Friday, November 30, 2012

Informational Writing in Second Grade

Next month many second grade classrooms will be working on informational writing in their workshops. This might sound overwhelming to the teachers who will be guiding this work. However, it is really similar to what second graders have done in the past. This year, though, they might be using a little more rigor in this genre. It is important to know first of all, if the students have done this type of work in kindergarten and first grade. Many classrooms have done that. It is also important to have the students read independently and as a whole class, informational text.  This might be books by Gail Gibbons or Time For Kids magazines.

If students are familiar with All About books from doing that type of writing in kindergarten and first grade, then this unit will simply be guiding them through it again with more independent work. The children will make lists of things they are experts in and know a lot about. They will pick two or three topics to "try out" to see if that is something they feel they could teach others. This would be done in a Quick Write in their writer's notebooks. When they have one they are comfortable writing, it is time to begin.

Starting out with a table of contents will help them to have a structure for their book. This will be the book they work on all month...going from drafting to revising to editing and finally publishing. As the whole class makes a "class book" in the focus lesson time, this will give the students a model to work from.  The pages that they have used in the past: introduction page, diagram page, how-to page, all about page, etc. will give them a way to teach their topic.

One of the supports teachers have for this unit can be found on the All Write!!! website. If the students are not familiar with this type of writing, this unit of study shows a way to support the students in this first attempt at writing informational books. As this month's writing progresses, keep in mind that it is setting up the future for more independent nonfiction writing. This genre will be revisited again in March and May. Giving the students a lot of encouragement and support this month will be the best way to prepare for success in future writing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Opinion Writing: Reviews in Third Grade

In December, many classrooms of third graders will be starting the unit of study for opinion writing and writing reviews. This is similar to the persuasive writing, but different in that it is strongly focusing on the opinion. Towards the end of the month, this unit will turn to writing letters and speeches. The goal of this unit is to teach students the skills of writing to share their opinion and persuade others to believe what they believe.

Students will  need to read lots of material written in this genre to be able to then write these opinion pieces. Focusing on their opinions of : TV shows, books, movies or restaurants, will give them familiar material. To find some opinion pieces written by students you might want to go here for restaurant reviews or to find book reviews by kids, go here. As they read these pieces, the class can make a chart of things they notice in reviews. This will become the anchor chart for this unit of writing.

The children will have opinions about many things. They know what TV shows they like and why. They know what movies they enjoy and why. They probably even have favorite restaurants and opinions about those. Your classroom may become a place of rich discussion on these topics. It is then time for them to pick a topic they feel passionate about and begin their writing.

Some things for them to keep in mind as they write and for the teacher to keep in mind for possible focus lessons are:
  • Reasons to back up their opinions
  • Elaborate on the  important parts of their opinions
  • Give specific information...don't be general
  • Think about who will read the review. Who is the audience?
Another place to find support is the All Write website. On the main page there is listed Persuasive Writing: Letter/Essay/Editorial. This 25-page document has lessons that can be used in third grade. Look them over and see what fits for your students.

Students will be writing many of these pieces this month. They will also pick a few to revise and edit. You may even want to submit some to or the websites you used for the mentor texts. The students will learn the skills they need to persuade others and give their opinion in the proper way. Remember, later in the month they will be writing letters and speeches to persuade.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writing Pattern Books

As we are looking at the end of the month in November, many teachers are already planning for next month. Since December is a short month due to winter break, this writing unit of study has to be ready to go. Checking with the curriculum for the various grade levels, teachers are using the end of this month to immerse their students in the new genre during their read-aloud time.  For the kindergarten grade level, this is pattern books. Reading pattern books is not something new for these students. However, now the students will be looking at them as writers, not just readers.

This week for our Gramma Preschool time, I will be trying this out with my four-year old granddaughter. I am going to be pulling several pattern books for us to investigate. I want books that might be nonfiction, since she is used to fiction books in this way. We will look at things we notice and make a chart about the "noticings". The chart might go like this:
Picture Books Have:
-a topic
-4-6 ideas
-words about the topic
-pictures to help the reader
-words are the same on pages
When it is time to begin this unit in December, students will look back at this chart. Teachers will encourage the children to choose topics they know a lot about to write their books. They will be writing a book a day...lots of books! Because of this large amount, teachers will be busy making up blank books...some with six pages, some with eight pages, before the month begins. Children will pick the blank books that will fit their topic.
These books, again, are approximations of what they have been reading. They will start out with pictures. The mini lesson for that will be "pictures help the reader". The sentences that children write will have inventive spelling. They might even have only one letter representing a word. It depends where the child is with his/her writing.
Each of the "noticings" from the chart may become a mini lesson. As in the past, the lessons will depend on the needs of the students in your classroom. However, the chart your class made will help with ideas for your progress, especially the first week.

 The last day of the first week of this unit, would be a great time to have a mini-celebration. The teacher would put all the books in baskets according to reading level or topic. The children will meet with a partner. They could have one basket to read together. This will help the students see the value of writing...for a real purpose! Teachers might even want to have children pick one of their books they wrote in December to give as a gift to someone at  home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Guys Read---and Write!

On the day before Thanksgiving vacation, I had the opportunity to visit a fifth grade classroom. This time I was not there to watch the Writer's Workshop or the Reader's Workshop. Instead, I was invited to be part of the sharing of their Data Notebooks. This is something that their school periodically does. Each child shares with their parents, grandparents or special visitor what they have been doing all year and how they have kept track of it in their notebooks.

I arrived with a large group of parents and grandparents. Since I now know these children well, the teacher suggested that I come and take part in the event. Many parents were there, but Caleb's parents were not able to make it. I was honored to be able to listen to him share.

This fifth grader is a wonderful writer with lots of voice and a real sense of who he is as a writer. I had talked to him as he worked on a book for a graphic novel he was writing. I had conferenced with him as he worked on his informational text.  At that time, he informed me that he was no longer writing graphic novels. He had moved on to something else.

I sat next to him and listened as he shared his binder full of data. There were pages about the character study he had done in reading. He was so proud of receiving an A+ on that one. He took me to the computer and showed me the list of books he had read this year. We looked at his ISTEP scores from last year and how he was improving on that. He shared his writer's notebook with me...full of the beginning of graphic novels. The stories were amazing.  He writes with humor and you feel like he is talking to you in his writing.
As we talked about where he was going next with his writing, I couldn't help but remember reading the book: Guys Write For Guys Read  by Jon Scieszka.  In it are boy's favorite authors writing about being BOYS!  The chapter by Dav Pilkey was what kept coming to my mind. I told Caleb, "You are just like Dav Pilkey, the author of Captain Underpants." In the book he tells about being eleven years old and writing a series called Water Man. Giving Caleb's teacher the website:, I told her that Caleb could check it out for all the comics that Mr. Pilkey had written when he was Caleb's age.  Hopefully, this will encourage him to continue to be the great writer he already is. Who knows, maybe we will be reading his books REAL soon!!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Monday...Time For a Christmas Read-Aloud

Since we only have four Mondays before Christmas, I wanted to spend each one of them with a read aloud about this time of year! The first one is Silver Packages-An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant.  The story is taken from something that really happens. There is a real train that rolls through the Appalachian Mountains every Christmas season. From the train toys are thrown out to the children who wait patiently for them. This has happened every Christmas since 1943.

In the story a young boy waits each year for the train to bring him a special present. Not just any present, but a particular present. Each year, instead of what he wants, he gets things that he really needs. The story is a lesson in expectations and the power of kindness.

The book is illustrated by Chris K. Soentpier with watercolor paintings. The pictures make the story all the more realistic and enjoyable. This is a book you can use for teaching writing craft as well as the deep meaning behind the story. Well, of course you can, it was written by Cynthia Rylant after all!!!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

All Write Consortium Information

Many of the local school districts are part of the All Write Consortium.  However, perhaps you didn't know that the consortium has a website with lots of information and help for teachers.  The website: 
Even if you are not part of the consortium, you can check out and use the information found there.  It's all about helping kids, after all!

Here are a few things you will find on that page.
  1. Handouts from the speakers at the 2012 Summer Institute.
    1. Ralph Fletcher has handouts from his dinner speach on notebooks
    2. Katie Wood Ray has handouts from her voice lessons for writers
    3. And MANY more!!!!!
  2. Picture Book Read Aloud suggestions
    1. There is a summary for each book
    2. And how to use the book in your classroom
  3. Documents--mini lessons
    1. Narrative writing for K-2 and also 3-6
    2. Informational Writing
      1. All About for K-2
      2. How-to for K-2
      3. Feature Article for 3-6
    3. Persuasive Writing for 3-8
As you have a little spare time during the Thanksgiving Holidays, this might be a chance for you to browse the website to see what is available for you!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Word After Word After Word

As teachers, we want our students to be good writers. We want them to believe in themselves as writers. We want them to love writing and write so they change their lives. So, this is the book we need to read to them,  Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLauchlan.

This "...inspiring story is about what is real and what is unreal, and about the ways that writing can change our lives and connect us to our own stories..."  Four fourth grade students feel that every day at school is always the same.  Then Ms.Mirabel came to their classroom.  The way she sees things and the magical words that she brings to the classroom change their way of thinking about writing.

Here are a few quotes from the book:
"Hen carried a notebook with him at all times, sometimes stopping in the middle of soccer practice to pull it out and write something."

"Why do you write?" he asked.
Ms. Mirabel sighed. There was a sudden hush in the room as if Ms. Mirabel was about to say something very important. As it turned out, she was.
"I, myself, write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to go," she said. "But other people write for other reasons: to see more closely what it is they are thinking about, what they may be afraid of. Sometimes writers write to solve a problem, to answer their own question. All these reasons are good reasons. And that is the most important thing I'll ever tell you. Maybe it is the most important thing you'll ever hear. Ever."

"You have a story in there, Lucy," she said, touching my head. "Or a character, a place, a poem, a moment in time. When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word after word," she whispered.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving in the Content Areas!

For last week's Gramma Preschool, Meron fixed a Thanksgiving lunch for her mom, little brother and Grandpa. We planned a menu that she could prepare herself. We spent the whole preschool time problem solving and putting everything together for the big meal. She was so excited.
 Setting the table
She started off by setting up the table. She had a slight problem. There were four chairs at the table, but she needed to serve five people. We worked it out by adding chairs. First, she thought she needed five more chairs, but when we moved that many in, it was too many. She finally came up with only one more needed. Then she had to count each of the things for the place settings.  (math)
Making a menu
She next made her menu.  I wrote the words and she drew the pictures. She also wrote the place cards all by herself: Mom, Bam, Meron, Grandpa, Grandma.(reading & writing)
Making turkey sandwiches
Next, came the cooking. She made the sandwiches by spreading turkey salad on the buns. She also made the salad, by adding celery and cucumber pieces to the salad along with little tomatoes. Now for dessert! (science)
Pumpkin pies
For the pies we used pumpkin instant pudding. We read the directions and then she measured the milk and stirred it together.  We poured it into the little pies. The best part was adding the Cool Whip! She was so proud of her pies! (reading)
Let's eat!
She gave the blessing and we all ate! This is a time Meron will never forget.  Sometimes we forget that little ones can do more than we think!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Comprehension Through Adult Eyes

"Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer's day at the start of the 1960's. The house is unassuming: half-timbered, with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster. The chimney pots are steaming, and you know just by looking, that there's something tasty simmering on the stove top beneath. It's something in the way the vegetable parch has been laid out, just so, at the back of the house, the proud gleam of the leadlight windows, the careful patching of the roofing tiles."

This is the first paragraph in the book by Kate Morton: The Secret Keeper.  It is our November book club book.  When I began reading it this week and started off with those words, I knew we had a great book.  Right away I started visualizing the scene.  I think I 
even heard soft piano music in the background. It became a movie in my mind. 

This is what we want children to do as they read. No one said to me, "Now, Kathy, you need to visualize as you read this book."  It just happened. There was no assignment to use my comprehension skills. I didn't have to find a self or the world.  I do believe that children need to be introduced to all the comprehension strategies so they know what they are doing as they read...or learn to do it.  But after that, it is time for them to discover what works for them with each book they read.

Also, as I am reading this book, I realize I have to synthesize constantly. The book is written in three time periods and it goes back and forth between them all through the book. It starts with 1961, flips to 1938 and then comes back to 2011.  The constant in each section is the main character's mother. There was a murder back in the mother. Why did it happen? What was the connection? The book takes you through the family story to find these answers. Definitely a page turner! Definitely a need to synthesize the action.

Since the reader is always going back and forth trying to keep track of the action, this is a complex text. That is something that we want students to be able to read since the new Common Core State Standards are requiring more rigor. As a reader myself, I want to experience what the students are doing in their learning. Reading complex text myself, helps me to work through things that I will be asking of students. How did I figure out what was going on?  Did I infer it or did the text state it? I am constantly questioning about what just happened or what was going to happen.

I use comprehension to help me understand and enjoy the text. I use the strategies I need when I need them. We want children to enjoy reading and understand what they read. Using these skills to better understand and talk or write about what they read, will allow them to do all those things. Comprehension now becomes something to help students...something they do naturally as good readers. Comprehension strategies give them a way of talking/writing about what they are reading. Comprehension has taken on new meaning!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Persuasive Essay Sample

Yesterday I blogged about making a list of things that I believed.  I went back to that list and picked out two that I thought would make good essays.  I chose: a) I believe having a dog makes you a better person. and b) I believe you should surround yourself with positive people.  I then asked myself these questions: Why do I believe that? What proof do I have that that is true? Any examples from my life? 

I next made a sort of list.  I wrote down several dogs that I have had over the as a child, one as a high schooler and one as an adult.  What had each dog taught me? What made me better because of them?  I still just listed the actual writing yet.

Then I looked at another option to write about... Why was I better because of positive people? Who were the most influential people in my life? What had they taught me? Again, I just listed people and things that made me a better person because of them. When I was done with these lists, I knew I wanted to do the essay on positive people.  I probably will go back and do the other one, too, but for now I'll do the people.  Here is my draft:

Life is not easy. There are rough spots, sorrows, and bumps in the road. That is why I believe you need positive people in your life to help you along the way and keep your attitude adjusted.  I have been fortunate to have many such people to keep me on the straight and narrow!

I have a friend that has been my friend forever! She liked to say: "We were friends in the womb." That is because we were destined to become friends. Our grandmothers were friends, our mothers were best friends, so naturally we became friends. We had lots in common. We were both Christians. We were both teachers. We both had sons. But what made her extra special was her positive attitude. Even though she battled cancer for over ten years, she was never without a smile and positive words. She had a faith to envy. She knew God was good and all would be fine. I lost her in September this year, but her words to me over the years live on and on..."You are a Princess, your Father is the King." How could I go wrong with a friend like that?

I have a friend that has been with me through the ups and downs of life. We became friends the moment she entered our elementary building and we taught together. Even though we sometimes don't agree, we still respect and care about each other. She was there when I had my son. She was there when I got my divorce. She was there when I got remarried. And she has been there through each small crisis and joy. How could I go wrong with a friend like that?

I have a friend who is older than I am, but seems young. She was first a friend of my mother. After losing my mom, she just seemed to fill a void for me. I love to have our "Porch-time" and just sit on her porch and talk and talk. She also was an educator and we still have the love of learning in common. She is there to tell me when I need to stop and think about what I am doing. She is there to encourage me when I need a nudge to keep going. She has taught me to care for we push those residence of the nursing home back to their rooms. How could I go wrong with a friend like that?

Then there are all those friends who are younger than I am.  They allow me to enter their classrooms and share their students. They share their teaching/coaching  problems with me and allow me to think through possible solutions. They challenge my thinking. They keep me young by challenging me to come up with answers to classroom dilemmas.  How could I go wrong with friends like that?

Life is  not easy. There are bumps in the road. That is why I believe that you need positive people in your life.  With positive people there to support you, how could you go wrong with friends like that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This I Believe

After writing my blog yesterday, I began thinking about what the students would be doing to get ready to write their persuasive essays.  I suggested that the teachers go to the website:  to get mentor texts for their students. I also suggested that the students begin writing their own lists of what they believe. My thinking took me to deciding that I needed to write my own list of What I Believe. I always tell teachers to model what they are asking the children to do, so that is what I wanted to do, too.  So, here you have list of what I believe.  I am going to try and come up with thirty, but I would have students only do about ten.

What I Believe...
  1. My very first belief is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my personal savior.
  2. I believe that I can make a difference in the world and will live that way daily.
  3. I believe that people should live their lives as if it is the last day they will live...because someday, it will be true!
  4. I believe you should surround yourself with positive people.
  5. I believe everyone should own a dog at least once in their life.
  6. I believe that the United States of America is the best country no matter what the news says is wrong with it.
  7. I believe being a grandmother has made me a better person.
  8. I believe everyone should do some sort of exercise every day, even if it is just to get out of bed and walk across the room!
  9. I believe in reading...all genres!
  10. I believe everyone should vote.
  11. I believe people should go outside more and enjoy the outdoors.
  12. I believe people should get up early.
  13. I believe that walking every day keeps you healthy
  14. I believe in spending time with those you love.
  15. I believe in seeing as much of the world as possible.
  16. I believe writing makes me a better person.
  17. I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.
  18. I believe people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.
  19. I believe God is good all the time
  20. I believe we should stand up for what we believe.
  21. I believe everyone should be the best they can possibly be.
  22. I believe God is in control.
  23. I believe in chocolate.
  24. I believe having a dog makes you a better person.
  25. I believe you should never give up.
  26. I believe in the power of prayer.
  27. I believe in grace.
  28. I believe in heaven.
  29. I believe in setting goals and striving to reach them.
  30. I believe if you are married to your best friend, you are truly blessed.
There are my 30 Things I Believe.  Now, I pick one to make a thesis statement.  That is for another day!  What are the thirty things you believe?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Persuasive Essays for Fourth Graders

This month in many fourth grade classrooms, the genre of personal and persuasive essays is being taught. I have talked about the personal essay and how to form that in a few of my blogs this month. Since November is a short month with Thanksgiving vacation taking away days from the school calendar, the second part of the unit of study probably needs to be started the week of the 19th. That is just next week!

The format of the persuasive essay will be similar to the personal essay. In this essay the students will be asked to defend something they believe. Every day we are asked to explain ourselves or defend what we are thinking. That is why this genre is so important for our children. We want them to stand up for what they believe.

I would recommend going to the website:   Under the section: Explore, you will find a list of essays by students 18 and under.  Most of these essays are written by older students. However, there is one in particular that will help you with this genre. It is written by a five year old, Tarak McLain.  His is simply a list of Thirty Things I Believe.  There is an audio of him reading it also. After listening and discussing this list, it would be helpful for your students to take the time to make a similar list in their notebooks.

Using this list as a guide, the children can pick out something that means a lot to them. In a fifth grade classroom I worked in, a few students were writing about standing up to bullies. Another student wrote on why he believed you should be happy in any situation. After writing the thesis statement, they collected stories, quotes, examples of how this had worked for them or others they knew. These collections became the defense of their thesis. They became the paragraphs in the essay.

Of course, having a beginning paragraph that states the thesis statement and also grabs the reader, is important in this writing. Also, having a conclusion that summarizes the writer's thinking and shows how the thesis statement has been supported is important!

Having this website to begin your short time with this essay, along with writing the introduction and conclusion, will help you and your students to come away with interesting belief statements.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Reading-November, Picture Book Month

For today's selections I want to share a couple beautiful picture books. I chose these two for a couple reasons.  First of all, November is Picture Book Month!  There is a wonderful web site for teachers at  You will find many treasures there! 
The other reason I chose these two is because Veterans' Day is being celebrated today. These books help us show children what patriotism is all about. Both of these books have the most amazing pictures.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a book written in remembrance of September 11, 2001. The pictures are child friendly and perfect. The book is simply written to repeat the pledge, but has a page dedicated to the pictures used in the book. It also has a section called: What Does the Pleadge of Allegiance Mean? This Scholastic book is a great addition to any library.
America the Beautiful is written by Katharine Lee Bates and illustrated by Chris Gall. The poem by Katharine Lee Bates and illustrated by Chris Gall celebrate America's majesty. Gall is the great-great grandnephew of Katharine Bates.  Who better to share pictures of this beautiful song?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Constructed Response--Open-ended Questioning

Many classrooms are using constructed responses to prepare students for those open-ended essay questions that are used on standardized tests. These questions are to show if the reader demonstrates cognitive knowledge and reasoning. Looking at the Common Core Standards, students are to not only give an answer but also demonstrate evidence to support that answer.  One new way of doing this is introduced in the website:

The site gives the acronym "RACE"---reword, answer, cite, and explain. It is stated that if students can reword the answer, answer the question and then cite evidence and finally explain their thinking, they will do well on the exam. The part that usually trips up the reader/writer is the part where they need to cite the evidence and explain their thinking. This part of the exam is meant to show how well the reader comprehended and could use inferences.

R-rewording the question: Simply turn the question into a statement. If the question is: How do you know Kay likes winter?  The rewording would start with: "I know Kay likes winter because..."

A-answering the question: Continue on with the first statement: "...because in the story it said she loves to go sledding."

C-citing evidence: Using specific details that show how much Kay loves sledding and even quoting a line from the story, would be proof for the statement.

E-explain the answer: Now is the time for the reader to give reasoning for why s/he thinks this is evidence. This must be a complete explanation in order to get the most points for the question. This is not meant to demonstrate opinion, but to show how to extract information and support it.

Sharing this idea with students is just the first part of helping them to do better with this type of question. Doing several of the questions and answers in whole group teaching, having the students work with partners in active engagment and then allowing them time to work on their own with support will ensure success when they encounter this type of questioning.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Informational Writing--Non Fiction Picture Books

This month many fifth graders are working on Informational Writing and putting these pieces into picture books.  Last  month I had the opportunity to work with a fifth grade class as they did these books. The outcome was amazing. The books all looked cookie-cutter books here. There were huge, BIG books. There were books with pages that had been torn around the edges to give it an "old" look. There were typed books and handwritten books. This teacher had taken subjects from their social studies to have the children choose what they would do research on and write their book.  They did content writing. Each student knew who their audience would be...4th graders coming into 5th grade next year or younger students who didn't know much about the subject. Knowing that helped the writer know what research to do.

How did they get to that point? What did they do to come up with such interesting, unique books?

Writing these books is very similar to doing the Feature Articles that we have done in the past. The format will be different for publishing and the text features might be more interesting and diverse, but still the same thinking is behind it. So, because of that, I will refer you to the All Write website. On the left side of that page you will find lessons for "Feature Article" Writing. This will give you some lessons to help out with this genre.

Hopefully, you have been immersing the students in this type of writing by reading lots of nonfiction picture books. You will do reading as readers and then reading as writers to see what things those authors do to teach the reader. The children should come up with an author or book that they can use as a mentor text. This will help them to have a form to follow as they begin their writing.

Allowing the students to have a vision for what their book will look like, is something that will give them choice and freedom.  This will help them to have ownership in this writing. Another thing that is so important is, as I stated before, having an idea of who the audience is, will help that, too.  Thinking ahead and planning a celebration at the end of this unit lets the students know that their book is not going to simply go into a folder or get graded and sent home. Sharing their books is a great way to help students to love writing and therefore become better writers! 

Have fun with this unit as you do research and learn along the way!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Realistic Fiction--Day-by-Day Lessons

Writing realistic fiction is a perfect step from the unit of study of personal narrative. However, it is a new unit of study for many primary classrooms. To begin this unit, it might help to give the students structure to follow. Writing this genre is new, so the students will need to have the teacher modeling and doing a shared story with the entire class, in order to get the idea of how to begin writing. To do that, I will be sharing an idea for a day-by-day lesson plan to go with this unit. This is something that I saw done in a fourth grade classroom while I was studying under Carl Anderson with the All Write mentors.  Here is how it goes:

Reading LOTS of fiction during reading time, is a MUST for this unit. Doing read-alouds with realistic fiction and discussing the idea of problem/solution is so important.

Day One--- Come up with a character for the whole class.  Choose the sex, size, name, other features (hair color, eye color, type of clothes, etc) and draw it on chart paper. Now go deeper with the character. What does s/he like to do? Does s/he like to play sports? What does s/he do in spare time? Now think about what s/he feel about things. What does s/he love? What food? Have pets? Personality...caring? bossy? shy? bold? I suggest putting thought bubbles for the feelings and thinking and a heart to enter the character's favorite things.  After doing this as a class....the children do this on their own.

Day Two---You will be coming up with people who are important to your character. Do this again with the class character first. Make a list of people who are important.  List names: 5 family members, 3 friends, 3 other important people like teachers, coaches, neighbors. After doing this as a class...children do this on their own.

Day Three--You will be working on the setting for the story today. Think about where your character will spend MOST of their time...maybe their bedroom, the playground, grandma's house, the football field...Close your eyes and see it. Really get specific with colors and details. Now you will draw a map of it on chart paper. After doing this as a class...children do this on their own.

Day Four---You should now know your character REALLY well, kind of like your best friend. You will come up with a problem for your character today. Think about things that the character liked...what could be a problem with that? If they like football, would they have a problem getting on the team? Does the character have an older sibling that could give them trouble? Write a few problems for your class character on chart paper. Pick a problem and come up with a few solutions...remember, you will need more than one way to solve it so the story gets interesting. After you have done this as a class...children will do it on their own.

Day Five--???:  Now you will do normal writing mini lessons such as: good leads, using a story arc, the power of sound, using dialogue, show not tell, good endings. Let your students' writing direct your lessons.

Hopefully, this will help as you travel through this  new adventure of writing realistic fiction!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Interpretive Essays Using Book Characters

I spent Sunday afternoon at Jefferson Point, an outside shopping mall in Fort Wayne.  No big deal, lots of people do that. What made that day's visit special was meeting with two fifth grade teachers from different school districts. The idea was to share ideas from their classrooms...and share they did...for over two  hours on a SUNDAY!  They talked about how they had taught specific genres in writing. They shared work their students had done. And, finally, they shared email addresses so the networking could continue.
 One of the classrooms is finishing up their interpretive essays with characters this week. In this room, the students had posters with a name of a character on each one. They were all from their read-aloud book: because of mr. terupt  by Rob Buyea. The posters were placed around the room. Students were paired with a partner and in their notebooks they were to list characteristices for each character. Then, as partners, they went from poster to poster to add characteristics in marker. After several minutes, they shared the posters.
This class could take one of those fiction people  from their read aloud book or pick someone from a former read-aloud or picture book they had read. They could even pick someone from a story in their basal. The essay would have the same format as the personal essays they had just written earlier this month. 

The students picked a thesis statement for their character. But first, the whole class made a list of possible statements for several of the read-aloud characters. Students could use one of those or do their own for their character. Remember, it didn't have to be from this book!

As the students finished their pieces, they would check the rubric to be sure they had completed every area. At the end of writing time, everyone sat in a huge circle. They each shared what character they had written about and from what book. How exciting it was to hear students speak confidently about writing in such an important genre!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Great Fall Books for Read Alouds

Both of the books I am talking about today are by my favorite author, Cynthia Rylant. These books are a 'must read to students' for November. They have been around for a long time and are nothing new, but I had to remind teachers that they are out there. These are books that students can hear over and over and over and still learn something new from them. I know I do!
In November, just makes you feel warm and cozy. Even though we know that winter is around the corner, coming fast, this book helps you feel that maybe that's okay after all.  The craft in this book would fill a writer's workshop for a whole month of mini lessons.  From the descriptive words and phrases to the repeated lines, it is full of ways to make your writing better. The illustrations by Jill Kastner are amazing. I just LOVE this book and look forward to November when I can read it again!
I can't read Scarecrow without hearing Katie Wood Ray's voice reading it and even picture her delivery of it.  She would read it in her Carolina voice as she walked around the room.  No book in sight. She really wasn't reading it, she was reciting it. I didn't look at the typed text in front of me as she read...I watched her. She loved that story. She believed in that story. She WAS that story.  She always told us that we should know the books we read so well that we don't have to look at the words. She made that book sing for me. I could actually see that scarecrow in the field.

Again, Cynthia Rylant has used loads of craft in her writing. Again, there are tons of mini lessons in this one book.  If I had to pick only two books to be in my library to use in workshop, these would be the two. They are so full of craft that you have everything you need to help children be great writers.

One of my former second graders, who is now in college, used Scarecrow as her mentor text when she was a student in my classroom.  Here is her story about The Rocking Horse.  Thanks, Paige!

His legs are made from oak wood.
His back is made from oak wood.
His tail is made from oak wood,
even his head is made from oak wood.
But maybe his mane was made
from that special cloth that your grandmother gave you back in 1983.
So, do you think he is just there to be a decoration?
Or do you think he is there to brighten your day
and  to make everything seem easier?
Well, maybe he doesn't talk and maybe he doesn't walk,
but he is still there to make you happier
or to be your friend.
Or maybe he is just there to sit around
and rock in the breeze on a breezy fall morning.

Friday, November 2, 2012

End of Unit---Celebration Time!!!

I had the privilege of being invited to the celebration of the end of unit study on informational books by a classroom of fifth graders.  Naturally, I accepted. How could I not visit a room full of writers, illustrators and just plain great kids?
Students listened as classmate shares.
As I entered the room, I could tell it was a different day from my usual visiting time. The children were a bit more chatty. They were definitely excited. On their desks were several papers: rubric used on the piece, reflection sheet they filled out, a blank sheet for appreciations, and THEIR BOOK!  The teacher gave last minute instructions. They were to go from desk to desk and read their classmates books and leave appreciations. If all the books were being read, they were to go to the front of the room where various students were reading their favorite chapters. Anyone could do or listen.
Fourth grader adding an appreciation
The music started softly in the background. Students got up and moved around the room. It wasn't quiet, but it wasn't noisy either. You could hear all kinds of comments.
  • "You've got to read Maddie's book. It is so cool."
  • "Did you see Jacob's pictures?"
  • "I love Katie's dedication to her grandparents."
  • I cried when I read Addie's. The poetry in it was great!"
Reading a classmates work
The fourth grade classrooms, along with the principal and building coach were also invited to the celebration. They moved among the tables and added their comments to the books.

When the time was up and visitors had gone, it was time to go back to their own desks and their books.  Children were saying, "I can't wait to read the appreciations."
From an informational book.
This is the REAL reason we write.  It is almost always for others. As teachers, we can't forget to be sure students are aware of their audience. Who are they really writing for?  We must give them REAL reasons to write...not just for their writing folder or the teacher.

Great Job, Mrs. Norton's Fifth Graders!  I'm proud of all of you!!!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reliatic Fiction for First, Second and Third Grade

As students are getting started with the next unit of study, Realistic Fiction, they will be developing the character. Coming up with the problem and solution for this story is a major event. There are a couple things students must think about: what the character wants and then what keeps them from getting it. As the story continues the problem seems to get worse and worse. This becomes the 'story mountain' that the writer is developing. The writer, also, will not come right out and say what the character wants, but will use the skill of show not tell to do this.

In the lessons for this area, a mentor text which the entire class knows well will be used. This will not be read during the mini lesson since it is a well-known short text. After discussing the possibilities of character wants and things that keep the characters from getting what they want, you will refer to the mentor text and show how the author has shown that. You will want your writers to do this in their stories by giving examples in little small moments.

In mini lessons, the teacher will show how to develop the troubles the character is experiencing through modeling. The troubles need to make sense. If students are having difficulty with finding problems for the character, they might want to look at the internal and external qualities of the character to see if there is hidden troubles there. If students have not made lists of these qualities for the character, they could do that first.

The character might love baseball so the problem might be getting on the team. The character might wear a certain type of clothes and others make fun of her. The character might be shy, but she wants a part in the school play. These problems become believable because the writer knows the character so well.

After students have made a list of problems and solutions, they can look them over and decide which make the most sense for the story.