Merging the Old with the New

Hey, y’all! Things are starting to settle down a bit, and I’m feeling more confident with my routines. It’s November. It’s totally time!

Thanks for all the words of encouragement on my last post. It’s nice to know that we all have years where we need to shake things up. And it sounds like, for many of you out there, that year is THIS year. So thanks for following along and being so transparent.

Anyway…I finally got around to taking a few pictures of some student work, new lessons, and a glimpse at our first FULL essay.

Let’s start with one totally NEW thing!

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Our book came out last month. Can you tell I was jumping up and down and screaming with pure excitement a little excited about it?

It’s called Text Structures from Nursery Rhymes and it’s just perfect! If you need a copy, you can grab one here.

We have had such wonderful feedback from teachers who have used it in the lower grades, but there is so much in it that applies to our older kiddos, too.

So I tried out one of the lessons with my students who I see in small groups, and they totally ROCKED it!

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We used the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb as our mentor text, looked at the structure, and then wrote an essay about our prized possessions using that same structure. I really enjoyed it, and the kids did, too!

It was neat to see how such a simple text could inspire them to write so much about something important to them. Some of these kids are starting WAY behind in writing, as in…gave me 3 sentences on our beginning of year diagnostic writing piece, and they wrote SO much more. Most of the group wrote at least a page! And not only that…it was ON TOPIC!

Happy dance on that one!

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I’ve also been doing more sorts with my kids when it comes to spelling rules. All those “shun” endings can make your head spin. #amiright Word sorts helped us wrap our brains around how the words look, sound, and purpose.

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We’ve also started our Sparkling Sentences. I wish I had more to show you…but if you read my last post, you’ll *maybe* understand why things are moving a bit slower this year.

BUT…we are starting to get into our groove and we are on our way to learning all kinds of fun things about how authors craft their writing. :)

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These are the tools we’ve covered so far (formally, anyway). I’ve talked about using elipses, parentheses, vivid verbs, opinions, examples, and probably a lot more I can’t think of…but these have been with individual students.

FullSizeRender 3My writing conference notes help me keep track of areas of strength and growth for each student. It helps hold the students accountable for what we discuss (and me, too!), and I can tell what my next steps should be at a glance. And let’s be honest…with 93 kids, I need SOMETHING to help me keep track of #allthethings.

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I’m just going to go ahead and apologize for the quality of the pictures. See previous post. #tired

You know how sometimes you learn something new and like it…but you really love what you already do? And then you aren’t sure what to do about the new knowledge creeping in on what is comfortable?

Well…that’s me this year. And I just felt like really looking at sentences and how they are constructed would be very beneficial.

So we’ve been looking at several mentor sentences. Our district has a sponsored book this semester, The One and Only Ivan, so I chose sentences from there since they would be familiar to the kids.

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And we’ve looked at full paragraphs, too. It’s neat to hear what students notice about how writing is crafted.

I give them the mentor sentence and allow 1 – 3 minutes (depending on length and complexity) to circle anything they notice or thing the author did on purpose. They notice things like capital letters, commas, apostrophes, repeated words, homophones, and nice vocabulary words. They draw a wiggly line under the vocabulary words they like.

This has also allowed us to really tie reading and writing together. We study the sentences and talk about what the author was trying to do or the picture they were trying to create for their reader.

Let me tell ya…when kids TRULY make the connection between reading and writing…they read like a writer and write like a reader…their comprehension of all text skyrockets. They understand the moves writers make when they create a piece of writing, and they are able to draw on their knowledge of how published authors play with language and create a variety of interesting sentences. It’s pretty epic.

Oh…after we notice all sorts of things about the mentor text, I give them the notes and tell them the focus for the day. And then we proceed with creating new sentences or paragraphs in the same way the mentor sentences were made.

This is a lot like what Jeff Anderson does but with my own twist. I’m also weaving in strategies from Gretchen Bernabei…just using different mentor texts since we have been working on the sentence and paragraph level.

Whew!

Lots of changes…but definitely good changes.

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We just started our first FULL writing piece last week. Woo hoo! We finally made it! We began with a piece about something we enjoy doing. I didn’t give them a prompt…I just told them we would explain an activity we enjoyed and left it at that.

They have been working really hard to connect to their reader and paint a clear picture for the reader by using specific language.

I’m really proud of all they’ve accomplished so far!

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New editing stations have been brought out, too! I’ve been meaning to get something like this done (rather than writing it all out on the board every time), and I finally just did it!

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Students went through editing stations one day and revision stations the next day. This gave us some time to talk about the difference between the two. They had specific steps to take at each station that helped with skills like capitalization, punctuation, AAAWWWUBIS, and vocabulary. I guess vocabulary is a stretch for editing, but this wasn’t meant to be a whole sentence-changing experience…just a word here and there.

And then the best thing in the history of the world happened. (Anybody else a fan of the My Weirdest School series?)

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Look at this BEAUTIFUL mess! Can you tell how much hard work went into this?!?! I know some of you out there are having a mini heart attack just looking at that…but to me, it’s a masterpiece!

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These are kids who are working very hard and paying attention when I say that the writer’s BIGGEST job comes AFTER the rough draft is written. THIS is the time to change up our sentences, add and take away things that shift our focus, and truly LISTEN to how the writing sounds, making changes as necessary.

Yep. That’s a lot of what we’ve done.

If you’re still reading…you’re the real MVP! Drop a comment about anything NEW you’ve tried this year. We would love to hear about it!

Until next time…

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I don’t even know what week it is anymore…

Wow!  Did anyone else blink and it was the end of January?  Seriously.  How can February be Wednesday? Someone please slow down the clock!!

 

So…it’s been awhile…CLEARLY!  I don’t even know what week it is anymore.  I had great plans to get this whole weekly blog post thing going…and then I blinked.  And I hadn’t written in awhile.  #lifehappened

You see…we are trying to get our house ready to put on the market…I’ll cut this short by saying it’s been a living nightmare at times dealing with contractors.  The good news is: we’re almost done!  Woo hoo!

Ok.

A lot has happened since I wrote last…too much to fill ya in on ALL the details…but I’ve taken some pictures along the way and wanted to show off some awesome students doing what they do best…LEARNING!  :)

So sit back.  Relax.  Enjoy your favorite tea.  Lots of pictures coming.

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We’ve been practicing our mad revising and editing skills with several sets of task cards lately.

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Students worked in groups to answer the questions to this Revising and Editing Task Card set.  They worked their way INTO the correct answer by talking about why all the answers were correct or incorrect.

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They had a blast and did VERY well with everyone participating and talking about the rules.

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Don’t you just love it when students enjoy what they’re doing…and it works just as well as shoving a worksheet their way? Yeah.  So. Do. I.

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We’ve also had some interesting entertainment around here.  Our principal, counselor, and literacy coach all got pies in the face from some lucky students who raised lots of money for our school.  That was a sight to behold!

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And then came the days of craziness before Christmas.  You know what I’m talking about.  Haha. This was my sign to encourage my friends to be on their best behavior for the week.  And I must say…they were pretty darn good! 😉

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Quick mom moment.  I am so lucky to work at the same school where my son attends kindergarten.  And I have great administrators who allowed me to visit my handsome little boy during his Christmas party.  All the heart eyes for this one. :)

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And then the break was over.  I blinked.  It was over. (I might have blinked a few more times than I thought.) When we came back to school, we looked at our writing portfolios that follow each student from year to year.

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They loved looking back through their old writing.  I told them to look for something that they liked, and I challenged them to find one mistake they made in their younger days.

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It was so fun to watch them as they pilfered through their old writing pieces, reminiscing about stories from their past. “Oh, I remember THIS!” and “Look at how much my handwriting has changed!” and “I used apostrophes on all my words!” Haha.  So stinkin’ fun!

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New years come with new goals.  Students were challenged to come up with one to three goals for the new semester.  I was very proud of what they came up with.

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We played some revising and editing games, too. Y’all…they have so much fun with these.  I’m so glad I created them.  It’s such a great way to practice that puts a little fun into it.

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If you need a set, you can click here to get one.  I have a few others in my store, too.  :)

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Almost done!  We’ve started our newest expository piece, and we tried out two of the introductions from my Expository Writing pack.  We created a riddle and a thought introduction for this piece.

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Wow!  They came up with some AWESOME introductions!  I’m so impressed!!  I can’t wait for them to finish these so that I can show them to you. I know you will just love them!!

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Oh yeah…I got to go down to a first grade classroom and do a little writing with them.  They were so adorable!!   We used “I’m a Little Teapot” to think about structure in writing.

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And then we created a short story as a class.  We pretended to be an elephant.  Did I say how incredibly adorable they were?  I love them!!

When we were done, they created their own.  Do I have a picture of them? No.  AHHHHH! I’m hoping to get one soon.  I’ll have to share them with y’all because they are great!!

This comes from the new book that I’m coauthoring with Gretchen Bernabei.  It’s going to be an amazing tool for lower grade teachers to begin the process of teaching text structures to little minds.

 

Whew!  If you’ve stayed with me this long…thank you for reading all about what we’ve done in the past few weeks.  We’ve had a lot of fun together, and I’m looking forward to much more.  Our next Writer Celebration is this Thursday.  I’m going to try to share all about that this weekend….but don’t hold me to it!  I’ll try my hardest.  I promise!!  :)

How have you been?  Is there something you’ve tried that the rest of us just HAVE to know about?  Do you have a question that you’d like us all to address?  Just drop those in the comments.  Let’s all help out!!

Until next time…

(And don’t blink too much!!)

 

 

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What We’ve Done: Week 10

Can you believe it’s already the end of October?  I know I can’t!  It’s going by so fast!!  EEEEKKKK!

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We started the week off with another Writers Celebration. It was so much fun.  Of course, I forgot to take pictures of it, so I don’t have those to show.  However…

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I DID manage to get a picture of my plans for the day.  Notice the “Evaluation” piece.  LOL.  😉

On Tuesday we started our lessons on they’re, there, and their.  Those continued through Thursday.  It’s so fun to see how much easier it is to make that decision when they know their proofs!

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In the picture above, you can see the “there” lesson with the proof.  I changed it up a little from Grammar Keepers because the proof of “here” doesn’t always make sense to my kids.  I told them that if “they are” and “our” doesn’t work, it’s “there.”

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This is just another quick shot I got of another student’s journal.  :)

On Friday, I asked them to write sentences I gave them and fill in the correct word for there/their/they’re.  They did very well on that.  I also took a grade on using capital letters and punctuation at the end.  We REALLY might need some more work on that one! *insert face palm*

Wednesday and Thursday were short days due to parent conferences.  Friday was a little crazy because of Bus Safety.  Gotta love those interruptions, right?

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In writing, we looked at expository Ba…Da…Bing sentences. Rather than trying to implement right away, we sat together on the carpet and discussed them and what they do for the reader.

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Many still had a hard time making them present tense, but we will get there.  I had a few students create some to go up on the wall. Hopefully this will help!

From there we started our kernel essays for our next expository piece.

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We are writing about someone who is important to us.  It’s interesting to see the variety of people who these kiddos think are special in their lives.

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We wrote very simplistic kernel essays, and then we added an expository Ba…Da…Bing sentence to it.  They did a pretty amazing job.  You can see the original sentences crossed out and their newly formed sentences below them.  (If you click on the picture, you can see it bigger and maybe read the writing.)

We had a shortened day on Friday, so after our journal entry and our they’re/there/their assessment, we really didn’t have much time left.  And it was costume day.  So, yeah…

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In case you wanted some costume cuteness, this is my son.  He is Dan TDM from Roblox.  Don’t ask.  I have no clue. It’s what he picked out.

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And we got our school pictures on Friday.  This is me…and my mom says she can see the mischief in my eyes.  I have NO IDEA what she’s talking about!

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I can’t leave out the “Opas” that came to talk to our kids about the German heritage of New Braunfels.  They were so great!

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And that’s pretty much our Week 10!  I remembered to snap a picture of the complete sentences task cards that we used a couple weeks ago.

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This is what I used as a quick daily grade to see if students were able to use the Sentence Wringer to figure out where to split the sentences.  😉  If you need a set, you can grab them here.

So how are things going for you?  I’d love to hear!

Until next time…

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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.

Click here to download a copy! Feel free to print them and use them in your classroom for teaching purposes.  I know I’ll be doing the same!Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 7.14.52 PM

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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