Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Planning a Unit of Study

One of the things I enjoy most about working with teachers is the time spent in collaborating with them. Recently, I have had the chance to work closely with a couple teachers doing just that.  One is a fifth grade teacher in my hometown and the other is my niece who lives in Utah and teaches sixth grade.

Last Sunday, Amy, the fifth grade teacher, came over and we brainstormed how to teach a unit of study. She wanted her students to do well on the state test next month, but did not want to do the usual prompt study. Her kiddos are amazing writers, so how could we make them even better. We decided to do a two-week study on reviewing the genres. This would be a learning unit, not a pre-testing unit. She came up with lesson titles like: Writers Can Write in Many Genres.  She would have the students first brainstorm what each of the four genres components were and she would chart that. The next day the students would come up with one topic they loved and could write about in all four  genres. After that she would model day by day a genre using her topic. This was the beginning. For the following days we came up with things that we thought the children needed to review...specific nouns, punctuation as a revising tool, etc. How fun it was to sit and just work all this out together!

I also got the chance to work with my niece. We were planning a trip to see family in Utah and I volunteered to come do a lesson in her sixth grade classroom. She accepted! So via email and texting, we planned what I would do when I visited. 
After arriving in Utah on Thursday, the two of us met at her house that night. We sat at the kitchen bar and made our last minute plans.  I tried not to overwhelm her with all my writer's workshop blather. She asked me to do a lesson on persuasion. I wanted to give her something that she could take and continue to do in her classroom even when I wasn't there to give her support. I decided to do the lesson on using mentor texts and writing for real reasons...each child having the choice of what to write.

I used the Wal-Mart letter that Mary Helen's children wrote many years ago. It is the perfect example of the power kids have in writing. (Thanks again, Mary Helen for sharing. Utah kids loved the letter!) We charted what we noticed and then, in notebooks, the kiddos made their own lists of things they wanted to change.

The kids wrote and wrote as I sat beside them and talked about what they wanted to change. Such great ideas!  These students have the power to change the world!

Thank you so much, Park Elementary School, Mrs. Anderson's sixth graders and Annalyse for allowing me to be part of your classroom today!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Gripping Stories in Second Grade

Many second grade classrooms are taking narrative writing to a higher level this month. They are turning their personal narratives into "Edge of Your Seat" stories. The focus this month is on grabbing the audience and holding on to them as the story progresses.

To start this unit of study the students need to think of stories in their lives that were exciting. Usually, seven-year-olds don't think anything they have done is that exciting, but when you share mentor texts like Shortcut by Donald Crews or Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats, they realize that everyday events can keep readers on the edge of their seats.

The following lesson gives you a perfect example of how that is done.

Connection:  You have been writing stories all year.  You know so much about how to do that.  Today, we are going to spend some time studying how to stretch the good part of a story.  We’re going to call these “edge of your seat” stories.  What kind of story would be an edge of your seat story?  Discuss.
Teaching:  I have an edge of your seat story to read to you.  It is called Shortcut.  This story is a small moment in time story…a “One time...” story.  Remember, we have talked about the “Magic Words of Story,” - how you can begin a story with an “O” word, if you can’t think of a way to begin.
Listen to Shortcut and we will talk about what makes it an “edge of your seat” story.  Read story and solicit (from students) why this is an edge of your seat story.
Now we are going to talk about things that would make “edge of your seat” stories.  Here are some examples:  Jot these down on a list and add a few they might have…A time I was afraid;  The first time I did something;  A time I was naughty;  A time I had a problem with someone;  A change in my life.
Students can write key words at the top of their list:  scared; naughty; change; etc.
I was thinking about****.  (Tell your story briefly) 

 Active Engagement:  Look at our list and think about an edge of your seat story that you have had.  Give me a “thumbs up” if you can think of one.  Ask for volunteers to share topics, not the whole story.
Link:  Now, I would like you to turn to a partner and tell them your story.  Give them a minute or two and then switch so the other person can tell their story.  Now, turn to a different person and tell them your story.  Do the same as before.
We are going to go back to our seats and get out our writer’s notebooks.  Turn to a clean page and write some ideas that you thought of that you could write about.  You are not going to write the story, only ideas.  For example, I would put ****.  In other words, you put down your ideas for edge of your seat stories just like I do.



Monday, February 18, 2013

What Are You Reading in February?

For the last blog on Black History read-alouds, I have picked one of my favorites. This book is based on The National Civil Rights Museum. The title: Everyday People tells the whole story. This IS a book about the everyday people that made up civil rights. The focus of this book is important because the movement was always about lifting the lot of the common people, the everyday people.  It shows how ordinary citizens can take up the course of their own lives and make extraordinary changes.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. This book takes select exhibits at the museum as a framework. This book is a tribute to those who fought for equal rights in the United States. It is intended to remind us that struggle precedes peace.

The pictures are a wonderful way to see the story of civil rights. The text is more difficult, but choosing what to read instead of reading it cover to cover would still make it valuable. This book is another one that will make the Civil Rights Movement come alive to children today.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Preparing For The State Test By Using Specific Nouns

As we are thinking of the state testing that is coming soon, one of the ways to help students earn the best score possible, is to use specific nouns in their writing piece.  Following is a lesson plan that I have used to introduce this skill to the students. Help them to realize that all writers use certain skills to help their readers visualize what is happening in their stories.
Using Specific Nouns
Materials: any book that uses specific nouns OR your own work
 Whenever we read books it helps if the author has painted a picture in our minds.  We call this visualization.  As writers we want to do the same thing.  Today we are going to learn how authors do that.  We are going to learn about making our writing more specific.
I am going to show you a section from the book Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester Laminack.  Lester really paints a picture in his book.  I will just read one page of that book.  Read the page with lots of specific nouns.
 Turn and talk to your partner about what nouns you heard in the story.
Let’s make a list of those nouns on chart paper.  List the nouns that the partners have found.  Help them with suggestions if they need more.
Think about the story you are writing or the story you are planning to write.  How could you add specific nouns?  Turn and talk to your partner about some ways you could add specific nouns.
When you go back to write today, look over what you have written or look at your plan.  Put a star by where you can add more specific nouns.  If you have already drafted your piece, go to another paper and rewrite the piece using more specific nouns.  When you do, you can put that in your piece by adding a star in your draft.
 If you add some specific nouns, we will have you share what you added today at Share Time.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

We had a great Valentine's Day. Yesterday I took Graham to Story Time at the library. After their story time they had a party. Then today I had Meron for Gramma Preschool. We read books about love. We made valentines for all her family. Then we made sandwiches and cut them out with heart cutters. Here are pictures from our day!
Graham waiting for the story.

Graham getting a valentine

Graham eating a cookie

Graham loved the treats!

Meron with heart shaped sandwiches

Meron stamping her valentines

Meron's valentine to Mom

Books that we read today!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Testing and The Five-Paragraph Essay

I want to start out with this statement: There is no such thing as a five-paragraph essay. That is my belief and I stand by it completely. I have never blogged about it. I just believe it. Actually, I have avoided the subject because it is popular with many teachers. However, after having a conversation with a friend who teaches at a local university and discussing this issue, I decided it was time to make my feelings clear.  There is no such thing as a five-paragraph essay.

Beginning my career as a district coach, I was working with some fifth grade teachers. We worked on writing good narrative pieces. We worked on writing informative feature articles. But one day one of the teachers asked me, "When are we going to learn about the five-paragraph essay?"  My answer?  "Never!" 

Taking some thoughts from Kelly Gallagher in his book, Write Like This, he says after doing lots of searches in books, newspapers, magazines and speeches, it became apparant that "in the real world, there is no such thing as a five-paragraph essay."  Using mentor texts as models for writing, you will never find one to use while teaching this. Kelly says, "If our goal is to develop lifelong writers, and we recognize that the five-paragraph essay doesn't exist in the real world, then why are we still hammering it into our students' heads?"

Yes, I can hear the idividuals who belive in this form now...'But my students struggle without that type of structure.'  Yes, students do need structure. The structure they need is to write with a beginning, middle and end to their pieces. When they do this it might turn out to be a four paragraph essay or a fourteen paragraph essay. It is whatever they need to achieve the purpose of the piece. The paragraph just needs a beginning, a middle and an ending.

As students are getting ready for the state testing, some teachers believe they need that structure to do well on the test. That is not true. Teach them to write well all year, and they will do fine on the test. Use a good piece of writing as a mentor text, and students will do well.  I love the example of going to the doctor.  When I go for my yearly exam, I do not exercise like crazy the week before.  I do not eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I do not suddenly go on a diet. No, I try to live a healthy life all year long. That is the same with writing. Write all year long.  Write lots. Write various genres. Enjoy writing!
As Kelly says, "Let's teach our students to write well first, and the concern over testing will resolve itself."

Check out Kelly's website at:  

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Monday What Are You Reading in February?

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles is one that every student should hear. As the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school, Ruby Bridges shows us all how brave and how forgiving a six-year-old child can be. The large illustrations as well as the simple text, makes this book a perfect read-aloud for this month.
A companion to that book would be: Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. Even though the text is more difficult and small, it is necessary to share the words from Ruby herself as well as the actual pictures of the time. Many times when children hear a historical fiction book, they do not realize that it is based on a true story. Sharing the book, written by Ruby, right after reading the fiction piece helps students visualize what really happened and makes it real for them.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Preparing For State Testing

March means the beginning of state testing in Indiana. Therefore, in February, teachers are looking at ways to be sure their students are ready for those tests. One thing many of them do is to do a unit of study on the genre of test taking skills. When students in writing workshops think about doing prompt writing, they know it is just another way of writing. Just like they would write differently when writing a narrative piece or informational piece, they would also write differently for prompt writing. Their audience is entirely different.

One of the ways I love starting this unit is to have children look back at the prompts they did the year before or at another time. When they know what Good Writing looks like, they  know what they should be looking for in these pieces. So, first review as a class what good writing is by making a chart. Looking at a typed text or another good example of a prompt writing from the year before, gives them something to jog their memory.

After that, partners take the pieces that they did the year before and take that piece to review. Together the partners answer the questions in the following questionnaire, being aware of what makes good writing. After they do one piece, they do the same with the other. In this way, students have a chance to see what they need to do in this year's prompt writing.

Discussing what the partners found in a whole group situation and making a class chart, helps to make the work concrete. The next day students could be given that same prompt and "try again" to write to it.  They would be encouraged to include things that the former piece did not have in it!

Here is the Questionnaire

Work with a partner.  Reread and study this piece of writing.  Answer the questions below.  You may use the writing chart in your room.

 1. What type of beginning did the writer use? ___________________

 2. Draw lines to separate the beginning, middle and end?

     Which part is the longest? ______________________________

 3. Write an example of a “WOW” word or dynamic word from the piece. ________________________________________________

 4. Did the writer have:                              YES              NO

 Names for the characters                   _____          _____

 Specific names for places                    _____          _____

 Details to “paint a picture in your mind”      _____          _____

 Long story                                          _____          _____

 Show, Don’t Tell                                                      _____    _____

 5. Underline at least one example of Speaking in red; Action in blue, and Thinking in green.

 6. List how the writer used “Power of 3”. ______________________

7. Write a sound word the writer used – onomatopoeia. ____________

 8. What type of ending did the piece have? ________________________

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Revisiting the Genres in Preparation For Testing

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 third grade the students have written in these genres: Personal narratives, Realistic Fiction, Opinion/Persuasive, and Informational. These are the genres that would be focused on in this Revisiting the 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 another 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 OWLS:

Personal Narr.                                Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Realistic Fiction                              The Barn Owls by Tony Johnston
Informational                                   Owls by Gail Gibbons
Opinion/Persuasive                         Owlbert by Nicholas Harris

Taking this unit of study as a learning unit and not a test prep unit, will make it a fun one for the teacher and the students!

Monday, February 4, 2013

What Are Your Reading...February Black History Month

This month I will be featuring books that can be used for read-alouds having to do with Black History Month.

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers by Christine King Farris is a book with a familiar subject, but a special view point. The book is nonfiction, not historical fiction because his sister remembers what Martin Luther King was like as a child. She was there. The focus of childhood brings a special meaning to the book.

The author reflected in the Afterword of the book that she..."wanted to reflect another side of Martin's life story."  She also said that she owed it to him to tell the full story. The illustrations as well as the message show the affection this sister had for her famous brother. A short, but meaningful, book to share with all age levels.