Monday, April 29, 2013

How Do You Feel About Memoir?

May is the month for memoirs in many classrooms.  I love the idea of writing memoir at the end of the year. Students can look back at their writing throughout the year and decide what is really important to them in their life. Their notebooks will show this. Reflecting on what has been written and then going deeper into what does it really  mean to me, is a way to start their memoir adventure.

To begin this journey, it is best to dig into some mentor texts. Today, I am sharing four books that I enjoy using for mentor tests in this genre.
One of my favorite books for memoir is by Ralph Fletcher. Teachers know this author because of all the books on writing he and his wife, JoAnne Portalupi, have written. Children know this author because of the young adult novels he has written. This book on memoir will not disappoint either. Each chapter gives you a little snippet of Ralph's life and shows beginning writers how to write that type of genre. The book is: Marshfield Dreams.
Another book I like to use when teaching memoir is Childtimes.  It is also written by a familiar author: Eloise Greenfield.  This is a three-generation memoir because it takes you across three generations in this family. This is not just a chronicle of stories from a family, it takes you into the heart of that family. As you read the happy, sad, and always vivid stories, you are being taught the art of writing memoir.
In the book My Life in Dog Years, another favorite author, Gary Paulsen, shares his life but it now is using all the dogs in his life.  I especially like this book because it would be one that I could use as a mentor text and make my own life in dog years.  I think this memoir would be one that the boys in the upper grades would connect with and use for their own.
The last book is the year of goodbyes by Debbie Levy.  This is a new book to me and I really bought it when I was studying historical fiction. This memoir is from the view point of a Jewish girl in 1938 living in Germany. This is a book of memoirs telling the Salzberg family's last year in Germany. It was a year of change. This book might be more for middle school children than elementary.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mentor Texts for Preschool

This month the kindergarten students are learning how to use mentor texts to help them with their writing. They may be using a classroom text for the entire group to use. With that sort of text, the students would listen to the books during read aloud time. They would discuss what they notice and then the teacher would chart it. Perhaps the students would be able to take this idea a step further and come up with their own individual mentors. At least that is what we hope for them to be able to do in the years to come.
For our Gramma Preschool time last week, we used the book by Karen Hess: Come On, Rain! The book is about a young girl who is in the  middle of summer wishing that it would rain. We used the book because it was a rainy April day. We had listened to Vivaldi on our way to preschool and talked about how that was the perfect music to listen to every time it rained. Then for Reading Time, we read the book and talked about the pictures. Meron loved the illustrations and could identify with the character! She chose to take that book home with her in her satchel.
When it was time to do writing, she decided to write a story about a time it rained. She wrote about how they were in the car and it was raining. Then when they got to the store it stopped. She illustrated the pages with the car, raindrops, and pictures of her, her brother and mom. This time she even labeled the characters without me suggesting it. She really is getting the idea of how writing is a way to tell a story.

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? More Historical Fiction

I want to share with you an Indiana author that I have been reading lately. Margaret McMullen is from southern Indiana, but was born in Mississippi. The two books I just read were set in that state at the time of Civil War. Our book club is going to hear her speak in a this weeks and we wanted to be familiar with her work before that meeting. 
I had read one of her books several years ago at the recommendation from a friend. It is a children's book (young adult) and a fast read. I got it back out this weekend and read it again. Also fell in love with it again. It is How I Found the Strong.  It takes place in 1861-1865.  The Civil War had started and all the men old enough to hold a rifle, were heading off to war. The main character, Frank "Shanks" Russel, could not go...he was too young. Staying home with his mother, grandparents and young slave, Buck, was difficult for him. The book contains the story of what happened while others were fighting in this glorious war. At least that is what he thought. McMullen helps you have a different view point of the war and keeps you wanting to turn the page!
I wasn't satisfied with just reading one of her books. They are short reads, but great for historical fiction. These books would make great mentor texts while teaching this genre to fourth and fifth graders. The other book I read was: When I Crossed No-Bob.  This book takes place after the war, when the slaves were free. But were they? Addy O'Donnnell is the 12 year old main character who lives in the patch of woods called No-Bob. Her family (clan) is mean, stinky thieves. Her dad is said to have left for Texas and her mom is mean and cruel, but all she has. Then the mother takes off leaving Addy to go live with a teacher, Frank Russel, and his new wife. (Does the name sound familiar?) Addy has t eventually stand up for what is right even if it means going against her clan.

Both these books were written from the stories of Margaret McMullen's own family. This is a great way to teach children to draw from things they know to write their stories!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Informational Writing in the Content Areas for Third, Fourth and Fifth Grades

This month many students in third, fourth and fifth grades are working on writing informational books or essays to go along with current content areas. They might be working on things for social studies or science. These pieces will be used to further teach classmates about the subjects.  This is a new concept in many classrooms. As I went through all the information that we have on this unit of study, I drew some connections to things students have done in the past in writing a feature article, which also was a nonfiction piece. 

Looking at all this information, I went through and made a day-by-day lesson series to help teachers have a place to start as they work with this unit.  I am including on this blog the day-by-day outline.  In this piece, I have noted that there is attached a lesson.  I did  not include those lessons due to the room on this blog. The lessons are usually things that teachers have taught while doing the feature article unit of study and can draw from that.

Here is my outline!

Day One: Informational Writers Know How to Take Notes without Just Copying (See attached lesson)
Day Two: Informational Writers choose a (sub) Topic   (See attached lesson)
Day Three: Informational Writers choose an angle for their topic (See attached lesson)
Day Four: Informational Writers Communicate Their Ideas through Sketching Using Detailed Labels and Captions
          Students will take their research and sketch their ideas. They will not just recopy what they
           have read. They will put in as much detail as possible and then add labels and captions to their
Day Five: Informational Writers Communicate Their Ideas through Observational Writing
           Students will use sentence starters like: “I notice”, “I see”, “This reminds me of”
Day Six: Informational Writers Use Questions and Wonders to Clarify Their Writing
            In the notebook, students will read over what they have collected and then write their own
            questions about what they are thinking at this point. They will also write what they are
           wondering about now, too.
Day Seven: Informational Writers Think about Their Observations
             Students will look back over the writing they have collected and write about what they are
             realizing. These entries may start like: “One thing I know,” “Another thing I know,” “This
             made me realize that, “ “This helps me understand,” “I used to think…….but now I know,”
Day Eight: Informational Writers Choose the Best Structure to Teach the Information They Present by Drafting a Table of Contents (3rd)  
Day Eight: Informational Writers Prioritize the Research They Gather (4th & 5th)
            Students will learn how to decide what is important to include in their essay. They will use
            words like “most” or “least”. Phrases they might use are: “most influential” or “least
            effective” help them to decide which points to refer to in the essay.
Day Nine: Informational Writers Cite Research Correctly (4th & 5th)
           Students will take a card and write a research fact on one side of the index card and then
            rewrite it on the other side of the card from memory. (Paraphrasing)
Day Nine: Informational Writers Use Linking Words Like: Also, Another, And, More, But, to Connect Ideas and Information (3rd)
Day Ten: informational Writers Use Their Notebooks as a Valuable Resource
             Students will look at their notebooks for detailed drawings to write more on a page. They will
             use their notes to give more details in the writing by adding more specific vocabulary,
             captions or labels.
Day Eleven: Informational Writers Add an Introduction and Conclusion to Their Essay      (See attached lesson)
Day Twelve: Informational Writers Revise by Thinking about Their Audience
Day Thirteen: Informational Writers Edit Their Work by Rereading to Be Sure it Makes Sense and for Conventions
Day Fourteen: Informational Writers Edit Their Work Looking at Conventions
Day Fifteen: Informational Writers Present Their Books and Teach All They Have Learned to Others (3rd)
Day Fifteen: Informational Writers Publish Their Essays by Using a Variety of Strategies (4th & 5th)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Writing Fantasy in Second Grade

In April, many second grade classrooms will be trying out a new genre with the unit of study on Fairy Tales/Folk Tales/Fantasy. These students have a great foundation for this genre since they know how to write personal narratives and realistic fiction. Now the trick is to get them to explore this type of fiction. The main thing the teacher needs to keep in mind is that these seven-year-olds are going to just be approximating this type of writing.  It won't look like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or even Harry Potter.  Remember to take each student where they are and help to make them a better writer. Take baby steps.

The purpose of teaching this genre is to go along with the Common Core State Standards. They are asked to read this genre, so why not write it, too. The thinking is that some day in the future, when these second graders will be taking the high stakes tests, they will be asked to write this genre. We want to give them enough background to help them feel comfortable doing that.

Here is a unit of study that I put together with things from Lucy Calkin's Curriculum Plan for the Writing Workshop.  Hopefully, it will help you in this new adventure of fantasy writing!

Second Grade Writing Unit   Fairy Tales/Folk Tales/Fantasy
Adapted from A Curricular Plan for the Writing Workshop, Grade 2, 2011-1012 by Lucy Calkins and the Colleagues from the Reading and Writing Project

­­­­­Things to Remember
  • This unit is designed to expose students to the power of this genre in teaching story arcs and specific life lessons
  • This unit is designed to give students more practice in writing fiction
  •    It is important to immerse students in this genre through read alouds and discussions about the structure
  • Anchor charts created in other units of study are made available for student use
  • Students will practice comparing and contrasting two or more versions of the same tale
  • Launching the unit:
    • Through literature
      •   The Wolf Who Cried Boy by Bob Hartman
      •   The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) retold by Philemon Sturges
    • Through Text book (Macmillan Treasures
      •   Farfallina & Marcel; Hermie the Hermit Crab; Pip the Penguin
      • Head, Body, Legs; Telling Tales; The Story of the Giant Carrot; Three Wishes from a Fish; Three Dog Wishes; Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type
      •  Pushing Up the Sky; Why Sun and Moon Live in the Sky; Why the Sky is Far Away; Sky Seeds
      • Mice and Beans
  • Make sure you keep these few things in mind as you get started:
    • Give students a choice about what they want to write
    • Give students a chance to be immersed in this genre before starting to write
    • Still walk through the writing process (plan, draft, revise, edit, publish)
Menu of Teaching Points:  Fairy Tales/Folk Tales/Fantasy

Goal #1: Writers plan before they begin to write
  •   Writers think about what they could change in their adaptation of the story
  • Writers make many adaptations of the story
  • Writers plan their stories in a booklet or storyboard
Goal #2: Writers make important decisions while they write
  • Writers ask themselves many questions as they plan their stories
  • Writers work with writing partners to work out their choices and change their versions
Goal #3: Writers choose one plan and begin to write
  • Writers take a number of pages and transfer their ideas by using sketches
  • Writers are storytellers using dialog, action and thinking
  • Writers act out the scene or tell it over and over to get a clear idea of what to put on the page
Goal #4: Writers reread what they have done and plan what to do next
  • Writers reread to see how to make their stories stronger
  • Writers make stronger beginnings by using: “Once upon a time”
  • Writers use language for transitioning: “but, then one day…” or “Not long after that…”
  • Writers use sentence length to strengthen their stories
Goal #5: Fairy Tale writers use similar story structure
  • Fairy Tale writers use a main character and create a wish or problem for the character
  • Fairy Tale writers build the problem throughout the story with a solution at the end
  • Fairy Tale writers use tension to hook their reader
  • Fairy Tale writers use dialog, action and show-not-tell to keep the reader’s attention
  • Fairy Tale writers make each scene like a ‘small moment’ story
  • Fairy Tale writers use endings with “happily ever after.”
Goal #6: Fairy Tale writers teach readers a lesson
  • Fairy Tale writers think about what they want their readers to learn
  • Fairy Tale writers work with partners giving each other advice
Goal #7: Fairy Tale writers may adapt a story by writing a whole new version of the fairy tale told
                from a different character’s point of view

Goal #8: Fantasy writers use what they know about realistic fiction to help write in this genre
  • Fantasy writers feature a character with a problem just like realistic fiction writers
  • Fantasy writers use magic or an imaginary setting instead of something real as in realistic fiction
Goal #9: Fantasy writers act out parts and storytell over and over again
  • Fantasy writers work with a partner to storytell or act out their piece
  • Fantasy writers use dialog and very small actions into the their writing
Goal #10: Fantasy writers stretch out their fantasy stories
  • Fantasy writers use story arcs to help develop the problem in the story
  • Fantasy writers create obstacles that keep the reader on the ‘edge of their seats’
  • Fantasy writers think outside the box about how to use magic to help their character
  • Fantasy writers use charts around the room (old and new ones) to make good choices in their writing
Ways to Structure Fairy Tale/Folk Tale/Fantasy Writing
  • Write a fairy tale from another point of view: different characters, different setting, different problem
  • Write a whole new piece making up the characters and problem for a fairy tale or folk tale
  • Write a whole new piece using new ideas for magic and make believe for a fantasy story






Monday, April 15, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? How About Some Anthony Browne?

Today I want to share a couple of my favorite books.  They are both by the author, Anthony Browne. He is also the illustrator. As many classrooms are getting ready for the high stakes testing in multiple choice, they are focusing on inferencing. These books are wonderful for that comprehension strategy.  Looking at the art work and the story that the pictures are telling us, is a way to exercise our inferring muscles. Anthony Browne has a special way of getting the reader to look deeper at the story. What is really happening? What is really happening?
The book Voices in the Park is one that can help students to look at things deeper. I will be posting at a later time the lesson plan for using this book with students. For right now I will just focus on the actual story. Reading it as a Read Aloud is a perfect way to get students familiar with the Anthony Browne "style". Putting the book on the document camera so students can actually see the pictures as you read, is a better way to allow students to discuss at a higher level.

Another of Anthony Browne's books is The Shape Game.  In 2001-2002, Browne was a writer/illustrator in residence at Tate Britain in London. He taught literacy using the resources in the gallery. This book is based on the responses to works of ark in the collections. This is a great Art/Literacy connection book. Again, I love the way Anthony Browne uses the illlustrations to tell the story as much as the words.
A study in Browne books would be beneficial during this time of test prep. However, a study of his books is also beneficial for writing workshops any time of the year! Hopefully, you and your students will discover the wonder of Anthony Browne's world!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cross Genre Writing in First Grade

As much as we as teachers, do not like it, there are times when students are tested on their skills as writers. One way to prepare them for this is to revisit the genres that they have been writing all year. This also is a chance for those students who always seem to write about the same topic no matter what the genre is. They just have a passion for that topic.

In first grade the students have written in these genres: Personal narratives, Realistic Fiction, Opinion/Persuasive, and Informational (How-To, All About). These are the genres that would be focused on in this Cross Genre study. Students would take a topic they are passionate about and write in each of those genres.

It might look like this with the topic of DOGS:

Genre                                         Example

1. Personal Narr.                      A story about you and a dog
2. Realistic Fiction                    Story about made-up character and dog
3. Informational                        All About Dogs
4. Opinion/Persuasive              Why dogs make the best pets

The first step would be to have mentor texts available using one topic in these genres. Here is an example with the topic being Fireflies:

Personal Narr. Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
Realistic Fiction: The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle
Informational:  Living Lights;  Fireflies in Your Backyard by Nancy Loewen
Opinion/Persuasive:  A letter written by the teacher about saving fireflies

 Writing one genre a day is a great way to start this unit of study.  After those four days, then they may go back and work on finishing the pieces or revising and editing them.  A folder of writing with the focus on one topic could be the end of the unit goal.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Authors as Mentors for Kindergarten

Bulletin Board display from Kindergarteners in New York City
This month many kindergarteners will be using Authors as Mentors as their unit of study. This is a time when students will use various authors as their writing teachers. They will develop styles, strategies and craft like a certain mentor writer. To do this the class will study several authors. They will read books written by the mentor authors and find what makes those writers unique.

First, a mentor author needs to be chosen to start the month. Some of the authors I have used are: Donald Crews, Ezra Jack Keats, Kevin Henkes and Tomie de Paola. As you choose your authors, they should be ones who can help students with craft. What the teacher already knows about her class of writers will help her make that choice.

After one author is chosen, the teacher will do a read aloud reading the book twice--once for enjoyment and once to look for various craft moves. Using a chart with the author's name and perhaps picture on top will be where craft moves of the book are listed. As this author is being studied, different books by him/her will be read each day. The chart will have more craft items listed on it. Students will try to model what they have learned from that day's author in their own writing.

Children will be looking at the world through writer's eyes. They will see things in a different way---a way to turn what they see into a story. In order to capture these details of their lives, they may want to carry Tiny Topic notebooks with them. They can then jot down words or sketches of things that happen in their lives. This will give them a collection of ideas to use as stories.

Lesson: Authors As Mentors: Ezra Jack Keats (The Snowy Day)
Materials: many E.J. Keats books; chart paper
You have heard lots of books this year. Your teacher has read them to you and you have even read some books. Who is the person who writes the words in a book? That’s right, the author. Who is the person who draws the pictures in a book? That’s right, the illustrator. Sometimes the author and illustrator are the same person, they do both. Today and for several days, we are going to look at one author. We are going to look at the book he wrote and see what he did that we could do as writers. Are you ready?
New Learning:
We are going to start by looking at the author Ezra Jack Keats. You have already heard many of his books. He wrote the book: The Snowy Day. I bet you have heard that book.
Let’s make a chart that says: Ezra Jack Keats, and look I have his picture right here. We will put it up here beside his name. Remember I said we are going to look at the book The Snowy Day? Well, I have the picture of the cover and I am going to put it right here.
We are going to listen to the book again. But this time I want you to be listening for things that you could do like Mr. Keats is doing. Ready? Read the book to them.
What did you notice? Pick out things like: put spaces between his words. He drew the pictures, too. Sometimes wrote only a few words on a page. His words matched his pictures.
Active Engagement:
Turn and talk to your partner about what E.J. Keats did in his book that you could do in your book today. Have a few of them share.
When you go back to your seat today, think about how you could write like Mr. Keats. He will be your writing teacher. Those of you who do something like Ezra Jack Keats will get to share. Happy writing!