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My Writing Year

I am sort of on a writing about writing kick lately, huh?  Well, today is no different.  I have just been spending so much time on the subject because, well, let's face it, these kids have to know how to write for THE TEST!  Now that it is on the computer, and pretty much everything requires a written response, it is imperative that I teach the kids the skills they need to adequately convey their thoughts in written form.

Today, I thought I would share with you my secret to success when it comes to writing.  Are you ready? it goes.

We write every day.

Yep, that is it.  We write.  All the time.  Every day.  Even for homework.  The kids are constantly writing and formulating their thoughts coherently and with purpose.   Did you fall out of your chair at that secret revelation?  I thought not.  It really isn't a secret at all.  I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.  Writing is no different.  If we don't give the kids the chance to write, and do it properly, they just won't get better.  It is that simple.

So how does my daily writing look?

Well, it changes all the time.  Some days the kids are writing paragraphs.  Some days they are learning minilessons to make their writing more clear and concise.  Other days, the kids are planning for an essay.  It all changes each day depending upon the objects.  What doesn't change though is that the kids are writing.

The backbone of my writing throughout the year is my Paragraph of the Week.  I begin with it on day one of school.  I begin to teach my students how to properly construct a paragraph, with a topic sentence, the body, and the conclusion.  The kids write informational, opinion, and personal narratives this way.  Daily I teach the kids how to formulate a properly structured paragraph.

After about two months of this (so 8 paragraphs total), my kids become experts at the basic structure.  I then move them into essays.  I use my Essay of the Month to get the kids very familiar with the process of writing essays.  Basically, Essay of the Month takes what they were learning in Paragraph of the Week and expands it.   They use the same structure, only make introduction paragraphs instead of topic sentences.  Each of the detail/explanation pairs become paragraphs now.  The concluding paragraph comes from what once was the concluding sentence.

While they are writing essays in class, the kids are still practicing their paragraph writing at home.  They continue with the Paragraph of the Week so that their paragraph skills stay fresh.

Come January, I change the Paragraph of the Week, which is informational, opinion, and personal narrative, to the Fictional Narrative POW.  The kids are really good at writing a nice, structured paragraph, but writing fictional narratives are slightly different.  Not totally different, but different enough that the kids need further exposure.  I send this home for homework, as well as work on it during class....all while the kids are STILL practicing essay writing in class.

The rest of the year is interlaced with various writing projects but what doesn't go away are the POW and EOTM.  Keeping the kids focused on this structure throughout the entire year enables them to become confident writers.  They transfer the skills automatically to every writing piece that we do, whether it be answering a short answer on a reading test, writing a response to literature, or writing about science or social studies topics.  The structure stays with them and helps them to create clear, concise, coherent paragraphs and essays on just about anything they are being asked to write about.  It truly is the best thing I have ever done in my class to help create writers.

Would you like to win the entire writing program set I use?  All three resources I mentioned above???!!!  Well, you are in luck!   All you have to do is enter the rafflecopter below.   But hurry!!  I will select one winner by midnight, Sunday November 29, 2015 (today!!!!!).

There is an added bonus.  Not only am I giving away my writing set, but I am also giving that same winner two more fabulous prizes.  My best blogging friends (BBFs for short) Jen at Runde's Room, and Kristen at Ladybug's Teacher Files have teamed up.  We are all giving away a copy of my writing well as a pack of each of theirs.  Head on over to their blogs to enter to win all of the prizes.  It will give you three chances to win!!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nursery Rhymes and Details in Writing

I have been working with my students on adding detail to their writing.  I don't know about you, but I find that when my kids write, they tend to leave out big chunks of the action either because a) they ran out of space on their paper or b) they see the mind movie but just don't think to translate that onto the paper for other people to "see".    So, in an effort to get the kids to add the details that are missing from their writing pieces, I have broken out some nursery rhymes to help.

Nursery rhymes are high in fun rhyme, but low in details.  This makes sense though, since the purpose of nursery rhymes are to have small children remember them rather quickly.  However, because they don't have many details, each orator can create their own images of what is actually happening behind the scenes in the nursery rhyme, giving way to lots and lots of interpretations.  One of the more well known rhymes, that has some random interpretations, is Humpty Dumpty (hello, an egg magically appeared in this one!!)

So I took the four parts of Humpty Dumpty and asked the kids to tell me the actual tale that was taking place.  We know that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.  But why?  How did he get there?  What was the purpose?  The time?  The actual place?  I pointed out that good writers usually tell the reader the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a story and that is what is missing in this nursery rhyme.  I modeled these questions and brainstorming the answers (just in bullet form) for my students.  I then had the students fill in their own ideas about why Humpty was sitting on that wall.

I continued modeling adding details to each verse, one by one.  When we got to the "And all the King's horses and all the King's men", suddenly we were faced with the fact that some sort of royal element was introduced.  Some students wanted to just add that a king *happened* to walk by.  Others went back into their brainstorms for the first verse and added that Humpty Dumpty was really a prince out on a walk, so that it made sense that the king's men would try to help him.  Already, before any real writing took place, the kids were seeing that this needed to be a cohesive story.  That elements found near the end would have to match those at the beginning.

The second day, once all of the details were brainstormed, the students started to turn those ideas into sentences.  I modeled using my own brainstorm how to pick pieces up to construct sentences.  Sometimes I combined two or three ideas from my brainstorm to write a sentence that helped my reader to see just what was going on.  I wanted to make sure that a few of the who, what, when, where, why, and hows got into one complete sentence.  After I modeled a few different sentences for the kids (using the first verse), I let them try.

By the time the kids got to the third verse, they were really seeing how creating sentences that contained several of the "W"s were more interesting and clear.

(Are you interested in the posters I used on my class charts?  Click here to download!)

On the third day, I had my students create a cohesive paragraph that combined the sentences written on day two into a full story.  Again, this took a lot of modeling, but the students were able to do this with relative ease.

So there you have it.  Using nursery rhymes was an easy way for my students to really connect the idea of details driving the story.  They were able to be creative, yet clear and concise in their writing.  It really worked out well for us all! you like my actual lesson plans and organizers to recreate this in your classroom?  You can find them here in my store (though, you probably can do it based on my description here....I know...what a sales pitch ;))   

God, Glory, and Gold -- Zentangle Explorer Ships

Our Explorer unit is in full swing now and things are moving along quite nicely.  After a brief oral retelling by me about how the  world was, for all intents and purposes, two separate entities, since the oceans kept the two major hemispheres apart, we launched into a reading about the various reasons why the early European explorers decided to explore in the first place.

Now, each year I do this with the students and, in the past, I had the students create a little flipbook of those reasons (I wrote about it here in this post). This year, I took a little different approach.  We talked about how there are three main categories that historians have classified European desire to explore -- God, Glory, and Gold.

I gave the students an article which outlined these three reasons fairly well.  Before we read, I talked to them about how when reading informational text, we generally do it with a purpose in mind.  We created this anchor chart together.

Then, I had the students write the purpose of our reading at the top of the passage.  They wrote, "What were some reasons early European explorers explored?"  I also had them write "God", "Glory", and "Gold", using a different color crayon for each of those three words.

As we read the informational article, whenever we came across information answering our purpose question, the students highlighted it with the crayon that best suited the categorization of that information.  For example, if the passage was talking about how the explorers wanted to convert those who they came into contact with, they would highlight with the "God" color.  Just from this simple color coding, they were able to see that a majority of the reasons for exploration were based in the desire to find gold and wealth.

Then, after some discussion, I had the students create a Tree Map on a plain piece of paper.  They then categorized the information, in their own words, from the article they read.

Finally, as a way to display this information, with a little (ok, a lot) of inspiration from Susie the Panicked Teacher, I had the kids draw an explorer ship.  They needed to draw three masts, with two triangular sails on each mast.  At the top of the mast, they drew a little flag that read either "God", "Glory" or "Gold".  On each of the sails, the students wrote the information they had summarized on their tree maps.

The actual boat section took an artistic turn.  Susie gave me a sheet that had about 20 different zentangle patterns.  I asked the students to divide their ship hull into 4 or 5 sections, then draw a zentangle pattern in each one.   They were free to use the patterns I had or to create their own.  They then outlined them in black marker, colored the patterns in shades of brown, and cut the boats out.

My kids loved the zentangle.  They were so focused and zen while drawing.  All in all, I think this was a great way for them to think about the reasons for exploration while still getting in a little art.  Want a step by step for the zentangle art?  Click the link to Susie's blog above.  She outlines how to do it so well....and you can pick up the free zentangle sample sheet I used in my class as well.

How do you introduce the reasons for early European exploration?

Contrasts and Contradictions

We finally began looking at the Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading signposts this week, starting with the tried and true Contrasts and Contradictions. I wanted to share with you a few of the things we did in class that helped the students to really grasp the idea of a character acting out of the norm for that particular character.

To introduce the signpost to my fifth graders, I began with the "Thank You, Ma'am" lesson in the book.  I highly recommend purchasing the book and starting with this lesson, if you haven't.  There are a lot of great ideas contained within the book itself that will be helpful to you as a teacher when teaching the signposts. Click the link above that will take you to my Amazon Affliate link to purchase the book.

During that introduction lesson, I created this  anchor chart with the students.  They wrote the information in their journals as I was writing on the poster.  Having the kids write this down really helped them to begin to internalize the information.

The next time we visited the signposts, I showed the students the Pixar short Presto.  This is a funny little short movie about a magician's bunny who acts in very unexpected ways.  As we were watching, I had the students note the times when they asked themselves "Why did the character act this way?"  After a lot of laughing on the students' part (it was a funny movie that they LOVED), we created a T-chart on the board.  One side of the t-chart was for "Characters Actions".  The other side was labeled "Why did the character act this way?"  Then the students told me all of the times they jotted down when one of the characters acted in an unexpected way, and the reason for it.

We then did a lesson another day using the book Stellaluna (just like my friend Kathie at Tried and True Teaching Tools did)  I read the book to the students and, again, they noted when the character acted in a way that contradicted with what they thought would happen.  This was a bit more challenging this time, as the students wanted to list all of the things *they* thought were weird (ie: bats eating bugs) and not thinking about that being out of the ordinary for *that* character.  We created the same t-chart as with the Presto movie to map out the contradicting character actions.

Now that the students were becoming more familiar with the ideas of what it means for a character to act out of the ordinary, I gave them a little foldable I created asking them to actually list out the instances in "Thank You, Ma'am" where the Contrasts and Contradictions moments occurred.  (we only did it whole group and orally before)  They worked in pairs to make note of the C/C in the short story.

So that about does it for Contrasts and Contradictions.  I am on to the next signpost next week...and will bring you a new post when I have some new ideas to share :)

Reading Rotations Sheet

A while back, I share with you how I planned to run reading rotations in my room (actually, a year ago this October!)  I have something to share with you now....

It didn't work for me.

I know....a collective gasp just went up among the Teaching in Room 6 followers.  Something didn't work??  How could that be??  ;)

Seriously though, the plan I had mapped out so carefully just wasn't in the cards.  I think a lot of it had to do with my "all or nothing" approach.  I felt like if I didn't do rotations every day, then what was the point?

Well, my school is moving towards a "Universal Access" mode, where I will have a push in aide for 40 minutes per day, and I think this is the PERFECT time to try rotations again.

You can read my exact plan here (which I am going to try again) but I wanted to share the rotation sheets with you, since I many of you asked for them before.  So here they are.

These aren't editable (due to clip art terms) but they will give you a good idea of how you can also structure your rotation plan.  I also included a blank one for you, so you can just fill that one in with your own rotation schedule.


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