Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Writers Notice Things and Write Them Down

As you are preparing to finish your year, one of the things that is probably on your mind is: How can I encourage my students to be lifelong writers now that they are leaving me?  I was asked to do lessons with students as they attended their last few days of the school year. I would only have them for 1/2 hour. What could I teach them in that short time to help them be better writers? That was my thinking as I prepared for that day.

My lesson ended up being: Writers notice things and write them down.  Here is the lesson I came up with for notebook writing and helping students to be better observers and therefore, better writers. It might be something you want to try with your students on these last days of the year.

Writers notice things and write them down
Lesson: Notebook Work….Snapshots
I really enjoy taking pictures. One thing I take pictures of is just snapshots of things I observe around my neighborhood. I observe things very closely. Let me show you a couple of my snapshots. [Show pictures of daisies and two bird nest pics]

What do you observe in these pictures? Turn and Talk
When I took those shots, what senses did I use? Turn and Talk

When we write, we also need to be good observers. Using our senses helps with that. I want to show you an example of how one student did that. [Use from LWN N-5] Quinnee is in 4th grade. She took a walk outside and wrote this in her notebook. As I read it, notice which of the senses she used. Turn and Talk
You can do this, too. You can collect snapshots of your world with words. You might even want to add a drawing or sketch if you think that would enhance the snapshot you’re trying to create. You don’t have to go to a faraway place to find ideas to write about. If you get in the habit of observing, you’ll find that there are plenty of things close by.

Today we are going to make a snapshot book to collect our snapshots. [Make book—foldable—put sense on each page & page for wonderings] We are going outside, quietly, and become observers. As a writer, you should do TWO things:

1.    Notice things
2.    Get in the habit of writing them down

(This lesson was taken from ideas from Lessons for the Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi.)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Making Revision Work For You in the Classroom

In May, many classrooms are doing a unit of study on revision.  Actually, all classrooms should be discussing revision as a tool for their workshop. This time of year is when students reflect on what they know about revision no matter what genre they are writing. This is a great time to allow students to choose the genre they want to write and then incorporate the revision study with all those genres. I decided I would share with you some of the books I have used as help for me when I teach this unit or when I see children doing something that needs further study. Here are a few of my favorites.
The book: The No-Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing by Judy Davis and Sharon Hill is one of my most used books. It has chapters on various units of study and it is easy to follow. There is also one chapter on revision. It is called: 'Mastering the Magic of Revision'. What a great way to think of revision.  It is not a time that you have to go back and rip out and start over. It is a magical time to make your piece come alive.
Making Revision Matter is by Janet Angelillo. She is a favorite author of many in northeastern Indiana because she has visited and trained many of us. I have this book tabbed with loads sticky notes hanging out of it. First of all, she gives actually mini lessons that teachers can use from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. She also has a year long curriculum with ways to teach revision in various genre studies. As she takes the reader through the year she shows how to deepen the study of revision.

If you are always asking yourself: "How can I get my students to revise their writing?", then this is the book for you. The Revision Toolbox by Georgia Heard not only gives basic ideas on how to revise. She talks about how to get the students to know the difference between revision and editing. She uses three main toolboxes: words, structure, and voice. She also has a chapter on conferencing techniques just for revision.

I love this quote by Barry Lane: "Until a teacher promotes choice and responsibility among her students, the tools of craft this book has to offer won't help students become writers." This is the practical way Barry undertakes in writing After The End. His simple samples of ideas to use in inviting students to revise is so beneficial to teacher who do not have time to read whole books or even whole chapters to find what they need to teach. By simply picking up the book, opening to any page, there will be an idea for a lesson. Barry also encourages teachers to become writers themselves. "For years researchers like Donald Graves have done work to show that teachers who can model writing process through their own writing have a tremendous advantage in transforming their classroom into a community of writers." This is a challenge for teachers as they are looking forward to some "down time" in a few weeks. Take some time to become writers yourself. This is the best way to prepare for the fall and a new year with a community of writers!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How To Pump Gas

We are winding down our Gramma Preschool. The things we are doing are all coming together and Meron is feeling more and more anxious about going to kindergarten next year. I want to be sure she has everything she needs to be successful as she enters her years of schooling.

This week for writing I let her take the lead.  I asked her what she wanted to write about for that session.  We talked about writing a story. I suggested writing about what she had learned about magnets. That was our science project for our day. She had discovered that magnets picked up some things and didn't pick up others. We put our findings in her Science Notebook. She had another idea. She wanted to write about how to pump gas.
On our way from her house to Gramma's house, we had to stop and get gas. Her first question was, "Can I help pump the gas?"  I thought about it. Well, it would take longer if she "helped". Still, it would make a great learning experience. 

I pulled up to the pump and she piled out of the backseat. I popped open the door for the gas to be pumped and she unscrewed the cap. I put the credit card in the slot. Each thing we did, I explained what was happening. We put the hose into the car and held the handle down. Then we did a counting exercise as we counted up the gallons of gas going into the car. After awhile it was full and the hose clicked to tell us to stop. We then put the hose back into the pump, she screwed on the cap and shut the gas door. Climbing into the backseat again, she said, "I know how to pump gas, don't I Gramma?"

That is where she got her idea for the book. Not only did she want to write that book, she also knew who the audience would be. As she wrote she said, "I want to give this book to Audrey for her birthday!"  Audrey is her four-year-old cousin.  You never know when you will have to help someone pump gas!

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)