Archives for February 2017

Expository Writing Samples…And MORE!

It’s that time again.  CRUNCH TIME!!!  EEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKK!

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  #wegotthis

Just to fill you in on a few things…when we came back from Christmas break, we focused much of our efforts on revising and editing.  You see…we took a common assessment back in December…and let’s just say my kids didn’t quite make the mark.  Like…at all.

I felt so deflated.  Here I am, the new teacher at the school, and the scores on an important assessment look  absolutely, positively horrendous not so great.  I’m supposed to be this miracle worker…but my scores don’t show it.

Anyway, I felt the need to redeem myself after such a disastrous attempt in December.  In order to do that, my students began looking at STAAR passages and we began our 4th set of POPPERS.  This helped them to see HOW to answer many of the questions that are asked on the test.


To make it more fun, I project it onto the board and let the students come up and do the corrections with a dry erase marker.  Who knew it would be SO much more engaging?!  Haha.


I’m finding that the more they practice WITHOUT answer choices, the better they are getting when they HAVE answer choices.  That’s what I love about this set of POPPERS.  It creates better thinkers! 😉  If you need a set, you can click here.

We took the 2016 STAAR Writing test as our last common assessment.  My kids improved SO MUCH!!  I was ready to turn cartwheels and run down the halls screaming relieved! Whew!

You see…I don’t do the whole “test prep” thing until it’s necessary.  I can’t put worksheets in front of their faces day in and day out and watch the love of writing just being sucked right out of them.  I just can’t.

Instead, we do more fun things like our POPPERS and games and task cards.  It’s the same skill…just in a different format. You can read more about the games and task cards here.

When we focused our energy on the revising and editing…guess what?  My kids totally forgot how we write.  I’m telling you…it’s seriously a miracle for kids to be able to remember anything on the real test day!  Haha.  Poor babies!  We ask so much of them!

So…when our kids are doing well with something, what do we do?  Hit it hard again!  So we began studying essays.


I’ve been blessed with another student teacher this year.  Her name is Ms. Whitman.  She is so good with the kids!  She came up with two paragraphs to read to the students and asked them to draw what they visualized as she read.

The first paragraph was very boring and only mentioned fall leaves.  For the most part, students only had leaves and maybe a tree in their pictures.


The second paragraph was very developed and included beautiful language and specific details such as leaves, the smell of cinnamon that fills the house, and how the cold made her nose red.  You can see the difference in their drawings.

This allowed students to see that as the listener/reader, we want the author to fill in details…enough for us to visualize what the author is telling us.  Which translates to…you are an author and you MUST paint a picture for your reader.  Make your reader CONNECT to what you are saying.  And you do that by SHOWING what you are explaining.


We handed out developed paragraphs from the Expository Paragraph Practice set.  Each table group read through the paragraph and then discussed what they liked about the paragraph.


Some students highlighted vocabulary words they noticed.  Some students highlighted similes.  Some students highlighted what made them SEE what the author was explaining.  But EVERY student critically looked at the paragraph and discussed what made it awesome.

So then it was their turn.


Students were expected to write their own paragraphs, focusing on allowing the reader to truly SEE what they were explaining.


We used the Paragraph Practice pack to help beef up our own skills with developing our body paragraphs.  If you’re a 4th grade writing teacher in Texas, you probably know that the STAAR graders heavily rely on the part of the rubric that deals with idea development.

What this means is…if your students can develop their essay (namely the body paragraphs), they can score a 3 (0ut of 4) pretty easily. The graders can forgive some other mistakes…as long as students have sufficiently developed their reasons.


We have talked about this so much…and rather than writing essay after essay after essay…we focused on just being able to develop one body paragraph at a time.  This was a really great decision, by the way!  The kids are ROCKING their writing now…


We used these Vocabulary Posters to help us put in some better vocabulary and beautiful language.  If I hear “good,” “cool,” or “stuff” one more time….  #jesustakethewheel

Seriously.  The difference between their writing on the Mock STAAR and the writing they are turning into me now is UNBELIEVABLE!

The district asked all 4th grade teachers to have the students rework the essays they wrote for the test.  Of course….it was our worst nightmare favorite prompt…the one about why they like 4th grade.

I know.  I know.


Just take a look at the difference in my students’ writing after using the Paragraph Practice and Vocabulary Posters.

The pictures aren’t the best…because…let’s face it…it’s 9:30 and I’m tired.  But anyway…

The left is what the writing looked like on January 18th, and the right is the essay after reworking it and developing it.  They are both to the same prompt.  Just click on the pictures to see them larger…you know…so you can actually read them.







And this is just a small sample…from students of varying abilities.  There is NO DENYING that their writing morphed SIGNIFICANTLY in a little over a month.


I plan to put these in another post as PDF versions so that they can be printed out and used as samples.  I’ll get that done soon.  :)

I love how it’s all coming together.  It’s so nice to see the improvement right before your eyes.  The students are quite impressed, too!  And THAT’S what matters, right?!?!

Have YOU attempted the prompt from last year?  How did it go? Let’s talk about it! Leave a comment below.

Do you have some last minute questions about anything? Writing? Grammar? Strategies? Sanity?  Let’s hear ’em! Just drop a comment below.

Until next time…




H-E-B Buddy League

Hey, y’all!

I wanted to let you in on a little something that’s a really neat program for kids.  It’s called the H-E-B Buddy League. It is a program that focuses on being a buddy, not a bully, and is GREAT for Diversity Awareness Month in October!


As a teacher, you can order a FREE kit from H-E-B. It comes with posters to hang in the hallway and resources for your class, including worksheets and a link to several online activities.


I was a little late in writing this, but we’ve had the posters up in our school for awhile.  The kids especially enjoy seeing whose name is written on the special poster in recognition for being a buddy to friends.


The kids sure have enjoyed it!  While it is designed for 2nd grade students, many grade levels benefit from this awesome program!  :)

If you would like to join the H-E-B Buddy League or want additional information, click here. There are links to free materials on the site.

Until next time…


My Take on Things

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I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some things…mostly the Writing STAAR from 2016.

Here goes.

First of all, let’s just take a moment of silence to calm ourselves down from reading those words…STAAR 2016.  Yeah. Hang in there!

There were so many things that were out of the ordinary for the test.  Schools receiving the wrong test booklets. Districts receiving their tests in Home Depot boxes.  The company losing…yes LOSING test scores. And some schools receiving DOUBLE scores (which weren’t even the same scores in some cases!) for their students. And there was more…

I think we can all agree it was a mess.

But there’s more…

The 4th grade Writing STAAR was interesting, to say the least.  And the scoring? Ummm…let’s just talk about that for a second.

I had the opportunity to sit down with someone who works for the testing company and helps score writing.  Let’s call this person Bill. Bill told me all about what happened on the scoring end of things. I asked him to write some things down so that we could all have a better grasp of what went down:

  • Ambiguity in grading was the biggest issue. There is no consistent adherence to the rubric.
  • The rubrics ARE consistent and the anchor papers and model texts ARE consistent.
  • Inconsistent are the calibrations, ratings, and what is being taught to pass in schools.
  • My observation has been that ambiguity exists because of the variety of raters across the U.S. (Yes, they are ALL OVER the United States…not just from Texas.)
  • There needs to be direct, clear communication between TEA and the testing company. 
  • The breakdown is the funnel or flow once the information hits the upper echelon of the company.  The trickle down of information exponentially diminishes so that when it hits calibration, training, and rating, there is no reliable, linear, consistency in the rating system.

So…in a nutshell…the communication stinks…all over.  There were lots of graders (from who only knows where…because they put out ads on CRAIGSLIST, for crying out loud) who were extremely inconsistent and didn’t use the rubric.

Let that sink in a minute.

The STAAR graders didn’t even use the rubric…many of them, anyway.  Hmmmm…..

**Take a short break. Once you calm down a bit, continue reading.**

Ok.  So it was a complete mess.  But there are still some things we learned from this craziness.

The prompt threw the kids off.  Totally.  It asked students to choose one reason they liked being in 4th grade and to explain it.  Basically, if a student really didn’t like being in 4th grade, they were already doomed…but that’s for another time.

Anyway…when you think about it, the prompt wasn’t as different as we all thought.  It was just narrower than we had been used to.  STAAR has always asked for students to pick ONE thing and explain it.  In this case, the one thing was 4th grade.  In the past, it was a favorite time of year, what they want to be when they grow up, etc. In essence, the test had already picked their main topic.  What really stumped the kids was that it asked for one REASON.

Fortunately, if students chose to write more than one reason, they didn’t get counted off for it.  In fact, I’ve read papers from my current district that received a score point 8 and had two reasons.  So that’s definitely a plus!

If you really want to focus your students on giving one reason, an easy way to do that is to give a broad reason and then funnel it from there.  For example: I enjoy being in 4th grade because of my teacher. I love 4th grade because I get to go to the science lab.  4th grade is awesome because I get more privileges.

After choosing a reason like this, students can then choose more than one reason that goes with what their “main” reason (the ones above). For example: My teacher is kind. My teacher lets us do fun activities. Or…The science lab looks amazing. I get to do tons of experiments in the science lab. This still allows kids to use multiple reasons that connect to one main reason.

So…it really isn’t all that different from what we’ve had in the past when you look at it this way.  It just required much more thought and skill at developing their reasons if they did it this way.

Does that make you feel better at all?

The cool thing is that YOU can make a difference.  This company is ALWAYS looking for people to help grade essays! If you are interested, just search for “STAAR” on a job search engine and sign up!!  Let’s get more TEACHERS to help with the grading!!

If you’re interested in some things that might help your students with writing or grammar, I have several products (even FREE ONES!!) in my TpT store.  Just click here.

What are your thoughts about it?  I know we would all love to hear!  Leave a comment below!

Here’s to hoping it gets better this year!! 😉