writing programs

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.

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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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Cause: An Engaging Cause and Effect Lesson Effect: Students Engaged, Learning and No Papers to Grade!

I was recently in a 5th grade classroom where the students were just starting to delve into the concept of cause and effect.  The focus of the lesson was to provide students with strategies to help them correctly identify cause and effect relationships in text.  When asked what they already knew about this skill, students could explain that the two concepts were linked to one another, and that one action led to another.

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To begin the lesson, students created a two-column chart.  The left side of the chart was titled Cause and the right side of the chart was titled Effect.  We then read the 5th graders the picture book If You Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Numeroff.  https://www.amazon.com/You-Give-Cat-Cupcake-Books/dp/0060283246  Fifth graders love the opportunity to listen to picture books and they were enthralled with the story.  While reading the book, I slowly moved around the room. As I was walking and reading, these older students were whipping around in their seats, following me with their eyes as they intently listened to the simple story.

We first read the book for the sheer enjoyment of listening to the story. During the second reading, the students and I were looking for cause and effect relationships.  As we found a cause, we would write it on our chart, followed by the effect of this action. The students quickly noticed that the cause must come first, as it is the catalyst for the effect.

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The next step was for students to create an anchor chart to keep in their Reading and Writing Folders. Completed with the students, this chart included the definition of cause and effect, examples, and key words they might find in the text when looking for cause and effect. When students are a part of creating an anchor chart, the information becomes relevant and useful to them.  

Students then browsed other If you Give…books and created a second cause and effect chart independently. Students were engaged in their reading and thrilled to be able to find cause and effect relationships throughout the new books.

 

The classroom teacher and I wanted to complete a quick formative assessment to see who required extra support on this skill. Each student took a quarter sheet of paper and in the corner of one side wrote “Cause.”  In the opposite corner, students wrote “Effect.” Students could choose to either write a Cause or Effect sentence in the appropriate corner. They then exchanged their paper with another student in the class, who wrote the relating sentence. For example: A student wrote: Cause: Tom Brady threw an interception in the last minute of the game. His partner then wrote Effect: Tom’s team lost the game to the Denver Broncos.  Another student wrote:  Effect: The vegetables in the garden were destroyed.  His partner wrote:  Cause:  Grandpa forgot to lock the gate on the sheep pen.

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Student partners shared their sentences.  As they shared, their teacher took notes on only those students she felt needed extra instruction. The following day she planned to meet with those students during a small group instruction time. All students whose name she had not written down received a passing grade on this assignment.  Within a 15 minute assessment period, the teacher had given every student an assessment and knew who needed additional support.  More importantly, the students had personally interacted with the concept of Cause and Effect and solidified their learning through the creation of an anchor chart. The students had mastered a reading and writing concept and the teacher was not taking home a stack of papers to grade! 

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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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.  

 

 

 

Let's Write A Story . . . Part One!

Today we are going to begin to write a story!  Although many students love to write stories, showing off their creativity, it is a difficult genre for student to master.  All too often we are asked to read pages and pages of student writing that contains the phrase “and then . . . . and then . . .  and then . . . .”  As we began to author narratives, I wanted to provide students with a structure that would help them focus their ideas to show off their creativity!

We discussed that the interest in a story comes from the problem the character needs to solve.  The plot of a story consists of the character’s attempts to solve his/her problem.  It often takes multiple attempts before the character is successful! We began with an empty plan.  Laying a piece of paper horizontally, we divided the sheet into four columns. The first column was labeled Characters, Setting and Problem.  The second column was titled First Attempt, with the word but . . . .  in the center of the column.  The third column was titled Second Attempt, with the word but in the center, and the fourth column was divided into Solution and Story Ending. 

Choosing a favorite picture book, we set off to discover if this format was really evident in books we read.  The first book we read was The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood.  The book matched our story plan.  The students easily located the story elements within the text. We repeated the same process using the book Big Al by Andrew Clements.  (This time we listened to a video of the book read!)  Although Al had more than two attempts to solve his problem, the story again followed the same format. The students felt confident that this organization would help them become narrative writers.

 

After completing narrative plans for books that were already written, we moved to planning our own story.  I provided the students the characters (my family and me) and the setting (camping in the woods.)  As the characters returned to their tent from a hike, they discovered a bear sitting in front of their tent.  What is the problem in the story?

The students immediately stated the problem was the bear. At this point, however, the bear was a part of the setting.  What did we need to do to make the bear into the story’s problem?  What would we all want to do if we discovered a bear in front of our tent?  After some think time, the students realized the characters needed an action to form the problem.  The problem was written:  How can we get the bear to leave our tent?

It was time to think of ways the characters could attempt to get the bear to leave.  Working together, students brainstormed ideas and chose the attempts they found most compelling.  These attempts (and why they didn’t work) were added to their narrative plans. The most interesting solution was chosen for the story ending.

One of the most difficult paragraphs for students to write is the opening paragraph of a fictional narrative.  I wanted the students to discover ways that authors grab their readers’ attention at the beginning of a narrative.  To achieve this purpose, students were asked to read the opening two – three sentences of a fictional book they were reading.  I placed a chart labeled Dialogue, Setting, Character and Problem.  Students shared the opening sentences they had found and determined if the author was using dialogue, setting, character or setting to begin his/her novel.  Each narrative’s opening lines were placed in the correct column. We had identified common ways authors grabbed their readers’ attention.

 

 

The time we had spent on this activity paid off when students began to write their own narratives.  In a future blog, Let’s Write A Story . . . Part 2!, we will share what happened next!

 

Happy writing,

Darlene and Terry

 

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

Expanding Our Writing - Multiple Paragraph Essays

As I recently worked with a class of 5th graders, it was apparent they had mastered opinion paragraph writing.  Their topic sentences were solid, their big idea sentences clear and their detail sentences were examples of how a long and luxurious sentence should be written.  It was time to challenge these writers.

                In Social Studies we had been reviewing and mastering note-taking skills.  The learning objective for the next few days in writing would be to combine note-taking and opinion writing, two skills the students had already mastered.  The new skill we were adding would be taking our opinion writing to a multiple paragraph essay with the inclusion of an introductory and concluding paragraph.

                We began with a prompt.  The prompt was timely, as many of the students were planning their holiday vacations.    

You will read informational articles about three different National Parks / Monuments.   Think about the reasons that encourage people to choose a historical place to visit on vacation.  Read the information about each location.  Choose one site from the list and write an essay persuading someone to visit the site you chose.  Include three reasons people would choose to visit this historical site.

These 5th graders quickly realized that before choosing a location they must first gather information about that park.  To help narrow their search, I told them they must choose between Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, and Mesa Verde. These parks were chosen as they might not be as well-known to the students, forcing them to use their research skills, not simply background knowledge.

                Students were asked to research all three parks, looking for reasons people might choose to visit this area.  This led to a conversation with students about what things influenced people to choose a specific place.  For example, the entry fee might be $9.00 per person.  Taken alone, that is merely a fact. How might ticket cost become a reason people would choose a destination?

                Independently taking notes on each park was the first step.  Students were given a class period to randomly gather notes on each park – no organization was required at this point.  Students independently collected their research on notebook paper.  At the conclusion of this time period, everyone chose a location in which they were interested.  Using large chart paper, common groups gathered and compiled the information they had found.

                Referring back to the prompt, students reviewed their task. Each student must choose a park and then write a multi-paragraph essay, convincing the reader that their choice is best.  Taking their notes, students sorted their ideas into three Big Ideas and composed a plan.  They were ready to begin their writing!

                The concept of taking each Big Idea and its Supporting Details and turning it into a separate paragraph was easy for these writers.  However, the question soon arose, “What type of topic sentence do we use?”  This was the perfect segue into the need to stretch a topic sentence into a topic paragraph.

                When we began to master various topic sentences, we did not learn each type in a single day.  In the same way, we learned different ways to write a topic paragraph slowly. We began by practicing three different ways to introduce a topic paragraph.  The purpose of the initial sentence is to capture the readers’ attention.   Information about the topic would follow after this attention grabbing sentence.

After dividing a piece of paper into quadrants, we labeled three of the sections Question, Hyperbole, and Statistical Information.  These were the types of attention grabbing sentences we would use to introduce out topic paragraph.  Using one of the parks as a topic, we began with writing a hyperbole, or exaggerated sentence.  (This is definitely a student favorite!) 

Mesa Verde, the best park in the world, will lead you to an explosion of exhilaration.  It is a whole new world when it comes to thrill.  

Now that you have grabbed your reader’s attention, you must now inform them of the information to follow in your essay.  As you have already organized your ideas on a plan, this step is easy. Simply list the big ideas found on your plan in a sentence.

This National Park is best known for its pueblo homes, hiking trails and tours. 

Students repeated the process using both a question and statistical information as attention grabbers.  They now had three topic paragraphs from which to choose. 

Writing the body of the essay was a familiar task.  Through the use of extended details, each big idea on the plan became a separate paragraph.  The students quickly completed this portion of their writing and were soon ready to write a conclusion.

A concluding paragraph of a multiple paragraph essay also has additional requirements. We learned that a concluding paragraph must contain the following three sentences:

·         A concluding sentence, similar to a single paragraph

·         A reminder of the big ideas

·         A call to action

As a writer, however, you get to choose the order of these sentences.  We again folded a piece of paper to help us focus our practice.  The students practiced arranging these three sentences to conclude their writing until they found the most interesting order. 

The students were proud of their accomplishments and asked to publish their writing.  After revising and editing their drafts, the final essays were ready to be typed and published.  Their notes, plans, topic paragraphs and conclusions were filed in their writing binders to use as guides for the next essay they would write.  These 5th graders had spent multiple daysengaged in a topic.  Through writing an introductory and concluding paragraph, these writers had stretched their writing from a single paragraph to a multiple paragraph essay.

 

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