Weeks 1 – 3: What We’ve Done

Well hello there!  I’m baaaaaaaack!  :)  I hope you all have had a GREAT start to your year.  It’s been crazy busy already!!

I’m going to go ahead and jump right in.  I wanted to share with you the things we’ve done so far this year.  It might not look like a lot, but we are getting it done…and that’s ALL that matters!

Let me start by saying that I have 60 minutes this year for writing.  Turns out…I’m teaching 4 classes of writing this year.  Long story on that one, but that’s what I’m doing.  It’s pretty awesome, if I may say so myself!  *happy dance*

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We began our time together with setting up our classroom rules and all that fun stuff…if you call it that.

Then we began telling stories.  Telling stories is so important in writing.  Why, you ask?  Because students can’t WRITE a story until they can TELL one.  So we also talked about HOW to tell a good story.

We also created some lists in our journals.  We only have ONE journal this year.  I decided that we would dedicate 1o pages to our lists and the rest for journal entries.  We will do our drafting on flipbooks or on notebook paper and keep those in a folder.  We shall see how this goes!

Here are the four lists we have so far…

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This is a house blueprint with stories to the side.  Some chose to do their neighborhood instead.

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On the left is a Best/Worst Memories list.  This person didn’t have enough time to finish apparently.

On the right is a Times I Felt list.

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And then a Narrative Quick List.

Everyone has different amounts of memories on each list.  That’s ok.  It’s just the beginning.  We will revisit these often.  NO EXCUSES for that dreaded sentence, “I don’t know what to write about!”  Yes, you do.  You now have FOUR lists to choose from.  Pick something and write!  Muahahaha! 😉

And that’s pretty much all of Week 1.  Not even gonna lie.  That Quicklist is from Week 2…but it just made more sense to put it with all the other lists.  Forgive me.

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We began using our journals this week to JUST JOURNAL.  You have to give kids time to just write in their journals.  Otherwise…it’s a miserable fail.  Just ask last year me.  It was bad.  I went straight into lessons the first day I asked them to journal….yeah…deer in the headlights looks.  All. Over. The. Place.

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So we just journaled for 10 minutes every day.  Some students thought it was fun.  Others not so much.  But it’s ok.  It’s getting better by the day.  By next month, they will forget that they complained about it.  :)

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I ask students to put the date on each entry.  Then when they are finished for the day, they draw a line underneath the spot where they stopped.

Oh yeah…journals are ALWAYS their own choice of topic.  I NEVER tell them what I want them to write about during this time.  Some write fantasy stories, other write personal narratives, and still others write about Minecraft or Call of Duty.  It’s 100% their choice.

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In writing, we experienced our first (and my FAVORITE) lesson: Color It Up.  This is from Gretchen Bernabei’s awesome book, Fun Size Academic Writing.  A couple of classes had to have a little more than one class period to finish, but that’s ok.

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Here is one of their final pieces.

You can read more about this activity here. If you’ve never experienced it, you’re seriously missing out!  You NEED this book!!

And that pretty much wraps up Week 2.  Slow going…but we’re trucking along!

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This week I finally felt like we made some progress!  Our very first lesson from Grammar Keepers on nouns happened!  Woo Hoo!

I made a little something to help cut down some time since I don’t have any science time to take.  (I *might* have taken a lot some time from science last year.) You can see it here:

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My new district wants us to use more mentor sentences, so I decided this would be fun AND take less time AND help me comply with district policies.  Do you call that a Win-Win-Win?  I think so!

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Here’s what it looks like in their actual real-life journals.

Each day, I invited students to find three nouns in their own writing in their journals.  Some students like to try it out right away, while others wait for awhile.  If they DO find them and prove them, I put a star on that entry and give them one point towards classwork.  They REALLY liked that idea!

By Friday, it was time to SHOW ME that they got it.  (We had an early release day Wednesday and Thursday I had to have them complete a district BOY writing piece, so I didn’t have all week like some people did.) Their assessment for the week was to write for 10 minutes and prove 5 nouns for me.

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And guess what?!?!  EVERYONE made a 100!  I’ll call that a success!!

We also started our Daily Writing Review.  Here are all four days that we got completed this week.

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The students are actually having a pretty good time with these already.  We will start Week 2 of them tomorrow.

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We also began our first draft.  Of course we had our handy dandy Writer’s Tools anchor chart by our sides.

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We completed a kernel essay and began our flipbooks. Check out this AH-mazing introduction!!! If you click on the picture, you can enlarge it to see it better.  You should.  It’s totally worth it!

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For some students, I asked them to draw out the beginning, middle, and end of their story. This helped BIG TIME!  Some students are ok with just writing words, but some need that picture support.  You can see the pictures below.

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This one is from a story about hitting some frogs with a stick.  I know it might sound terrible, but they weren’t killing them.  And these drawings absolutely cracked me up!!

From those drawings, students created their sentences for the middle part of our text structure (First Moment, Next Moment, Last Moment).  Success!

And there you have it.  Our first 3 weeks.  I guess we got more done than I thought.  If you’ve stayed with me this long, you’re a rock star!  And I hope that the pictures help you to see what’s REALLY happening.

How has your start been?  I’d love to hear about what YOU are doing!  Drop a comment below!

See ya next week!  Ta ta for now!!

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How to Add Topic and Concluding Sentences

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Do your kids struggle with adding sentences to an already written paper?  AKA…the revising portion of STAAR!

I’ve put together a slide show that might just help!  This one is all about adding a sentence to state the central topic in the introduction and a concluding sentence at the very end.

I have been studying the STAAR, and this is what I found to be true after looking at the past 4 years of released tests.

One thing that kids HAVE to understand is that with a central topic sentence, it HAS to state the main idea of the paper.  That’s why many of our kids miss those types of questions…they miss that part!  It’s not a reading test…but it is!  *Sigh*

With concluding sentences, it is VITAL that the reader feels satisfied that the paper is over.  No new information.  No statements that make you think, HUH?

You can download it for FREE here.

I’m also working on one for adding in supporting detail sentences.  Hopefully this helps!

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Expository Writing with Quality Details

Ever since TEA came out with the new STAAR Writing specs, people have been a little worried about this whole expository thing.  I’ll admit it…I am, too.  Why?  Because our kids do SOOOO much better with narrative writing, that’s why!

But…BUT…that’s what our kiddos are required to do, so we must figure out a way to get them writing expository essays that are well-written with quality details.

Last month, as we were writing about our favorite seasons, I found myself asking my students the same questions over and over again.  After numerous conversations, I stopped and wrote down a paragraph of my own on the board with the same things I was telling my students…a “formula” if you will…and it WORKED!

Now, when I say formula, I’m not talking about the dreaded “formulaic writing” that TEA talks about.  I’m talking about using a specific sequence of Writers Tools that make sense together and help kids to write quality details.

So I created a “Build a Paragraph” pack to help them along.  Wow!  My students were REALLY thinking and adding sentences to their paragraphs that were on topic and added meaning to what they were writing…just like the STAAR rubric calls for!  SCORE!

If you are interested in purchasing this set for your class, click here.

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We also used a riddle for our introductions.  There are 6 introduction types that we are studying.  You can pick up some posters for your classroom all about expository introductions here.

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I wanted to share some successful expository essays that my kids created from this pack.  I think they are pretty darn good, if I may say so myself!  We still have some learning to do, but I like how they are now adding in details that enhance their papers.

To read them, click here.  We wrote about jobs we want to have in the future.

Let us know what you think in the comments!  😉

Ta ta for now!

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Expository Samples – Our Favorite Time of Year

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 7.15.00 PMWell, hello there!  I promised you that I would post more writing samples before the holidays…so I’m keeping up with my end of the bargain!

As soon as we came back from Thanksgiving break, my students were challenged with coming up with their own text structures for their next piece of writing.  I told them that they would be writing an expository piece about their favorite time of year, but that the rest was up to them.

I was surprised at how easily some of them came up with their own structures!  It’s only December, and they are already taking that risk and doing a pretty good job with it!  My heart is full!

Now…we still have a LONG way to go…but again, it’s DECEMBER!

So…here they are.  I chose my favorite four to share with you.  We are still working on adding in quality details, but I felt that these four students especially did a great job of painting a picture of what these holidays look like and why they enjoy the festivities that accompany them.

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One thing that I found helpful was to ask them to do two things: tell what they can do and what it looks like.  That simple.  My kids are having a hard time expanding on their topic sentence, but with these instructions, they were able to add more sentences and some quality details that didn’t just simply restate what they had already said.

So it goes like this: I like spending time with my family. (What can you do?) I get to decorate the tree, put decorations all over the house, and help my mom wrap presents. (What does that look like?) Every year we take all the ornaments out of the attic and hang them on our Christmas tree.  I always get to put the star on top!  We also hang our stockings, put the advent calendar up, and take out the cookie plate for Santa.  My favorite part is wrapping presents with my mom.  That’s always fun!

Just by asking those two simple questions, students can begin painting a vivid picture of what that looks like…and all the while explaining why they like their topic. It was sort of an “ah hah” moment in my classroom.

You should try it.  I would love to hear what your students come up with!  Hopefully this can help your kiddos explain a little better, too!

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 7.14.42 PMNext up: Pitchforks!  If they can use pitchforks to explain what they can do and what it looks like, then they can add a sentence for each part of their pitchfork.  And voila!  A well-developed paragraph with carefully chosen details.  That’s at least a 3 (6 combined score) in the making right there!  :)

If you have papers from your kiddos that you would like to share, I would LOVE to hear them!  You can email me with an attachment through my “About” page.  And if you’ll let me, I’ll feature your kids right here.  We all love to learn from each other!

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas that brings fun, family, laughter, and joy to you and yours!

Until next time….

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More Expository Writing Samples

We finally finished up our third expository writing pieces.  This time, we wrote about our role models.

We started off by looking at some mentor leads in Gretchen Bernabei’s book, Fun Size Academic Writing.  I asked my students to put a star by their favorite one and try it out in their own writing.  Wow!  They are SOOO powerful!

**Updated: We used this structure: Who I admire, Internal Characteristics, External Skills, That’s Why

Some of us are still getting the hang of adding in details to our writing, while others of us have REALLY gotten that down!  I wanted to share four of my favorites with you.

Click here to read.

After you read them, I know that some of you might be wondering…is EVERYONE writing like this?  And the reality is…no.  They aren’t.  Some don’t even come close to these at this point.  The good news?  They will soon!  I have faith!

I want to be real with you…and the hard truth is that many writers are still very much struggling to get depth and details into their writing.  This is something that we will be developing throughout the year.  It’s pretty simple to get a kernel essay down on paper.  It’s that NEXT step of adding in details to flesh out a paragraph that seems to hold up so many of our young writers.

So…that will be the focus for our near future!  Sure, leads and conclusions are great…but without the MEAT of the writing, it doesn’t matter how much you grabbed your reader’s attention at the beginning.  We have to KEEP them interested!

Please feel free to print these out and use them in your own classroom.  That’s what I do…use other students’ writing to share and talk about what worked and what didn’t.  That’s how our students learn the best.  Without a mentor text, they have nothing.  For many students, creating something from nothing is near to impossible.  With a mentor text, students are given examples of what good writing sounds like…which for some is the crutch that they so desperately need!

I say all of this to let you know that we ALL have areas to upgrade.  I know that right now…for us…it’s adding in those meaningful details.

What about you?  What are your kiddos struggling with the most right now?  I’d love to know…and I KNOW that many others wonder who else is in their same boat…  Please let us know in the comments!  :)

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Grammar Keepers Wall Cards

Well, hello there!  How are you?  How is school going?  I know, I know…many of you are on Thanksgiving break and are enjoying your time off and not looking back at the moment.

BUT…I wanted to share this little tool with you.  I created some cards (really small anchor charts if you prefer that term) that can be easily put onto a cabinet door  or in a small space in your classroom.

If you are like me, by now you have basically no more room on your walls for ANOTHER anchor chart.  So….I made these little guys that will be easy to put up.

These cards go right along with the lessons we use in 4th grade out of Gretchen Bernabei’s newest book, Grammar Keepers.  If you don’t have a copy yet…I HIGHLY suggest you get one.  It has been a HUGE game changer in my classroom!!  You can click here to get your copy.

Here’s a peek at what they look like:

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I made cards for all of the common errors on the Keepers 101 4th grade chart that I posted awhile back, along with parts of speech cards.

You can snag a copy of it here.

Do YOU use Grammar Keepers?  If so, what do you think?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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