April 23, 2017

Writing Strategies Goal 3: Generating and Collecting Ideas

This chapter talks about living the writerly life. A wide-awake life where ideas find the writers.

It's where writers seek new ideas in old memories, collect ideas from ones that may have been forgotten; they react, respond, and store ideas in their writer's notebooks and generate their own thoughts from their passions and interests.

It's a remarkable life and it's one that students will embrace if given the appropriate tools.

In the upper grades, especially 4th and beyond, the students become very aware of their world. They are moving out of that self-centered phase of life and are realizing that there is more out there. We can use this change of thinking as a way to help our students generate new ideas for writing. 

This strategy is called: Abstract Issues, Specific Examples

↠Brainstorm issues or ideas that are important in our world (I always do this as a whole class activity. This helps clarify ideas/definitions that students are unaware of while creating an anchor chart. This chart becomes an ongoing one, where we are always adding to it when new issues arise.)
↠Select an issue
↠Brainstorm examples (this is a list of possible topics that connect to the issue)
↠Choose a genre
Another favorite strategy is called: Word Mapping

↠Put your topic in the middle of the page
↠Brainstorm words or phrases connected to your topic
↠Draw lines to connect your ideas

😁What surprises you?
πŸ˜€ What might be an angle your topic can take?
Another favorite strategy is called: Tour Your Home

↠Guide the reader through your home. Write with detail using your senses and capture the memories that are evoked.

🏑 Pause. What do you see in that place?
🏑 Imagine stories that would come up in that spot.

Share in the comments some ways you help your writers generate ideas. Have you tried any of the ones I listed above? What do you do to help your writers who struggle with getting their ideas on paper?

April 17, 2017

Facing Your Fears...A Poetry Activity Freebie

After digging through my office, I found this gem of an idea using Maya Angelou's poem, Life Doesn't Frighten Me. I remember doing this activity shortly after Maya Angelou's death. It seemed very apropos at the time. Thinking about it...it's a great way for the kids to self-reflect and get their fears and how they are going to conquer them on paper.

Here's what I did: I showed the poem written by Maya Angelou under the ELMO projector and my students saw it on the SmartBoard.

We read through the poem together once, just for fun. During the second read, we started to dissect the poem. (You can even turn this into a close reading and annotating of the poem.)

After the discussion, I modeled for them how to fill out the poem organizer. I sent them off to work on their organizers. Once the majority of them were finished with their organizers, I modeled for them how we were going to write the poem.

We talked about how our poems were going to be formatted:
Stanza 1: my fears
Stanza 2: my fears
Stanza 3: what I’m not afraid of
Stanza 4: what I’m not afraid of
Stanza 5: how to get rid of my fears

**As I went over the stanzas, I always referred back to the poem and talked about how this is our mentor poem. {Mentor poems help poets, like us, make our own poems better. In this case, our mentor poem is helping us format our poems.}

I wrote my poem in front of my students, but you could definitely have this written beforehand to save time. 


Students can draft their poems in their writer’s notebook, on loose leaf paper, or they can use the poem outline. I had my students work on loose leaf paper and most were successful with it. 

To publish, I gave them a blank sheet of drawing paper. They wrote their poem, down the middle, first. I had them draw a bubble around the poem and illustrate items from their poem on the outside of the bubble. 
Here are some examples of student work:

I spruced all the materials up for this pack!

It includes the poem, Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, Teaching Notes, a poem organizer and outline. 

You can get it Here.

What hidden gems have you found lately?

April 13, 2017

The Writing Strategies Book Study Goal 2: Engagement

I'm linking up with An Apple For The Teacher for this awesome book study! I'm sharing Goal 2 with you today and we are digging into Engagement {Independence, Increasing Volume, and Developing a Writing Identity}.

Successful writing requires a huge amount of mental focus and discipline--collecting, drafting, revising, editing, publishing...repeat πŸ˜€

The thought of moving from one piece to the next can send any reluctant writer into a panic. Or your unmotivated writer...a mood writer, I like to call it, who has trouble getting started...who does a lot of "thinking" and who rarely brings a piece, let alone pieces, to publishing.

I've been there...I even dubbed myself as a mood writer from time to time. I've learned that you can't force people to write because writers need to be excited about their writing. They need to take the initiative to write and to write more. Their passion and drive drips from their notebooks.

Now the question is...
How do we get our students there?

To take the pulse of the class, begin with an Engagement Inventory and observe students working. Jot down specific behaviors you see.
Are your students...
⭐actively working?
⭐going to the bathroom?
⭐setting up for the task?
⭐meeting with a partner?

You can also note about what they're doing in their notebooks. Are they...
❤ using the strategies taught?
❤ drawing?
❤ planning?
Picture the End! (Or, Imagine It Done)

This strategy is especially helpful when energy is low and your students are having a hard time attending to the task--they can picture their piece completed! This is especially motivating when there's a mentor text of the same genre or style that you can compare to their work. They will get inspired by new ideas and techniques to push through and try in their writing. 

πŸ“‹ What inspires you about this book?
πŸ“‹How can you use that inspiration in your writing?
Volume is the amount of writing in a given time frame. Each grade has a different set of volume expectations. 

To give you an idea...

In late Kindergarten, students should be able to create one 3 page booklet with a sketch and a sentence on each page in 35 minutes. 

In 4th grade, students should be able to write 1.5-2 pages in 35 minutes.

To get our students to meet their grade level volume expectations, try...

Set a "More" Goal for the Whole Writing Time

Have students look at their notebooks and think about how many lines they tend to write in one writing period. Then have them set a goal to write more. Students can place a dot in the margin next to the goal line indicating where they want to stop...this is the finish line. They can try to write up to the line or past!

πŸ“‹ Check your goal. You've been writing for 15 minutes and have 15 to go. Are you about halfway there?
πŸ“‹ You met your goal! Try to make a new one!

Comment below with your favorite strategy to help students stay focused during writing time!

April 12, 2017

Using Close Reading to teach Test Prep Strategies...Theme

Look at our featured mentor texts! Love them :)

After days of reading "Swimming with Sharks," we were ready to wrap it up and move on to other texts and genres. Before we left, I wanted my students to think about the theme of the text.

The majority of my class is composed of ENL students {English as a New Language} and it's a wide range from Level B to Level U; Emerging to Advanced. (My levels B and C readers were not present for this lesson, nor would they be expected to complete such a complex task as new readers.)

Knowing what I do about my students and the way they think--they really aren't outside of the box thinkers. They are more "let me take what is in the text and copy it down' types of thinkers, which is perfectly acceptable in many cases, but for this lesson, again, I need them to think deeply and come up with their own ideas about the text.

Which leads me to this strategy...

We practiced this strategy with the model text, "Swimming with Sharks" and we re-read the last paragraph.

We thought about Sarah's struggle and how it related to the problem and solution. We took it a step further and thinking about what it all meant and why the author teaching me this?

Here is what they came up with:
They called them out and as I wrote them on the paper, they explained how the theme fit.

They were even able to name empathy and perseverance! I was so excited 😊

Before they went on to their independent work, I had them choose a theme from the list and write some reasons why this theme fit "Swimming with Sharks." As the students finished their post-its, I looked at them quick and gave them immediate feedback.

Some students who were able to clearly show details to support their chosen theme, then went on to complete the independent task using "Lawn Boy."

Others had to work on it again. I was able to see where students went wrong and help steer them on the right course before they had to try it on their own.

For the independent part, they had to answer this question in their reader's notebook:

What is the central message conveyed throughout the story? Cite specific examples and details from the text. 

Once they were finished writing their responses, I read them and wrote my feedback in their notebooks. Using my feedback, they needed to revise their responses. Some of them only had to add a detail, while others had to rewrite their response completely.

Here's some examples of the reader's notebooks:
    **she used post-its to show how she used the strategy and then wrote her response**

**this student was on the right track, he just needed to add in those specific details**


**This student's first response didn't answer the question. Using the feedback, he was able to accurately and completely respond to the question and give examples 😊**


Have you tried any close reading strategies? Leave a comment below telling me what close reading strategies you use in your room. If you don't use any, no worries, just write "none" πŸ˜‰

April 10, 2017

Using Close Reading to teach Test Prep Strategies: Analyzing the Character {Part 2}

Change over time...it is on every test and yet it is one of the most difficult concepts for kids to grasp. 😏 Here's the chart I used and created with my students.

This became the focus for the lesson...our teaching point. To help my students understand what character change means and what it looks like, I used a timeline.

It wasn't a fancy timeline, just a simple line segment with 5 dashes for events. (It wasn't labeled beginning, middle, and end--that was the next day's lesson when we started talking about theme. You could though, for your struggling students, definitely have a labeled timeline.)

I know…many of you do that and to be honest, I used to do that too. But over the course of the 7 years, I’ve lost my love and drive for teaching. Curriculums come and go and I’m left trying to hold onto what good teaching I had left, while still trying to keep up with district mandates and school initiatives.

But with this lesson, I became a teacher again…felt like a teacher again. My students were happy and engaged and they were getting it!

Using the strategies provided in the lesson, student were able to go off independently and work on "Lawn Boy." I cut the post-its in half, so they could emulate the chart in their notebook. This also helped students who needed to manipulate their ideas. They moved the post-its around after talking with a partner or conferencing with me. 

Have you tried any close reading strategies? Leave a comment below telling me what close reading strategies you use in your room. If you don't use any, no worries, just write "none" πŸ˜‰

April 6, 2017

Using Close Reading Strategies to teach Test Prep...Analyzing the Character {part 1}

In previous lessons, we worked to differentiate between character feelings and character traits, sorting them as positive and negative. But they were still writing character feelings as character traits and vice versa. We created charts together and the students referred to them often, but I needed them to realize that there was a difference.

This close reading of "Swimming with Sharks" focused on what we know about the character and what that says about her. I wanted them to think about Sarah's actions throughout the text. As we skimmed the text, if we noticed something that Sarah did, we underlined it and wrote an A {for action}.

This chart became the focal point of the lesson...

For the window, I wrote the character's name on one side and actions on the other. We went through the actions we underlined and only listed the events that were the most important--the ones that moved the story along {plot}. On the inside, we listed Sarah's character traits based on her actions. {What does this say about the character?}

Taking it a step further...we talked about how the character acts normally {in-character} and when we notice how the character suddenly changes {out of character}. This part helps students begin to think about how the character changes over time and the cause of the change. { A common question and misconception on our tests.}

The students recreated the window in their notebooks using post-its. {I had them put the sticky part to the side and crease it. They did this twice, one for each part of the window.} They also wrote the "in-character" and "out-of-character" underneath their post-its.

For independent work, the students used "Lawn Boy". They skimmed it for Gary's actions and annotated their texts. They filled in their notebooks focusing on the important actions, traits, and how the character changed.

As I was going through the lesson, I thought it was a lot for them to handle at once. However, they surprised me with their focus and thoroughness with the text. I was able to clear up misunderstandings as soon as they happened and gave immediate feedback. I was quite impressed with them and their work!

How do you use close reading in your classroom? I'd love to hear about it in the comments πŸ’—πŸ’—

Stay tuned for Analyzing the Character {part 2}  and the final post of this series on Theme.

April 4, 2017

Using Close Reading to teach Test Prep Strategies...Reading the Question

To begin, I went through the standards that needed to be revisited before the test. I love using a calendar and writing exactly what I'm teaching and how I'm teaching it.

The calendar helps me see what I'm teaching from one day to the next. It helps me scaffold my instruction making sure that my instruction builds upon the previous day. 
The texts I used were from previous year's grade 4 state tests 2015 released test and 2016 released test. I modeled with an excerpt from "Swimming with Sharks" and my students worked on an excerpt from "Lawn Boy". I chose these two texts because I wanted to show them that the texts were part of actual books that I had in my library.

Before we started reading, we talked about the directions and the blurb before the test--so many children skip over it and miss all the important information that the author is giving you before you start reading.

Then we started the first part of close reading process, which is to read the text for enjoyment. While the students are listening, I had them circle any vocabulary words that they didn't know or were unsure of. We talked about them after the first read.

This is the first page of the text. You can see some of the annotating we did. 
I gave them the question: After reading "Swimming with Sharks," summarize the text.

We then did a close reading of the question using these prompts:
     *What does this question mean?
     *What is it asking me to do?
     *How do I answer it?

Using SCAPES (setting, characters, adjectives to describe the characters, problem, most significant event, and solution), we were able to summarize the text.

We wrote the new strategies on a chart:

My students tried this in their reader's notebooks with the question:
Summarize paragraphs 6-13 in the text "Lawn Boy." 

They worked around the room laying on carpets and working on small tables--reading the text, practicing the strategies, and writing their responses πŸ’™πŸ’™πŸ’™

What are some ways you use close reading? Leave a comment letting me know πŸ’›πŸ’›

April 2, 2017

Using Close Reading to teach Test Prep Strategies...An Introduction

This year, during test prep season, I wanted to try something different. In previous years, test prep meant a lot of drilling of multiple choice questions, short responses, and essays. It was practice test after practice test in the hopes that some of the questions would repeat themselves on "the test". This caused a lot of stress, extra work, and an over-abundance of copies. The kids were tired of looking at these tests and I was tired of marking them and writing the same comments over and over. There was no transfer-ability between the reinforcement of skills and the practice tests. It was awful and it was a month's worth of instructional time.

Over the years, the test has evolved into this complicated beast. The questions are hard to understand and the passages are anything but reader friendly. Lucky for us, the test no longer counts for my teacher evaluation and it doesn't determine whether a student is promoted to the next grade. That, in itself, is a huge stress relief, but there is still a push for students to perform.

The district push, once again, is close reading. When this was first rolled out, about 3 years ago, I really wasn't a fan of close reading. I didn't fall in love with it or my curriculum and I tried to make it work. I just wasn't feeling it!

Fast forward to this year, with close reading making a come-back and my newest book:
On a side note--if you haven't heard of this book, you should definitely check it out. There is a tried and true reading strategy on every page with the appropriate levels and charts. It is a FABULOUS resource and it helps revitalize your teaching--it did for me :)
I used this book and old passages from previous tests to start my close reading journey.

Join me as I bring you into my classroom for a peek through this blog series :)