It All Started As An Idea

It’s happening!  I’m blogging!  To all who have been following, thank you for waiting patiently for me.  This year has just been…cah-razy!  But…I’m back!  :)

I wanted to share with you our most recent writing experience…well…in Writer’s Workshop, anyway.  We started the year with narrative, then moved to expository, and now we are back to narrative.  We switch around the entire year to get the students used to figuring out their purpose for writing and showing how it changes.  So…that being said…this is how our narratives have evolved from an idea.

We started out with our text structure and kernel essay.  We do this on our planning page.  You can download your FREE copy here.  For narratives, our structure is always: Where I was –>Moment It Started–>Next Moment–>Last Moment–>Final Thoughts.  Once students get the hang of that, they start asking questions like, “What if I want to put a problem and solution in my story?” or “Can I start with a sound?” or “Is it ok if I put what I hope happens in the future at the end?”  Yes, friends, yes!



IMG_0416For now, we are still getting the hang of using this text structure.  And I’m ok with that.  :)  So we filled out our text structure, came up with our kernel essays, and then began our introductions.  I’m still walking the kids through their papers…at least the first couple of paragraphs.


IMG_0419 IMG_0415 IMG_0409Once we finished our first couple of paragraphs together, I let the students go ahead and finish out their papers on their own…unless, of course, they still needed my guidance.  I don’t freak out right now when students still ask for help.  For one, THEY ARE ASKING FOR HELP!  Isn’t that what we WANT them to do?  And two, some just need more help than others.  It’s my job to help them.  The more experience they have with asking questions (and me modeling the kinds of questions they SHOULD ask themselves), the better…in my opinion, anyway.

When they were all finished, I had them “color up” their own writing.  This is an activity where you have students go back into their own writing and use markers, colored pencils, or crayons to underline their sentences according to what Writer’s Tool they used in order to create it.  If it was a description, they underline in blue.  If it was dialog, it’s red.  If it was a thought, it’s yellow.  If it was action, it’s green.  And then the few that say, “It’s really just a little bit of information.”  Those we underlined in black.

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender FullSizeRender IMG_0461 FullSizeRenderWe actually pulled our rough drafts out of our notebooks and put them onto some manilla paper…not for this activity, but for the one that comes next.  As you can see, EVERY sentence is underlined with color.  Is it important that they get every single one correctly identified?  No…but a little help from the teacher goes a long way with this one.  The purpose is for students to see what they are using and notice trends.

Does my paper have too much of this?  Not enough of that?  Does this paragraph have only one color?  Did I see that one of my sentences WAS my whole paragraph?  Those questions begin discussions of how we can revise (or edit in the case of the last question) our papers to make them better.

After doing some noticing about the colors, we decided what needed to be added to our papers.  We discussed how the best papers have lots of thoughts so that the reader can see inside the writer’s mind…to get a feel for how he/she REALLY felt.  It helps to paint a better picture of what was going on.

That lead us into our revision stations.  These stations were designed to make students question themselves about what could be added to help the reader picture the story.  You can grab a copy of the revision stations here.

FullSizeRender IMG_0510 IMG_0508 IMG_0507We spent about 10 minutes at each station, adding information to our papers.  Students would draw an arrow from the spot where it would be inserted out to the side of their paper where they had room to write it.

At the beginning of each station, I had students reread their papers.  Yes, this meant rereading several times.  Don’t you love it when that happens?  Students were required to reread with the new information to be sure that they placed it in an appropriate place.  Yeah…we’re practicing inserting sentences in a fun way!  Imagine that!

Anyway, students were required to add information that was relevant and meaningful to their papers.  They did not add sentences just to add them.  Some of them chose NOT to write anything extra when a certain color came their way because they already had enough (or too much) of that color.

We finished up the stations by…you guessed it…rereading our papers again.  I asked them to share with a partner, too, so that others could hear what the story sounded like.  Sometimes, as the writer, we feel like it sounds right, but when others hear it…not so much.

The last step is publishing.  We still aren’t finished with that, but when we are, I’ll be sharing the first writing samples of the year.  I’ll try to also post some expository samples as well.

So there you have it.  The process from our ideas to our final copy.  Do I do it this way EVERY time?  No.  Many times we will have mini-lessons to teach a certain skill with our papers.  This time around, it was a quicker process due to time constraints.  But it was fun, nonetheless.  :)



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.

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!




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!