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…


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

Then we participated in a little sharing.


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


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.


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:


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.


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!


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!


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


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


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…


Examples of Lists

I wanted to share some of the lists that I use with my kids at some point during the year. These are lists from MY notebook, but you might be able to read them a little easier than if they were by a student. 😉



 Some of these are mentioned in my Scope & Sequence, but some of them aren’t. Feel free to steal any of these and use them in your classroom. 



Writer’s Workshop Scope & Sequence with Daily Activities

Ladies and Gentlemen!

I’ve been SUPER busy cranking out my lesson plans for THE ENTIRE YEAR!  And guess what?!  I just posted them to my TpT store!  This product is on sale 20% off through tomorrow, so if you want to have your plans basically done for the year, head on over and grab a copy!

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This product includes a unit overview for each unit which includes weeks, suggested dates, focus, activities, TEKS, misconceptions, and take-aways, as well as notes to the teacher, a calendar full of daily activities, and a separate resource page…49 pages of writing instruction.

**NOTE: YOU WILL NEED AT LEAST 2 OF GRETCHEN BERNABEI’S BOOKS TO COMPLETELY FOLLOW THE DAILY LESSONS**  I’ve listed Fun Size Academic Writing, Crunch Time, and Story of My Thinking, but I’ve only referenced one lesson in Story of My Thinking, so you COULD get by without that one.  However, I would definitely purchase ALL of them…I PROMISE you won’t be disappointed!!

If you haven’t gotten your copies of her books, you can click here to get the best prices or even a bundle!  While you’re there, pick up a copy of Grammar Keepers, too!!

You can click here to grab your copy before the sale ends!

All the lessons that you have seen here on my blog are included in the daily activities, so if you like what you see here on my blog, you will definitely like this product!!


Tips for Writer’s Workshop

Hi, y’all!  Remember me?  It’s been WAAAAYYY too long since I last posted.  Other than just taking a break and enjoying some “me time,” I’ve been staying busy with presentations and going here and there…you know, the usual.  :)

If you don’t already know, a few of us blogger teachers started a new Facebook group called Texas Teacher Tribe.  We set it up as a tool for teachers to talk to each other and get help when they have questions…all that good stuff.  It is NOT intended to be a sounding board for all the bad things that we experience or a rant page…rather an uplifting site to see what’s going on around us and for teachers to share things that work.  So…if you haven’t joined in on the fun…you should…  :)

Anywho….I’m back to share with you some tips on how to implement an effective Writer’s Workshop.


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I know we all struggle at times when it comes to writing….or at least MANY of us do.  Myself included.  There are just some days that you get up to teach your heart out, but something seems to be wrong…the kids are antsy and paying attention to everything OTHER THAN what you’re doing…or their eyes are glazed, totally uninterested in what is going on.  Ever have one of those days?  Yeah…me, too.

Sometimes we just need to remember things that will help bring them back together…other than the typical classroom management mantra.  You may read this and think….DUH!  I knew that…but sometimes we get lost in our day to day responsibilities and lose sight of some CRUCIAL steps in teaching kids to write.  Here goes:

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There was a time when I didn’t realize the importance of truly immersing my students in good writing.  By immersing…I mean showing lots of examples and allowing students time to share their work with others…ALL THE TIME!  Kids don’t know what good writing is until they see and hear it…A LOT!  It didn’t really occur to me that they NEEDED to see and hear lots and lots of examples of what good writing is.

And let’s face it…sometimes we have to pick up kids after work…sometimes we have to cook dinner…sometimes we have to bathe our kids after cooking their dinner…and sometimes we have to spend time with loved ones…AND WE DON’T FEEL LIKE SITTING DOWN TO WRITE A PAPER ON WHAT SEASON IS OUR FAVORITE!  I get it.  Been there.  Didn’t write that!  It happens.

BUT…there are several ways to utilize others’ work.  Collaborate with your teammates.  Share that responsibility…and make copies. Take a piece of your students’ work that shows the skill you are working on and make that student a celebrity in your classroom!  Or you can use mentor texts, whether they are books you read in class or one that you purchase (I use Fun Size Academic Writing by Gretchen Bernabei) to help teach your lessons.

Another thing that is SUPER important is allowing your students time to share out.  Not everyone will want to share…and there are lots of times when you just don’t have time for all who DO want to share…so choose two or three, and allow them to shine.  Draw attention to something that he/she did very well, something that pertains to your lesson for the day.  This is HUGE for kids…and sometimes they do things that even surprise US!  :)

Whatever you do….share, share, share!

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Just as important as sharing writing…is giving feedback.  Kids don’t know what they are doing well or what they need to improve if they aren’t given feedback.  And that means more than a facial expression.  While those are great, kids NEED guidance in their writing.

I try to make sure to conference with my students at least once a week…or when we get really busy, at least every other week.  This happens through various phases of the writing process…but NOT just at the end when you get the notorious question, “Is this good?”  *Insert a shudder* I don’t even have time to write about THAT!  But kids need meaningful feedback to allow them to grow as a writer.

An easy way to get it all in is to put a sheet of paper on your clipboard with each child’s name in a box.  I have this one if you want to use it for conferring with your little writers.  If not, a piece of notebook paper or class roster will do.  Each time you visit with your kids, just jot down short…and I mean SHORT…notes about what you talked about.  This helps to hold your kids and yourself accountable and can provide immediate feedback during the writing process.

When my kids are done, I use a rubric to assess their work.  I have this one that uses STAAR verbiage to help them see how their writing measures up to the dreaded test.  This allows them to see what areas are weak and need more tweaking…along with areas that are awesome!  And there are several rubrics that teachers use…but the important thing is to use some sort of rubric so that they know how they are being graded…whether it is for the grade book or not.

And last….but CERTAINLY not least….

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I know it seems cliche, but seriously y’all…you HAVE to have fun with writing.  If you aren’t having fun, neither are the kids.  We all know that saying, “Fake it ’til you make it!”  It’s so true.  If you don’t enjoy teaching writing see me after class! at least pretend that you do.  Tell your kids stories.  Laugh with them.  Just. Have. Fun!

I tell my kids all kinds of stories…that time I peed my pants, the time I fell in the pond and ruined my brand new white shorts my mom told me not to wear, the time I fell and busted my chin on the concrete and had blood gushing out all over the place, the time my son pooped all over my friend…stories that kids can identify with and enjoy hearing.  And every time, you could hear a pin drop in the room.  They’re mesmerized! But because I make it a big deal.  Ordinary, every day, boring stories that are made into something much better…by having fun!

Don’t be afraid of what your kids think.  They love you…the good, the bad, and the ugly!  They love to hear about your stories when you were their age…and all the mishaps you had along the way.  And when you have a little fun…they love you even more!  :)

So there you have it.  My 3 tips for Writer’s Workshop.  I would LOVE to hear your top 3!  Leave them down there in the comments!


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.


A Typical Day in Writing…And More


Thank goodness it the weekend!  I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted!  I’m ready for the “beginning of the year craziness” to settle down and my life to feel normal again!  Soon enough…

So…I’ve had quite a few people contact me lately asking about my typical routines for writing.  I actually love it when I get personal emails asking for information about writing.  It makes me know that people care.  It gives me hope that I can spread knowledge about writing to others who are seeking a better understanding.  And it keeps me on my toes…constantly thinking and learning.

This lead me to this blog post about how I run my Writer’s Workshop.

Now…when I say Writer’s Workshop, I’m not speaking in the Lucy Caulkins sense of the word.  I call my whole writing time “Writer’s Workshop.”  And as anyone who follows me or knows me knows (ha, that sounded weird), my heart lies with Gretchen Bernabei.  :)  She’s my writing hero!  LOL

Ok, so enough about that.  Here’s how my time looks:

I have (realistically) 60 minutes of writing time.  It’s supposed to be more, but it falls at the end of the day, right before our intervention time, and after lunch…so you know how transitions are.  They always take longer than what the schedule says.

As soon as we come into the room, we work on our Daily Writing Review.  This lasts about 7-10 minutes, depending on the day.

Next up is our grammar time.  This is where we go over things like nouns, verbs, tenses, complete sentences…pretty much anything that isn’t included in our review time.  This lasts us anywhere from 5-15 minutes.  Usually the first couple of days we discuss a certain skill/concept and create an anchor chart together, and then the middle-end of the week is reserved for looking into our own writing, finding places to apply these new things, whether it’s an old or new piece.

So we are now 20ish minutes into our Writer’s Workshop.  I say “ish” because each day of the writing review and grammar review require different amounts of time.  The last ~40 minutes are devoted to our writing.

In a nutshell, 10 for Daily Writing Review (which includes spelling, for those of you wondering), 10 for grammar, 40 for writing.  If you’re interested in how the writing process goes down, continue reading.  If not, thanks for stopping by!  😉

Ok, so for those of you in for the long haul…here goes.

I’ve had several people ask about how long it takes us to publish a piece of writing or to go from beginning to end.  My answer: it depends.  You’ll see why.

Many times, we spend three whole days planning out three different pieces of writing using the same text structure.  Now for those of you who use Gretchen’s materials, you know what I’m talking about.  Those of you who don’t…shame on you, first of all.  No, I’m kidding.  Gretchen uses text structures to help kids organize their writing.  And Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It works.  Very well!  So anyway, I pick one text structure that I want my kids to practice, and then give them a new prompt for three consecutive days.  They use this planning page, fill out the structure, and write their kernel essay for three separate prompts.  When they are done, they have three complete pages and are allowed to choose which one they want to take to publishing.

Yes, I give my students choice.  Allowing them to choose what they want to write about makes it not so intimidating…and monotonous…and overwhelming.  I want writing to be fun, and if I always force them to write about what I want them to write about, they start not to like it.  Will there come a time (say, February?) when I don’t allow choice?  Sure.  That’s called “It’s a month before THE test and you HAVE to learn to write about what THIS prompt tells you to write about” time.  Ha.

Next, I give the students two days or so to finish out their drafts.  Some finish on day one, while others take two full days.  If students are finished early, I tell them to go back.  Reread.  Think about your writers tools.  Add in what you can.  Read it to a partner.  Ask each other questions about what’s going on in the story.  Add in those details.  Make it even better.  And if all else fails, start a new free writing piece in your notebook while you wait for everyone else to finish.

It’s now been a full week…and no mini lessons.  I know.  It’s ok.  Breathe.  Relax.  It’s coming!  😉

NOW it’s time for the mini lessons.  I choose two things I’d like my kids to try out for the mini lessons.  I use Gretchen’s book, Fun Size Academic Writing to choose lessons that I like and think my kids can handle.  We try out all kinds of crafts…and it usually surprises me what they can do!  They are little sponges.

So once I decide, I make copies of mentor texts (taken from that book) and give each student their own copy to keep.  We use colored pencils, highlighters, pencils, pens…lots of things…to underline, highlight, circle, and color up the writing.  We talk about the writing piece.  We notice things.  And then I invite my students to try out that particular writer’s craft in their own piece of writing.

This means that students have to REVISE their own work.  You like how I kill two birds with one stone there?  Genius, I know.  My students learn that their first draft is NOT done.  It is NOT perfect.  Take that wedding ring off, kids…you aren’t married to that draft!  It can change.  It WILL change.  All for the better.  :)

We are now roughly seven days into this writing process.  We’ve planned, drafted, revised and edited (<–during our grammar time).  It’s now time to publish.  I give my students cute computer paper with designs on it, along with a laminated piece of paper that has dark black lines on it.  Since the computer paper has no lines, they use the dark lined page underneath it so that they show through and provide lines without them actually having lines on their page.  Then once they’re done, they take the lined paper off of the back, and voila!  A nicely written piece that doesn’t have lines….and doesn’t curve down the page.

I give them about two days to publish.  This is their time to practice their VERY BEST handwriting…so I don’t want it hastily done!  Once they are finished, it’s time for our Writer’s Celebration!  You can read more about our celebrations and grab a copy of our comment page here.  It’s a much shorter post than this one.  :)

So there ya have it.  A day in writing…and a couple of weeks worth of our writing process.  Whew!  It’s done!

You know the worst part of all of this…this is the SECOND time I have written this…because my computer didn’t save it the first time around.  Yeah.  I’ve been sitting at the computer for 2 1/2 hours writing.  *sigh*  The other one was probably better…but I got it done!  😉

Thanks for hanging in there with me.  I’m so glad you stopped by!  If you have any other questions, ask away in the comments section.  I’m sure others probably have the same questions, and we can all learn from each other!

Have a great week!

Until next time…