Launching Writer’s Workshop

Well…hello, friends! Long time no see! I AM still alive…it’s just that life hit me and I haven’t had the energy to stop in and say hello.

So…here goes!

We just started our 4th week of school. We’ve been busy at work getting things up and going in our writing classroom.

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The first two weeks we spent time getting our journals ready by gluing in our Keepers 101 chart, tabbing sections for Lists and Entries, numbering our pages, and assigning a page for our Table of Contents. We created a few lists in our journals to give students topics to write about.

Side note: When students exhaust many things on their lists, we will go back and add to them. Some run out and others rarely use them, but we need to revisit them to keep them up to date and with fresh ideas for writing.


We also began journaling. It’s so painful to start. Kids have had off all summer, and most haven’t picked up a pencil since May. I made an executive decision to start with 5 minutes of journal time and work our way up to 10 minutes. And you know what? It was much LESS painful this way. Students were getting used to writing and easing their way into our writing time goal.


Lessons started last week. We’ve gone over nouns with an emphasis on common and proper, verbs, and we just finished up pronouns. With this knowledge, we will be on our way to understanding how to construct a sentence…and that’s up next! (You can grab a set of these Folding Parts of Speech here)

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Our writing and grammar time really merged together the first two weeks. Writing lists takes a LOT of time at the beginning of the year. I want students to enjoy reminiscing and creating lists of experiences in their journals.

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We also spent time TELLING several stories. Students can’t write a story until they can tell a story. So that’s where we always start. Some chose to write some of those same stories in their journals. It worked for us. :)


And don’t forget learning about the writing process! That calls for Writing Process Battle!

I’ve already started differentiating instruction for my kids. After a diagnostic writing piece (required by the district), my head has been spinning with ideas on how to help these kiddos. Many of us have a lot of work to do, but we will get there. Enter differentiation.


For some, we started with a nursery rhyme from the new book coming out next month, Text Structures from Nursery Rhymes. Wow! It has come in SO handy! The kids are enjoying it, and it’s a fast way to introduce text structures and kernel essays. We are almost finished with our first piece. We will do a few more nursery rhymes before moving to more complicated mentor texts.

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For others, we went straight to the planning page that I use every year with my kids. We are writing about a place. Any place. A place they would like to go. A place they have been. A place they imagined. A place from a book. Any place.

I’ve had fun watching them grow in their writing just from the beginning of the year. I know it hasn’t been long, but seeing more and more appear in their journals and more smiles is a great way to start off the year. I enjoy seeing these kiddos let their guards down about writing and begin to enjoy writing in a whole new way. It’s what keeps me going back for more! 😉

So how is it going for you? Seeing any sparks yet? Feeling like you’re running in quicksand? All of it? Let’s talk about it!

Until next time…


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!!

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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.