Color It Up

Once again, my students took on the challenge of an amazing activity created by none other than…Gretchen Bernabei! Color It Up. It’s pretty simple but has incredible power and learning potential for students–and they enjoyed doing it.

In her book, Fun Size Academic Writing, Gretchen uses this technique with the first story, which is a narrative. Well, we are currently working on expository pieces, so I decided to take another of my favorites from that book which is an expository piece, and color that one up instead.

We used the writing about Barbie. It has so much personality, and the kids absolutely LOVED it! I ran copies for each student so that they could keep it in their folder as a mentor text to refer back to when necessary. Before we began highlighting the icons, we made a key at the bottom to remind ourselves of the 4 different writer’s tools we would be finding–actions, dialog, thoughts, and what the author saw. We coded them with the appropriate colors (see picture), and then got started.

20131112-215242.jpg
At first, I had to explicitly point out each strategy this author used, but as we went on, the students began shouting out the writer’s tools before I could finish the sentence! This showed me that not only were they “getting it,” but they were really thinking. (I feel like so much of the time students want things to be spoon-fed to them, so when they step out if their comfort zone and take risks by thinking for themselves, we celebrate!)

The level of understanding drastically increased. They were making connections about what they saw. They noticed that there was lots of action, even in this expository paper. They noticed that there was a plethora of thinking within the text. They noticed a pattern–that each time there was a thought, there was an example to back it up. They noticed that there was NOT much dialog. They noticed that each paragraph ended with a thought.

This allowed us to go into some deep discussion of why authors use specific writer’s tools for specific purposes. Some of them wondered why this author kept saying that she loves her Barbie at the end of each paragraph, which led us to the realization that she was connecting back to the prompt each time and letting us know that this possession was extremely important to her.

We did a lot of noticing about writer’s craft. Did I mention that this was awesome?

Kids can and will notice things like this when given the opportunity. In fact, one of my students who usually “sits on the sidelines” during class was so engaged in this activity that I had to think of some sort of reward for such effort and participation. It totally blew me away.

Part of what made this so powerful was that the students began making their own connections and noticed things for themselves, without me having to tell them. It increased the rigor of our conversations and the learning skyrocketed! It made my day! 😉

We are now working on our own pieces for our most prized possession. I’ve included a few pics of their planning pages for you. Some of them have been revised a bit to make sure that the students are getting to the deep meaning and not repeating themselves, but these are the raw products. I will definitely post some samples when they are finished, so keep checking back for those!

20131112-215447.jpg

20131112-215514.jpg

20131112-215527.jpg

Oh yeah, when I get a few more seconds to spare, I’ll be uploading some expository samples from our first attempt. I just have to get them typed up so that you can print them off and use them if you’d like. :)

Happy Tuesday!

signature

Gretchen Bernabei’s 11-Minute Essay (In 9 minutes)

Earlier this week, I challenged my students with the 11-minute essay that Gretchen Bernabei uses with her students…only we did ours in 9 minutes.  The text structure she uses is this: Truism–>How this is true in a book or personal life–>How this is true in a move or TV show–>How this is true in history–>What I think or wonder.  Because 4th graders don’t know all that much about history (and because our truism was about pets), I omitted the paragraph about how it’s true in history.

The students were excited about this challenge I set forth for them.  I gave them 1 minute for paragraph 1, 3 minutes for paragraph 2, 3 minutes for paragraph 3, and then 2 minutes for the final paragraph.  The truism they were expected to write about was: Pets are an important part of a family.

Considering this was their first attempt, I thought it went extremely well.  Were they perfect?  No.  Will they EVER be?  No.  But this was an eye-opener for them (and for me, too)!  When they were finished, I told them that they had just written an expository essay in 9 minutes.  The looks on their faces was priceless!  They were so darn proud of themselves, beaming from ear to ear!

Curious about how they did?   Click here to see a sample of what they wrote.  😉

This has been an amazing week in writing.  Here’s to hoping it continues!!

signature

Narrative Student Writing Samples (4th Grade)

Here it is: the post you’ve all been waiting for–the one I’ve promised for some time now!  STUDENT WRITING SAMPLES!!!  😉

I don’t have a lot of time today, but I wanted to go ahead and post these samples for those of you who have been waiting on me to post them.  Our internet is still not working at my house, so I’m having to type this quickly (after school hours) on my school computer.

These are samples for our first narrative of the school year.  These kids stood out above the rest, so I wanted to show off their mad writing skills.  Here they are:

Stealing Candy  A narrative written by Blake Sterling.

Go Kart Race  A narrative written by Andrew Pensiero.

Is It Me  A narrative written by Avery May.

Yes, I have permission from these students and their parents to post their work with their names.  They are all super sweet kids who are totally stoked that I am using their papers as examples for the world to see.  They were even made famous in a workshop presented by Gretchen Bernabei!  You will see them on her blog soon if you visit www.bernabeiwritingtools.com.

Enjoy!

signature

Expository Writing: Gretchen Bernabei Style

My class has officially started their expository writing pieces. This is very new to them, so we are taking it slowly. Thank goodness for Gretchen Bernabei! She makes it so much more fun, interesting, and easier for these little people to understand!

We began by brainstorming people we admire. I told my students that this person could be a friend, family member, singer, entertainer, sports star, or anyone they like or look up to. They had to understand that admire doesn’t mean that you like them in a romantic way because they automatically think of a secret admirer. Haha.

Then I gave them a planning sheet from Gretchen’s resources. Hers was just drawn out on paper, but my OCD wanted needed it to be typed up, so I spent about 45 minutes perfecting it (to my standards) on the computer. I handed them out, and we filled in our topic and text structure. Before I knew about this amazing woman, my explanation if expository writing was pretty lame…and the students’ writing showed it. That’s not to say it was bad, but it definitely was NOT to the level it is now. The text structures she has developed has raised the level of their writing tremendously!

After that, we came up with our kernel essay about our peeps. When you see the text structure we used, you’ll see that it wasn’t easy, but it made them really think! And that’s what we’re going for, right? 😉

From that kernel essay, I told them to find at least three people who would listen to them read their kernel essay. The listeners were required to ask two questions about their kernel essay. They wrote the questions down in the box, and tomorrow they will use sticky notes to answer those questions. These sticky notes will go in the flip books they have created. This will help them fill out their paragraphs with valuable information that readers want to know.

When we finished the questions, we thought about where that information should appear within the writing. We put paragraph numbers beside each question to be sure the information arrives at the correct destination. Again–extending their thinking.

This is as far as we have gotten. I’m looking forward to reading what they write. I have a training tomorrow, but I know they will be in good hands with my student teacher. I can’t wait to read them on Wednesday!

Below you will find pictures of two planning pages and two kernel essays written on their flip books.

20131021-211000.jpg

20131021-211016.jpg

20131021-211027.jpg

20131021-211036.jpg

I have uploaded the planning page to the Writer’s Workshop page here on my blog. It’s the last resource listed under Gretchen’s resources.

What do you do to help your students understand expository writing?

signature

Word Clouds: They Aren’t Just For Fun!

Word Cloud of my blog by Tagxedo

Word Cloud of my blog by Tagxedo

I hate to admit it, but I’ve only used word clouds with some of my students.  I wasn’t really sure how to use word clouds when I first heard about them, so I only selected a few individuals that I thought would benefit from using it.  Mostly to help them in their writing.  You see, when the idea of word clouds was presented, I was only showed a website and was allowed about 3-5 minutes to “explore” it.  The more I read, the more I found out how helpful they can be.

So what types of things can you do with word clouds?  I know I won’t even begin to touch on everything, but here are a few ideas on how they can be used with your students.

1. When students have finished a piece of writing and they need to check for redundant words, put them on Wordle.net.  The best part about Wordle is that it counts the number of times the words are used and makes the highest count the biggest in the cloud.  That way, students see how many times they have used words like then, I, me, and so on.  This is how I used them in my classroom, and it really makes the students aware of the overused words.

2. At the beginning of the year, allow students time to write an “About Me” paragraph and then type it into a word cloud creator such as Tagxedo.  This is another word cloud site that easily downloads the image you create and has an assortment of shapes for your words.

3. After students read a passage or discuss content in class, allow students to write down the words they feel are most important to the lesson and put it into a word cloud.six flags

4. Use a word cloud for vocabulary words.  This can be used in any subject!

5. Use math vocabulary words in a word cloud and ask students to come up with a mathematical story using the words.  Great way to combine some writing and math!

6. In Social Studies, create a word cloud using character traits of various leaders or important historical figures.

7. For a Mother’s or Father’s Day project (or anytime, really), allow students to make a word cloud as a gift.  This could be with characteristics of the

person, a thank you letter, a poem…you name it!

8. Students could actually draw their own word clouds as an activity to “fill time” when they get finished early.  They will probably end up doing this on their own, anyway.  It’s sort of addicting.

9. Use Wordle to create a word cloud with units of measurement.  I say use Wordle because you can decide how big or small you make the words.  This way students would get an accurate picture of which units of measurement are bigger than others.

Word Cloud by ABCya

Word Cloud by ABCya

10. Use word clouds at the end of the lesson or day to see what the students remember.  The teacher can either assign a certain amount of words, or the students can write as many important words as they can at the end of your time together.  This could be a neat twist to exit tickets!

Now that I’ve written about all of this, I will have to do some of these before school starts.  I’m excited to begin another new year!  I will post some of my results!

signature

Anchor Charts

I finally uploaded some of my anchor charts that I used with my kiddos last year. Head over to my Anchor Charts page and check ’em out! 😉

20130723-175956.jpg

signature