great feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the last goof off the list. While often frustrating, this experience has given me new insight into how my students might feel and react to directions. 

We’d love to hear from you.  What are some methods you’ve used to help your students both revise and edit their writing?

 

A Great Teacher . . .

Friday was the last day for our student teacher to be with our class.  It had been an eventful semester, with lots of learning and laughter.  As a good-bye gift for her, we decided to create a book as a memento.  Each page of the books was a student’s response to the prompt, “A great teacher . . .

We were curious to read their responses.  We had just completed three weeks of standardized testing, which included tests in math, English language arts, and social studies.  Would the students reflect no this experience in their writing?  Would their responses include: 

“A great teacher prepares me for standardized testing.” 

“A great teacher helps me find text evidence to support my answer.”

“A great teacher explains how to eliminate incorrect answers so I fill in the right bubble.”

“A great teacher teaches me how to explain my math thinking using pictures, numbers and words.”

We all know that every item on the above list is important for our students to know.  As teachers, we are fundamentally responsible for teaching our students concepts, ideas and standards. Teaching students to be able to comprehend what they read, clearly communicate their ideas in writing, and solve real-world math problems is essential.  However, is that what they will most remember as they decided what makes a teacher great?

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Their responses were enlightening.  Not a single child mentioned a specific academic area.  Rather, their responses were:

“A great teacher knows everyone’s name the first day of school.”

“A great teacher takes the time to explain things so that everyone understands.”

“A great teacher says good morning to every student.”

“A great teacher knows when you’re feeling sad.”

Like so much of my time in the classroom, we learned more from this activity than our students.  The end of the school year, and all of the assessments it brings, can often be discouraging for teachers.  We have all worked so hard – both teachers and students – and at times the tests may not indicate that hard work.  Reading students’ responses was a good reminder to me of what is important to the children with whom we spend our days.  Of course academics are important, and naturally we want our students to show growth.  However, creating this book was a reminder to us of what students find most important in a teacher. 

Happy Writing!

Tracking Fitness

A confession - I love fitness trackers!  As a cyclist, my onboard computer tracks a wide variety of data . .  . Speed, distance, cadence and temperature.  I recently received a Fitbit and use it to calculate both exercise and food goals.  I love seeing how far I've ridden or how many steps I took during the day. These devices don't cause a guilt reaction when a goal isn't reached (I was a little worried about that), but rather help me reflect on what I have accomplished! They never tell me what I haven't done, only what I've completed.  Most importantly, I only compare my progress with me - no one else's data is considered.

My love of fitness trackers raises a question for us as educators - how can we help our students track their own growth and progress as learners?  For many of us, spring brings a time of state standardized testing.  Both students and teachers are put in a situation where our learning is measured against everyone else's data and progress is measured in only one way.  The pressure to do well increases and becomes evident in classrooms everywhere.  How can we balance out the need for assessing student growth at school and nationwide, while helping students measure their own growth?

 

We consciously decided to help our students reflect on their own learning.  In our building, spring parent-teacher conferences are student led.  Wanting our 9 year olds to put some thought into their reflections, we had them fill out a reflection sheet for every subject area. The reflection sheets were open-ended, asking things such as "My greatest strength as a writer is ______" and "My greatest challenge in math is _______________."  I was so impressed with the students' responses.  After talking through the purposes and doing some all group brainstorming to get our thinking started, students were left to complete the reflection sheets independently.  We divided up the tasks over three days to prevent some burnout.  What thoughtful responses they wrote!

 

Students had their reflection sheets ready to present during their conference times.  Although I was present, this was a time for the students to shine.  It was so fulfilling to hear what they had to say.  Some sample comments were:  "My biggest challenge as a writer is to edit my writing.  I know it's important so that my reader understands what I am trying to communicate." "The steps in long division were confusing to me at first, but I am starting to understand it!"  "The book character who has meant the most to me was Kek from Home of the Brave.  I love how he never gave up in taking care of Gol." 

The students appreciated a time to think about their own learning and sharing it with their families.  It was a reminder to me of the importance of tracking personal progress - whether that progress be miles biked, steps taken, or skills mastered!  I'm committed to adding this reflection time more consistently in my classroom. While testing is a part of our modern classroom, student progress is so much more.  What a powerful force it is to recognize our own growth!

Writing A Narrative's Introduction!

“Well begun is halfway done.”  My grandmother began many tasks with these words – from knitting a blanket to baking bread.  Last week I heard these words come from my mouth as my fourth graders and I began to write the introductions to our narratives.

A story’s introduction is essential, as this is what hooks the reader, making them want to read more.  There are five basic ways to begin a narrative. (Description of setting, description of character, problem, dialogue, and onomatopoeia)  Instead of merely telling my students the names and types of introductions, I wanted them to discover these types for themselves.  I decided to have them go on an “introduction search” and see if we could discover the five types together.

The directions were simple – find a fictional book and copy the first two or three lines from the book on a notecard.  They could use any book as long as it was a narrative.  Students eagerly jumped into the task, searching for their favorite book to use as their introduction sample.

Now it was time to share what they had written and determine if we could find any way to classify or group these introductions.  I was curious to learn if students’ samples included all five types of introductions. Students read their introductions one by one to the group.  After they read, we discussed what was happening in the author’s words.  Setting and dialogue were the first two we discovered.  As we continued, examples of characters, problems and onomatopoeia also emerged.  The student samples were taped on our introduction chart under the correct name.

The students were thrilled with their discoveries.  Their learning was so much more powerful as they had discovered the categories on their own!  It was now time to put what we had learned about introductions to use!

Previously, we had written a plan which focused on a family camping who come back to discover a bear was sitting between them and their tent.  Using the same problem, the students had brainstormed their own solutions to the problem.  We used this plan to write our individual introductions.

We began with Setting.  After reading the examples we had collected, students were able to independently write their own setting introductions.  We then moved on to dialogue and their favorite, onomatopoeia. The students were so excited to try out these new ways to introduce their narratives.  Along with writing wonderful introductions, the students were also practicing putting details in their writing – a positive side effect.


Let's Write A Story!

A confession – I used to dread teaching narratives.  Just the mention of the word brought visions of the dreaded “bed to bed” tales or narratives filled with “and then . . . and then . . . and then.”  Now, with a solid plan on how to support my students, I am as excited as they are when I say the words, “Hey, friends, it’s time to write a story!”

Prior to writing a narrative, I wanted to review the parts of a story. To accomplish this task, I used the classic book, The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear by Audrey and Don Woods.   This easy-to-read and yet incredibly engaging book, contains all the parts of a story.  The students could quickly identify the characters and setting.  Most importantly, this picture book was a natural way to introduce the most crucial part of any narrative plan – What is the problem the characters are attempting to solve?  As we worked at summarizing the story’s problem, we determined that a problem must always begin with the word “How.”  Until the Mouse wanted to hide the strawberry, the Bear and the strawberry were simply a part of the setting.  Now, both were critical parts of the problem. Students easily identified the problem the little Mouse was facing; How can Mouse hide his strawberry from the big hungry Bear?  

Now it was time to write our own plan.  To begin, I provided the students with the narrative’s characters (you and your family) and setting (camping in the woods, a bear by your tent.)  Immediately the students wanted the bear to be the problem.  This led into a discussion of whether a bear in the woods was a problem or merely a part of the setting.  One student suggested we put the bear between the story’s characters and their tent.  By moving the bear and having him block the tent’s entrance, he moved from being a part of the setting to becoming the story’s problem.  The problem was written – “How can we get the bear to leave our campsite?”

Focused on the problem, it was now time to write our story’s events.  In a narrative plan, we attempt to solve the problem three different ways.  The first two solutions do not work.  It is only upon reaching the third possible solution that the characters are successful.  Knowing that our first idea is not necessarily our best, students were given two minutes to think of possible ways to get the bear to leave.  Choosing the best three solutions, students place their final, successful solution in the third column of their plan.  They now needed to think of reasons that the first two solutions are not successful.  Each of these possible solutions and the reasons they were not successful were placed in the second and third column of our plan.

As students shared their responses, I was delighted with their creativity. Their excitement in writing a narrative was evident by the energy in the room. There were sighs of disappointment as we put our plans away until tomorrow. Everyone was eager to take the next step of our narrative – writing an attention-grabbing introduction!


Writing from a Different Point-of-View

During the past few weeks, our 2nd through 5th graders have been practicing dissecting challenging prompts. We recently gave 4th grade students the following PARCC released prompt:

 Today you read the story “Sally’s Rescue.” Imagine telling the story from a different point of view. How would the story change? Rewrite the story you read from the seal’s point of view.

We were concerned that our students may see the word “Rewrite” and just change the seal and Sally within the original story. In order to focus on the objective of the prompt, we decided to review the concept of point–of–view using a familiar text told from two points of view  – The Three Little Pigs.

We began by having the students create two blank narrative plans to complete with the necessary story components: character, setting, problem, attempts to solve the problem and finally the story ending. To help focus on point-of-view, I brought in a copy of The Three Little Pigs and we quickly added the details from the story to our plan. As students were familiar with the story, we quickly completed this initial task.  Everyone was able to correctly add all the story elements to the plan. As we focused on point-of-view, students easily identified the pigs as the ones who were telling the story and solving the problem.

We then read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf.  Students quickly realized that the setting and characters were the same in both books.  However, as the story was being told from Wolf’s point-of-view, he was now responsible for both the problem in the story and its resolution. Students added the details from this story to their 2nd narrative plan and came to the realization that Wolf didn’t solve his problem as he was never able to attain the sugar for his Granny. Altering the point-of-view from which the story was told impacted the story’s outcome.

Now it was time to transfer this new realization to our original text, “Sally’s Rescue.” Before we could rewrite “Sally’s Rescue” we needed to understand that Sally was the main character in the original story and Sally had the problem to be solved. When we now rewrite the story, the seal will be the main character and will have a problem that needs to be solved. The characters and the setting remain the same throughout the story.

It was amazingly easy for these 4th graders to understand point of view and how it changes the problem, the attempts, and the solution of a story. Tomorrow's lesson will focus on reading the text, creating a new plan from the seal’s point of view, and writing our story starter. 


Teaching 2nd Graders to Read a Prompt!

I spent this afternoon in a 2nd grade classroom and was overjoyed to watch what those students can do!  I had been working on reading and dissecting challenging prompts with the older students and I was curious to learn what the younger "little people" might do with the same task. 

We gave each student the following prompt:  Today you will be reading an article titled "All About Seuss."  In the article you will learn many things about Dr. Seuss.  Write an essay that explains how he got his name, one of the books he wrote, and how we honor him.  Remember to use evidence from the text to support your writing.

Students were asked to read the prompt and locate the format that was required.  They quickly understood that format was how we present our information and circled the words "write an essay" in the prompt.  Next, we asked the 2nd graders to locate the topic of the prompt.  They are well aware that the topic is what their writing will be about.  A square was placed around the words "learn many things about Dr. Seuss."  Now it was time to find the big ideas.  There are three!  Students underlined the following three phrases - how he got his name, one of the books he wrote, and how we honor him.  Wow!  We were ready to create a plan!

It was amazingly easy for these young students to transfer the important information from the prompt to a plan.  The practice they have been provided in making plans was very evident.  They are now ready to read the article with a clear purpose in mind.  Tomorrow's lesson will focus on reading the text and finding details to complete the plan.  I can't wait to see what they'll accomplish!