writing instructio

Enthusiasm, Interest and Good Research

We spent Labor Day weekend camping right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Wandering through a bookstore in town, I picked up a book written by Enos Mills, a famous naturalist, writer and the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.”  In his autobiography, he states that writing well requires three things: Enthusiasm, Interest and Good Research. 

While hiking, I pondered these three words and how they link to the classroom.  Words that were true for a naturalist 107 years ago are true for elementary students in 2016.

Enthusiasm! Quality writing will not occur unless we build enthusiasm in our students.  Humans are enthusiastic about tasks in which they feel successful. We have been working on writing Junior and Varsity Team Complete sentences the first two weeks of school.  As the students’ skills have grown, their enthusiasm has grown equally.  Given a safe place to practice, students enjoy sharing their writing with their classmates and pushing themselves to be better writers. 

Interest!  Let’s be honest.  As adults, we all have topics in which we have little interest.  As we begin the school year, it is essential that we capture our students’ interest from the beginning of the school year.  We are often asked why we begin the curriculum with Opinion Writing.  The answer is simple – students want to share their interests with their class.  As we start to learn the writing process, we begin with sharing our opinions on the best activities, places, pets, etc.  Students know what they want to write about and have knowledge about that topic. 

Good Research!  The first key to teaching good research is for the teacher to be enthusiastic about the topic and the students to have an interest in the topic. We have begun this year learning about the planets and constellations, a very interesting topic for 4th graders!  We began by taking very specific notes on each planet.  There was a buzz of conversation as students located fascinating facts about the planets.  Students were interested in the topic and our introduction to research was both interesting and easy to accomplish!  http://www.writenow-rightnow.com/samples/

These three words are now posted in front of my desk.  I hope to continually ask myself if this writing will generate enthusiasm, interest, and great research.

 

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it is done.”  Nelson Mandela

 

Don’t you love finishing a project?  There is great satisfaction in the words, “We are done!”  We all have the experience of a project we have put off for a variety of reasons.  It’s often lack of time, concern about how to organize the task, or an insecurity in how we are going to accomplish the task that may keep us from even getting started. What a wonderful feeling when the task is completed and we get to say, “This is finished.  Hooray!”

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 Yesterday at Write Now – Right Now, we had the opportunity to say those delightful words.  When Write Now – Right Now was first created, our goal was to provide a teacher-friendly, student engaging program for grades K – 5.  As we met with teachers, we were continually asked if we had a program for 6th graders.  Many elementary schools contain 6th grade and writing instruction is an integral part of their curriculum. For over a year, we have been telling each other it was time to write a curriculum for this critical age.  We had found a variety of reasons (excuses) for not completing this task.  Finally, last winter, we decided it was time.  After studying standards, talking with teachers, writing, revising, rewriting and finally publishing – 6th grade is here! 

The experience has been a great reminder of how our own students approach a difficult task.  What are some of their reasons for not beginning the task?  How can we help them get past their insecurities and feelings of being overwhelmed?  Just as importantly, how can we find ways to celebrate with them when they say “Hey, I finished this!”

We would love to know what you think.   Visit our website to view samples of all grade levels and let us know what you think.  http://writenow-rightnow.com

Happy Writing!

Darlene and Terry

 

If I Were In Charge Of The World . . . .

During the past few weeks, we have been studying different forms of government.   Our novel studies included the books Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin and The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.  Both books are focused on a child’s experience living under specific forms of government.  In addition, we researched and studied the United States government, both on the national and state level. 

As a writing engagement, we read Judith Viorst’s classic poem, If I Were in Charge of the World. After reading the poem, students were given the prompt“Your task is to write an informative, multi-paragraph essay about three changes you would make if you were suddenly in charge of the world.  Include reasons why this change would be positive and impactful to others.

The students were off!  The room became a buzz of conversation as students bounced their ideas off one another.  Their responses ranged from global and serious to fanciful.  To help focus the students’ thinking, we posted the following questions to consider.

  • How would the change benefit others?

  • Who might care about this change?

  • How would this change impact others?

With these questions in mind, students were able to better sort their ideas and decide on three changes they would make.  Their best thinking was then put in an informative writing plan.

It was time to review the prompt.  Students quickly identified the format required – a multi-paragraph essay.  The students realized that their big ideas could each be stretched into individual paragraphs, but we would still need both an introduction and a conclusion. 

Students now had a real reason to learn how to write introductory paragraphs.  As this was our first experience writing introductory paragraphs, we were going to write two sentences.  We began with writing an “Although” topic sentence we would use for any informative paragraph – Although there are many changes the world needs, I would make these three if I were in charge of the world.  In our second sentence, we were going to inform our readers what we would be writing in our paragraphs.  Looking at our plan, we merely needed to list the three big ideas we would be addressing – I would allow children to vote, place pets in elementary schools and discover an inexpensive way to desalinate water.  Putting the two sentences together, we had an introductory paragraph.  In order to practice the skill and have a second paragraph from which to choose, we wrote a second introductory paragraph, this time starting with an If, Then topic sentence. If I were given the opportunity to be in charge of the world, then I would make a few very important changes to better the lives of others. Then we can add our second sentence with the big ideas listed in a sentence.

Writing the big idea paragraphs was a simple task for our fourth grade writers.  It was easy for them to understand that each paragraph needed to start with a transition word and did not require a separate topic sentence.  Students added the necessary details, referring back to the questions posed earlier.

Only one thing was left to do.  Our essays needed a conclusion.  Luckily, we had written two introductory paragraphs.  Often, if we write two introductory paragraphs we can use one as our concluding paragraph!  Students were able to complete their essays using the second topic sentence they had written!  Our first experience writing a multi-paragraph essay had been a success!

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

 

We have been busy in our classroom – both practicing our compare and contrast skills and learning Colorado history.  We were eager to combine these skills through the use of photographs.

To begin, I compiled two sets of pictures focused on transportation. The first set of pictures were taken in 1910 and the second set were pictures of 2010.  As we began to analyze the photos we made our first discovery, in order to discuss the transportation shown, we first needed to agree on the transportation’s names.  The room was abuzz with questions . . .

Is this a carriage or a buggy?  Is there a difference?”

“What could we name a trolley that’s pulled by a horse?”

“Would you want to ride in that?”


“Is there a difference between a tram and a monorail?”

My fourth graders were involved in language, discussing among themselves the very best label for each mode of transportation.  It was the best type of “just-in time learning”, as it was vocabulary acquisition with a purpose.

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It was time to focus on our task.  I presented them with the prompt . . .

Analyze the 2 groups of photos depicting modes of transportation taken a century apart.  Choose three different modes of transportation depicted in both photographs.  Write a paragraph comparing and contrasting these three modes of transportation from 1910 and 2010.

We easily located the format (paragraph), the topic (modes of transportation a century apart) and the big ideas (compare and contrast) in our prompt.  As a group, we began to determine the best way to attack this task. 

We decided upon a two-column chart, simply listing the modes of transportation found in the photograph groups.  After listing transportation found 100 years ago and today, we were able to identify similar transportation found in both these time period.  We circled the four that were found in both lists.  Now we needed to determine similarities and differences.

The students decided that a column chart was the most efficient way to compare and contrast these forms of transportations.  As we analyzed the pictures carefully, we determined the similarities and differences between the transportation modes.  Again the conversation was rich, as we discussed whether we could use our background knowledge linked to the pictures or rather we could only use what we could see in the pictures.

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Upon completing our observations, it was time to complete a plan.  We had two ways in which we could organize our plan – either with similarities and differences as our big ideas, or with each mode of transportation as our big ideas.  Although I left the choice up to the students, the majority felt they could best organize their ideas using the modes of transportation as big ideas.  As the prompt asked us to compare and contrast the 1920 and 2010 modes of transportation, our details became how each mode was similar to each other and how they were different.  By accessing all their previous thinking, students quickly and effortlessly created a writing plan.

For this lesson, I only required the students to complete their writing plan.  I had been more concerned about the process – how can we carefully and methodically analyze pictures to determine similarities and differences.  Best of all – my students loved this learning engagement. They had been detectives looking at pictures, made thoughtful observations, and discovered meaningful similarities and differences.  Together we had experienced digital literacy – and had a wonderful hour of dialogue and learning!