Week 9: What We’ve Done

Another week is in the books, y’all!  Woo hoo!


We started off the week hitting the ground running.  I know I’m behind, and I’m trying diligently to catch up.  So…we hit writing hard this week!


We needed to finish up our flipbooks, so we took the first of the week to do that.  When they were finished, I had them color up their own writing.


I told them that in order to visit revision stations, they had to come to me and tell me what they noticed about the colors they used in their writing.  It was great to hear them tell me exactly what they needed to work on.  In the picture above, you’ll see that I wrote “Actions” at the bottom of this flipbook as a reminder of what this student needed to pay particular attention to as they visited their stations.


When they were done, they published their writing. In the picture above, you’ll see another flipbook that had been colored up and then moved to publishing.

We are having our Writers Celebration tomorrow.  I have invited people from the school and the district to attend.  They have worked SO HARD on these writing pieces.  I know it will be a GREAT day tomorrow!


In grammar, we worked on they’re/their/there this week.  It was so neat to watch them “argue” about the way they spelled the word in their journals.  For those of you who don’t use Grammar Keepers, you are seriously missing out!


This week, we had our lesson, then journaled for 8 minutes, and then spent two minutes proving their words with their table groups.  They had to practice the conversation mentioned in Grammar Keepers with each other.  Then I allowed 5-7 kids to give me their sentence and argue it with me.

They REALLY enjoy proving me wrong.  And I REALLY love that they are able to do it.  We all have a good laugh during our “argue session.”

Week 10 coming at ya this week!  Bring it on!! :)



What We’ve Done: Weeks 7 – 8

Aaaahhh!  I’m falling behind!  I feel like every weekend, between soccer and shopping, I don’t ever have time to sit down and blog.  And everyone needs shopping therapy, right?  RIGHT? :)

Here goes…


Don’t kill me…I have ZERO pictures for week 7.  I was there four out of the five days…and I just forgot.

In grammar, we continued to work on sentences.  We did two lessons from Grammar Keepers, The PSST! Test and Is There a Verb? lessons.  And oh boy howdy, it’s working!  I’m already seeing huge improvements!

For writing, we continued with our kernel essays, got two completed, and then finished the week coloring up the Barbie piece.  It’s meant for renaming, but it colors up REALLY nicely for expository, so I had students complete that with the sub on Friday when I was out.  We are definitely going to have to revisit it.

And that’s pretty much what I remember from week 7.

These pics are NOT from school, but what’s a blog post with NO pictures?  I had to include a couple from my conference I went to in Frisco.  It was put on by Corwin, the publisher of several professional development books…including Gretchen’s latest two books.


This is Jeff Wilhelm.  He was a phenomenal speaker.  He has tons of great strategies for teaching reading, some of which I would have never thought to do.  You should check him out.  He has some fantastic books. Head over to QEP Books to check them out! Diving Deep Into Nonfiction is one that he referenced quite a bit.


And of course, what’s a Corwin conference without Gretchen Bernabei?!?!  She shared some structures from Text Structures From the Masters, and we wrote kernel essays.  Especially if you teach 5h – 8th grade, you need to check this book out.  It’s totally awesome.

Always so fun to hear Gretchen, even if I HAVE heard her speak 100 times! 😉


I started the week absent on Monday. I presented for teachers in Southside ISD in San Antonio.  It was 5th-8th grade teachers, and we had a blast.  Most of them had never heard of Gretchen’s work, so it was even more fun to watch them do things for the very first time.

Meanwhile, I had my sub get my kiddos started on their expository flipbooks.  Ummmm…that was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t disastrous, either.  Thank the good Lord for that, right? I really only wanted them to complete two parts of it, but some ended up with sentences for all four paragraphs.

The main part that was missed, however, was the line I wrote that said: Students MUST have 3-5 sentences in their paragraphs.  Yeah…upset students who knew thought they were finished with one sentence. Nope.  You will add details, kid.  I know you can. *insert devilish laugh*

It’s really not because I’m mean.  We had to have the talk of what it means to DEVELOP our writing.  After that, they knew I wasn’t going to accept anything less and got right to work. We’re getting there…little by little…sentence by sentence!

Aaaaaannnnnddd….we are STILL working on our flipbooks.  And I’m not stressed about it.  Ok, maybe a little bit…but we’ve spent SO MUCH TIME on grammar this week that I knew we were going to be cutting writing short.

With that being said, in grammar we worked on joining sentences legally and illegally.  The PSST! Test has come in VERY handy for trying to decide if we actually have two complete sentences or not.

And the importance of that verbs lesson?  Yeah…that has helped tremendously, too.  It’s so nice how those little pieces come together to make something beautiful.


We used these task cards as a quick check to see if students understood where to separate their sentences.  Oh. My. Goodness. With the exception of forgetting to put a question mark instead of a period or forgetting to capitalize the sentence (GRRR!), they have a pretty solid understanding of where to start and stop their sentences.

Testimonial: One student had FOUR sentences in his journal entry with only one period.  I told him that I could see more sentences than what he had showed me.  And wow! He went back and found EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.  You better believe I made a BIG GIANT deal out of that one!

And y’all!  On Friday, I asked my students to write a journal entry and combine two sentences for me.  I noticed so many more REAL sentences in students’ writing.  They are using AAAWWWUBISes (however you are supposed to write that!) with commas!  My little grammar heart is so stinkin’ happy!!

Man…this sounds so uneventful, but we made some serious headway this week, so I’m not complaining.  I don’t even know how far behind I am.  I’m trying my hardest not to look.  Haha. I know we will catch up soon, but for now, I am relishing in the greatness that my students are accomplishing.

How is it going for YOU?  Do you have any questions?  Drop them in the comments below!  I love hearing from you!

Until next time…



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!  :)


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.  :)


An Explanation of Expository

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That word that makes you cringe.  That word that creates so much stress.  That word that makes you go, “Hmmm..”

I’ve had several requests lately for more information about expository writing.  I’ll do my best to explain some things that I feel are very important when teaching expository.  (Disclaimer: This is from MY brain…and MY experience as a writing teacher.  This is in NO WAY an all-inclusive list!)

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1. Kids need to know the PURPOSE of expository writing: to explain something.  In 4th grade (in Texas), this means that they will explain something they like, usually in the form of their “favorite.”

2. Writer’s use the SAME TOOLS (thoughts, feelings, descriptions, etc.) with expository as they do narrative.  They don’t have to reinvent the wheel just because their purpose changes.

3. Expository writing happens in PRESENT TENSE.  When students start reverting to past tense verbs, it becomes narrative.  However, if students are giving an example, they may use these past tense verbs.  I tell my students that their examples need to be 2-3 sentences and no more!  Otherwise, the reader feels that the writer does not really know the purpose of expository.

4. In my experience and research, the 3’s and 4’s have lots of INFORMATION/EXAMPLES to back up their reasons.  Sure, you can make a giant list of reasons you like something, but if you want the higher score, you have to have some meat to your paper.  Rather than listing several reasons, only list two or three and really develop those reasons by adding in an anecdote or thoughts about it.

5. You can write about the SAME TOPICS in expository and narrative.  Just like you can write about a time you spent the day with Grandma, you can write about what makes Grandma so special to you.

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I’ve heard several people say that an expository piece can’t use the word, “I.”  Friends…these expository papers that our 4th graders are expected to write are PERSONAL expository pieces.  They CAN use “I,” and really…they SHOULD!  Using “one” or “people” makes the paper impersonal…and they sound robotic.  Leave that for grad school!  We want our kids to shine.  We want to hear their voice.  We want them to be themselves.  In fact, if they use those bland words, they are going to get knocked in their score.  Why?  Because KIDS DON’T WRITE THAT WAY, and…clearly…they have been taught that “formula.”  If you’ve looked at the rubric…and I KNOW you have…you see that word, “formulaic” A LOT!  Don’t fall into that trap!

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1. Allow your kids time to do a genre switch.  This is an activity where you allow your students 3-4 minutes to write about the same topic, but change the prompt from narrative to expiatory.  For example: Give 3-4 minutes for students to write about a time they went to their favorite place.  Stop them and have them draw a line across the page.  Then tell them to explain what makes this place their favorite.  They get 3-4 minutes to do that, and then call time.  Ask students to share out one of their pieces.  The class tries to decide if what the student read was narrative or expository.  This activity helps students identify what narrative and expository is supposed to sound like.  It also allows the teacher to give pointers on exactly what to do in order to turn their piece into what it is supposed to be.  My students LOVE this activity…and it has really helped!

2. Use text structures with your kids.  If you haven’t ever done this…it’s not too late!  Text structures is HUGE!  The idea is NOT for them to memorize a bunch of them…the idea is to give kids a bank of ideas of how authors organize their information when they write.  Eventually they will begin coming up with their own structures.  I know…some of you are reading this and saying, “Yeah, RIGHT!  Not MY kids!”  And my words to you…TRY IT!  I used to say that, too.  But now…well…just look for yourself:

I gave my kids the prompt: Everyone has a favorite animal.  Think about all the animals you like.  Write about your favorite animal. Explain why it is your favorite.

Here are some of the text structures they came up with:

  1. My favorite animal–>what it looks like–>facts–>reasons I like it
  2. My favorite animal–>what it looks like–>what it’s good at–>what he does–>how it’s special to me
  3. Your favorite animal–>why it is–>how it looks–>why I want one
  4. My favorite animal–>what it looks like–>how it keeps me company–>why it’s my favorite
  5. What is it–>how it looks–>a reason–>where it lives–>final thoughts
  6. My favorite animal–>why it’s my favorite–>how he acts–>how he looks–>why I want one
  7. My favorite animal–>reasons it’s my favorite–>what it looks like–>what they eat–>that’s why ____ is my favorite

All of them were different…but I KNOW that they know their purpose for writing…and ALL of these would make wonderful expository pieces.  I didn’t have them actually write it.  I just wanted to see if they could come up with a structure for HOW they would write it.

Is there a text structure that works for ALL expository writing?  Sure.  It’s this one: My favorite–>reason 1–>reason 2–>reason 3–>My opinion again.  Is it good?  Ummm…that depends on your opinion of good writing.  Do I use it?  Only with students who have shown MULTIPLE times that they are unable to create a text structure…and those kids are few and far between.

Why don’t I introduce this to my whole class?  The reason is simple…and it goes back to that formulaic writing jargon.  When students can come up with an organic structure, it allows them to naturally transition from one paragraph to another.  The STAAR rubric specifically mentions natural transitions.  When you give them the reason 1, reason 2 text structure….they end up writing: My first reason is… My second reason is… My third reason is…  Yep.  Formulaic.  In order to avoid that and allow students an opportunity to show personality, we use text structures that prompt them to use their OWN words to get this point across.

Did I mention how much I believe in text structures?  :)  Thank goodness for Gretchen Bernabei.  She has truly been a Godsend for me.  Her theories have totally changed my classroom…all for the better!  If it weren’t for her text structures, I think I would still be banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what in the world to do and how to teach expository writing.

So…there you have it.  These are some of the MAIN things that I focus on in my classroom.  If you want to hear what the STAAR writers have to say about what kids do wrong…click here and scroll down to 2013 TCTELA Young STAAR Writing 4-7.  This is from Victoria Young…I’d pay attention to what she has to say!  😉

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask away!  I do my best to answer everyone who comments or asks questions.  And just like we tell our kids…I’m sure you aren’t the only one who is wondering…

Over and out.


Test Prep Rewind: 2 Weeks of STAAR Writing Review

It’s done.  Our two weeks of test prep are over.  It went by so quickly that I hardly even remember it!  I took some pictures of my kiddos as they worked this week.

They thoroughly enjoyed the task cards I made.  And the best part of it was the conversations I heard as I walked around, listening in on what they had to say.  It’s always nice to hear them discussing the reasons why they choose their answer AND why the other answers are wrong.  To me, that speaks volumes to the amount that they actually know.  They were able to explain and justify all of their answers.  Here are some pics of them with their task cards this week.

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Any time I can use QR codes, I do it.  My kids LOVE using their iPads to check their work.  Even though they are doing the EXACT SAME THING as they do on a worksheet, they think it’s “so much fun!!!”  Silly kids!  😉

On Friday, I was limited to only about an hour and a half for each of my two groups (for math AND writing) due to interruptions in our schedule, so I had to change my plans.  We went ahead and drew our pictures of the STAAR graders.  One the left side of their pictures, they drew how they looked after reading countless boring, unorganized, repetitive, and unfocused papers–BEFORE they read their papers.  On the right side they drew how the STAAR grader looked after reading their AH-mazing papers!  They crack me up.

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You have to click on the pictures to make them bigger to REALLY see what they drew.  Some of them are hilarious!  😉  They had a great time, and our time together was full of smiles and laughs.  What a great way to end the week!

Tomorrow, we will do our gallery walk.  I’m going to print several of the writing samples that I have here on my blog for them to look at and discuss.  Before we do that, we will take a look at the narrative and expository STAAR writing rubrics and talk about what makes a 3 or 4 point paper.  Why waste time on the 1 and 2, right?  They will see that they are ALL capable of writing a 3 or 4 once our discussion is over.  I need them to KNOW that they can do it.  Confidence is key going into this test.  I don’t want nervous kids–I want kids that know that they can ROCK that test!

As an added bonus, I will have them write down which score they think the papers should receive.  I’m using papers that should probably score a 3 or 4.  No matter how much you look at the rubric, it’s all still subjective.  That’s why they have 2 graders look at them, and they may or may not agree with each other on the scores.  Funny how that works, huh?!

Here are some links to some papers I will be using tomorrow:

Narrative Writing Samples: A Positive Note Home, Please, Blog post with 3 narrative samples (open in Word).

Expository Writing Samples: Go Meet Your Teacher Night, Football, Summer, Dance Season, Winter, Fantastic Friends, Multi-Tool Knife

You are welcome to use these if you are going to do a gallery walk, but I would suggest using your own students’ writing to make it more personal.  However–I know how it is to have to look back through a bunch of papers to try to find some worth posting!  That’s one reason I’m glad I have a blog.  It helps me keep track of things like that and makes it so much easier to go back and print things.

If you don’t like those, I have several posts that link to both narrative and expository writing samples.  You can search for them at the top right side of your screen.

What are your plans (those of you who are from Texas) for the last day before THE test?  What else do I need to do?  Do you have a cute/creative way to pump them up?  I would LOVE to know!

If I don’t hear from you before Tuesday, GOOD LUCK!!  May the odds be ever in your favor!  😉