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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

BUT….

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.

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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.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS! #winning

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…

 

 

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What We’ve Done: Week 11

Man, is time flying or WHAT?  One week until Thanksgiving break.  And then only three weeks of school after that until Christmas break.  CHRISTMAS.  BREAK.  Holy macaroni.  Time NEEDS to slow down!

Just some random rambling…

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So this week we began Writer’s Workshop with finishing up our second Kernel Essays.

Then we participated in a little sharing.

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I always like for students to share their Kernel Essays with at least 3 people.

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After writing 2 Kernel Essays, students chose their favorite to share with their peers.  It was a great time.  😉

Once we were finished, we began our introductions.  I allowed the students some time to write their own introductions, and then we looked at the Leads lesson in Fun Size Academic Writing.

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I asked students to choose their favorite introduction and then craft an introduction using parts of that introduction.  They made it fit what they needed.  Some even took a little bit from two or three of them and put them into something pretty awesome.  Here are just a few examples:

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Aren’t they just B-E-A-U-tiful?!?!  After crafting their new introductions, students were asked to pick their favorite…the one they originally wrote or the one they wrote after the mentor text.  I’ll give you ONE guess as to which one they chose… :)

In grammar, we hit your/you’re really hard. And I must say…by the end of the week, they GOT IT! So stinking proud of them! We also reviewed their/there/they’re.

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One of my classes needs some movement time…so they have been given the option of moving around a bit during journal time.  The popular place seems to be underneath their desks.  Oh well.  If that’s what makes them write…GREAT!

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I don’t know where exactly our time went this week, but it seemed to just FLY by us!  That’s pretty much all we got done.  Don’t judge.

On Saturday, I presented in CyFair for their pre-k through 1st grade teachers.  It was so much fun!

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We used different nursery rhymes and wrote kernel essays and drew pictures with them.

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These are going to be part of the book that I’m co-authoring with Gretchen Bernabei and Jayne Hover.  The teachers LOVED them!

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Of course, I’ve tried them out on a couple of my students to see how a 4th grader would react to using nursery rhymes to write…and they loved it, too!  They came up with some great things to say.  And they really enjoyed getting to draw pictures with their writing.

Well…I planned on writing a blog post for Weeks 11 AND 12…but I’m tired.

I’ll write Week 12 tomorrow. *yawn*

Until then…

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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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Our FIRST Expository Essays-In 12 Minutes

Just like in years past, I begin our expository unit with explaining the difference between narrative and expository with my “Grandma” page.  You can read more about that here.

After we grasp what an expository piece should be, I ask students to write a 12-minute essay (Gretchen does it in 11 minutes) based on a picture and a truism.  We use the same truism each year to begin because it deals with pets…and most students have SOME sort of experience with pets.

Truism: Pets can be a big part of a family.

I give students about a minute to think about that statement.  Then we begin: 2 minutes to describe what that statement means to us, 3 minutes to tell how it is true in a tv show or movie they have watched, 3 minutes to tell how it is true in a book they have read, 3 minutes to tell how it is true in their own lives or someone they know, and then 1 minute to tell what it makes them think or wonder.

And just like that…in 12 minutes…they wrote their very first expository essay.  I explain that due to the things they wrote, they have explained something…they didn’t tell a story.

Students are always so proud after finishing.  They count their words and the room begins to buzz with excitement.  It’s pretty awesome.

If you want to try this with your kids, you can find the truisms here.  You can use any of them that you like. I use several throughout the year.  The one about pets isn’t too far down.

Curious what they wrote?  Click here to read a sampling from my kiddos.

I couldn’t be more proud.  :)

If you have time…leave them a little note to let them know what you think.  Yeah…they read this.  :)

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