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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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. Our kids took last years test a couple of weeks ago. #9 and #15 were the most difficult for them. They also wrote from that prompt. Many students wrote about more than one thing they liked about 4th grade.

    • Kayla Shook says:

      And it’s totally OK for them to write more than one reason! They weren’t scored any lower last year if they wrote two reasons. Whew! :)

      • Hi Kayla! We are loving your intro and conclusion posters! My kids are using both – especially the riddle! It’s their favorite! I just bought your paragraph practice. We’ll be using them next week. I would love to share some of our samples from our STAAR simulation just to see what you think. (We used the same awful prompt, too). Thanks for sharing your ideas and writing samples! Good luck! Sending good test prep vibes your way!

  2. Stacy Mecke says:

    Will you be sharing the paragraphs you mentioned your student teacher created??

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Stacy! We threw out the paragraphs. But…they were both about fall. The first was 3 sentences that were very vague, and then the second one was descriptive and mentioned specific things. You could use one from the Paragraph Practice set that I posted about and then just write a really vague one to go with it. It would do the same thing. 😉

  3. Mindy Whitaker says:

    Did your student teacher read specific books to model “good” and “not so good” descriptive writing? If so, please share! I love this idea!!! Would love to do it with my students :)

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Mindy! She just wrote a short paragraph of her own. Essentially, you could write a short, boring paragraph that goes with one of the ones from the Paragraph Practice, and then use one from that set. We didn’t save the paragraphs that she used, but that was all there was to it. :)

  4. Dee Dee says:

    How fun!! I taught 4th for 2 years and remember STAAR well. One of the things Ou team instilled in the kids was to be detailed and specific but not formulaic… always starting the same intro or concluding with ‘that’s why…’ Good luck this year!

  5. Thank you for your constant encouragement. We did last year’s prompt for our benchmark too. What we really REALLY need help on are intros and conclusions. Also, I have a lot of 2 writers. How do I push those to 3s and 4s? Thank you!

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Alesha! The biggest thing that stands out about a 3 is that the reasons are well developed.

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Accidentally hit Reply before I was done. I had my kids practice their reasons with the Paragraph Practice I put in my store, and I saw a HUGE difference in the students’ writing. I’m talking from a 1 to a 4 in a few weeks. It was huge!! The main thing that pushes a 3 to a 4 is the language piece. Being explicit when describing and using bigger words will help ooch them over. That’s my take on it, anyway. :)

  6. Roxie Shimotsu says:

    What are your plans to prep the kids for STAAR WRiting….YIKES!!!

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Roxie! We are having a game show review this week and next week. :) I posted about it yesterday.

  7. HI, would like to ask, do you still do other subjects (math, reading, etc.) on review week? Or just focus on writing?

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Elena! I teach only writing this year, so I’ll be doing writing all day…but the kids still go to all of their other classes. We are starting our review tomorrow with game shows. So excited!! :)

  8. Hi!
    How did you go about implementing these things into your classroom routine? I teach all subjects, and I don’t feel like I have enough time to implement all of these things into the short amount of time I have for writing. I love how successful you have been with these things, and would love to implement them in my classroom as well. This is my first year teaching 4th grade. Any suggestions on a routine for writing would be so appreciated!! Thank you!!

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi, Cristina!

      I just saw your comment, so thanks for being patient with my reply. I don’t have a magic answer for how to get everything in. One thing I HAVE to do is to set timers. If I don’t, I’m toast. I’ll NEVER get it all in!

      Now…that being said…this post is in the spring. By then, it’s a well-oiled machine…or at least controlled chaos. Same thing, right? Anyway, it’s done when we’ve already covered all the TEKS and are spiraling through them. It’s time when I can be more flexible with what we do and really use student data to drive my instruction. I get to make better decisions about where to take my lessons for each class based on what they’ve shown me through their Mock STAAR (we take it the 3rd week in January). Right now, I couldn’t be doing all this. And honestly…with a couple of my classes, I really struggle to get much of anything done due to the needs of students. Sheesh! Such a balancing act!

      This probably doesn’t help you much. My best advice is to just find a routine and stick with it. Some groups just can’t handle what others do…and that’s ok. You just have to meet their needs where they are. :) Best wishes!

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