August 28 2018

Where I’m From Poems

In an earlier post, All About Me in Pictures, I shared one way that you could get to know your students at the start of the school year.  I would like to share another fun way, this time in the form of poetry. This activity is based on George Ella Lyon’s poem, Where I’m From and can be done by all the different skill levels in your classroom. Students will write poems that capture places, people, events, things, experiences, etc. that have helped to shape who they are.

I introduce this writing activity by first sharing my I’m From poem.

I’m From

I’m from rice and peas and chicken on Sundays,

I’m from fish and chips and sometimes gravy.

I’m from reggae music and everything’s gonna be alright,

I’m from pop music and the BBC.

I’m from concrete and gray,

I’m from green and lush.

I’m from English and Patois.

I’m from grandparents and parents with grit.

I’m from determination and perseverance,

I’m from hope and ambition.

I’m from handclapping and hallelujahs,

I’m from God, chosen and blessed.

I’m from coffee and coffee shops,

I’m from tea and biscuits.

I’m from here and I’m from there.

Next, I explain my thinking that went into deciding what to include in my writing, e.g., I wrote “I’m from fish and chips and sometimes gravy” because I grew up in London, England eating and loving fish and chips. When I went to study in Manchester in the north of England, I learned about eating chips with gravy. At first, I was not keen to try it, but by the time my studies ended I was a happy convert!

To help students get started with thinking about where they are from and to help structure their thinking, I give them an I am From graphic organizer that I created. If you think your students do not need this they can start brainstorming places, people, events, things, experiences, etc. and move in to crafting their sentences for their poems.

For the graphic organizer, I decided on nine categories based on my writing. You can decide your own number of categories and headings based in your writing. In each category students write two items related to the category heading. Once all the boxes are filled in they can create their own sentences or you can provide sentence frames.

Sample Sentence Frames

I’m from _______________ and _______________.

I am from ______________ and _______________.

After students have completed a neat version of their poems, have a poetry reading lesson where they can share their work.  In addition to the poetry reading, each student can be asked to contribute their favorite line from their poem to a class poem.  All of the poems can be displayed on a poetry wall.

Happy Writing!


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August 23 2018

Closing Circle

I am such a fan of our closing circle time.  In my opinion, it is a good bookend to our morning pages time. I introduce closing circle and morning pages at the start of the school year. For our closing circle time, my students and I meet and sit in a circle on the carpet area with our notebooks. To end our writing session, we share a part of our writing that we have done that day.

When I first introduce sharing in our closing circle, I start with having the students share one sentence from their work. I do not call on the students, but after I have explained what we will be doing, students are encouraged to jump in when they are ready to share. I will start the ball rolling (the first couple of times), and then wait for the next person.  Now, I will warn you, if you intend to try this, that in the beginning there will be long gaps of silence while you are waiting for someone to start sharing. Do not be alarmed, there is always at least a couple of students who will confidently share, but others will be a little bit shy and hesitant. Students will also look at you, the teacher, waiting for you to prompt them, do not. Your goal is for students to take the lead in their sharing!  I avoid making eye contact until students are sharing their work. Slowly, students will gather their courage and share. Not everyone will share and that is okay. Keep going! After a reasonable length of time end the lesson, and try again the next day.

Once a student has shared, the group responds with snapping their fingers. I suggested snapping four times to my 5th grade students once I realized there was a tendency for some to keep snapping when the others had stopped!  No other comment is made. We simple show our appreciation to the writer by snapping our fingers, and then give others the opportunity to share.

The more you do a closing circle and students get comfortable with sharing, you will have more participants. I do pay attention to who does not share on a consistent basis and will during a writing conference encourage them to share. I will give them some suggestions if that will help them.

The three things I like about our closing circle are:

  1. The quiet and shy voices find it easier to share one sentence.
  2. Students lead how the sharing will flow.
  3. More voices are heard when sharing one sentence.

For me, a closing circle is not a time to assess how my students are developing their writing skills, but a time for them to have an audience listen to something they have written (no matter how short) and for them to hear other student writers. Sharing one line is far less intimidating than sharing a long piece of writing! There is a place for sharing longer writing and those times can be created at a different time.

I have seen the quietest student pluck up courage and share their sentence, I have seen ELL students with limited English share their sentence, and I have seen a challenging student focus once he knew he would have an opportunity to share a sentence. A closing circle is worth trying if it helps to build the confidence of each writer.

Happy Writing!



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August 20 2018

6 Morning Pages Pictures

In my previous post I wrote about morning pages. If you did not get a chance to read it, please read it so that you will understand the purpose of the pictures in this post. In case you are wondering, I do not mark or grade morning pages. This writing is intended to get students’ creative writing juices flowing!

Here are some more pictures you can add to

your collection of morning pages pictures.






Happy Writing!





















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August 16 2018

Morning Pages

I love our morning pages time! This is a nonthreatening way to engage all students in writing. Although at first, it might seem like it is for some. Morning pages is a time when students and teachers write each day for an uninterrupted 10 minutes.

When I introduce morning pages to my students I tell them we will all write for  an uninterrupted ten minutes on a self-selected writing topic. Some students will jump straight in, while some will be puzzled and want to ask questions. They want me to tell them what to write, but I will say several times, “You can write about any topic.” Then I start the timer for 10 minutes. There is always a couple of students looking around, unsure of what to write. They may even try to talk to the person next to them, so I remind them that it is an uninterrupted time and we all should be writing.  I resist the urge to keep replying to different questions. As the teacher, I want to make sure that all students are writing, but once I have given the instructions and responded to a few questions, I set the timer and start writing with my students. I model how serious our writing time is by focusing on my writing.

If after the first time we have tried morning pages, I see that some of the students are really struggling with coming up with a writing idea, before the next session, I will brainstorm with the class as many writing ideas as possible. I will record their ideas onto a large sheet of paper and keep that as an anchor chart that they can refer to during morning pages time. Students may suggest writing about places they have visited, special times, personal experiences, family, things they are thinking about, their emotions, etc.

Think of morning pages as a way for students to get their writing juices flowing! They can be done every morning before writing workshop time. They can be done at the start of the school day, or at the end of the school day. When I do this writing in the afternoon I call it Afternoon Pages. I would recommend a consistent time so that students see it as a daily activity.

In my opinion, student writers find it challenging to come up with good writing ideas. Writing morning pages is one way for them to gather a bank of ideas. Think of it this way, if students write for most of the school days in September, they could have potentially over 15 entries. Some of which could possibly develop into good writing ideas later on.

In a previous blog post, Preparing in July, I encouraged you to start taking pictures. Your collection of pictures can be used as another way to get your students’ creative juices flowing.  On an Activboard/Promethean/Smart board show one of  your pictures. If a student cannot think of a writing idea they can look at your picture for inspiration. We know that there will be days when some students will need a little  help to get going! In the beginning a lot of the students may use the pictures as inspiration, but as time goes on they will begin to think of their own writing ideas.

Please feel free to add the two pictures in this post to your collection and

remember to keep taking pictures!

Teaching Tips

  1. When students write in their notebooks, I have them write only on the right hand side page of the notebook. If later on they want to go back and develop a previous idea, they can continue working on the idea on the left hand side page of the notebook. They can see the writing as a whole before they move to the next available blank right hand side page.
  2. I have my students write the date out in full so that they practice the correct spelling of the day, month, writing capital letters, and placing commas in the right places.
  3. I have my students start each morning page on a new page.


Happy Writing!




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August 13 2018

Final Check!

Do you have all the materials you need to get your students started

on their writing journey?


You will need:

Writer’s notebook


Here is my writer’s notebook. This is the same notebook that I used last school year. Initially, I wanted to buy a new notebook but nothing appealed to me as much as this one. I like the cover, the size of the notebook, and it still has a lot of unused pages. The pens I like to use are very inexpensive ones that I buy at the Dollar Tree. They have a nice thin point and move very smoothly across a page.

Why do I have a writer’s notebook?

I have a writer’s notebook because I want my students to see that I am willing to write alongside them, and show them how I work as a writer. In addition to this, as I do the same work, share writing strategies and specific writing skills,  I have more of an understanding of some of the writing difficulties that they experience, and how to address their individual needs.

You may feel uncomfortable with the idea of writing in front of your students, but do not let this put you off. I have felt the same way (and sometimes still do), but the more I write with my students the easier it gets. Remember, you are showing your students that you are growing as a writer the same way they are. Seeing you write will encourage them to try things in their writing!



Each student will need:

Writer’s notebook


2 pocket writing folder



We are good to go!



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August 8 2018

Watching Student Writers!

The start of the school year is full of assessments. We want to know where our students are as learners. In writing, I give a benchmark writing assessment to all my students. I do not grade this work as the purpose is to assess where students are in their writing at the beginning of the year. I like to do this close to the end of the first week of school or in the second week. I use this time frame because I want to give my students a little time to get over their nerves of being in a new environment and to become comfortable with me, their new teacher.

For the benchmark writing, students write a narrative piece. It can be a real or imagined piece of writing. In a self-contained classroom setting, I have given this assessment over three days. That sounds like a long time for a writing assessment! The reason I like to do this is to see how students tackle the writing process. As we will be using the writing process throughout the year, at the very start I want to see how much they understand it.

Each day, students will have 1 hour for their writing. This is not teaching time, but it will provide me with a variety of minilesson ideas. This is my time to observe and take notes about how my students are tackling their writing, their understanding of the writing process, and how they write independently at the start of the school year. I do not interrupt them while they are working and I do not take questions that will provide answers that will tell them how to do their writing. I want to see what they can do! My long term goal is for each student to become an independent writer. While the students are working, I walk around the room and write short, close watching notes about each student. I have specific questions in my mind as I make my observations.  I have shared some sample questions below.

Day 1 Prewriting and Drafting

Prewriting – Do some students brainstorm? Do some students create some sort of writing plan? Do any students go straight into drafting?

Drafting – Is there anyone who is taking a long time to get started? How did they do with their prewriting? Who is writing quickly? Who is writing slowly? Is there anyone who seems to be focusing more on neat handwriting instead of their story? Is there anyone who has finished well within the time?  Is there anyone who seems to be erasing every other word and making very little progress in their writing?

Day 2 Revising and Editing

Revising – Who seems to understand what it means to revise? Do many students seem to be adding, crossing things out, and making changes?  Are some students continuing to write their story?  Are some students writing a final copy of their work instead of revising?

Editing – How are they editing? Is anyone checking grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Is anyone ignoring this step?

Day 3 Publishing

For this writing assessment, all I require for publishing is for students to write a polished version of their story.

After the assessment, I carefully read each student’s work with my close watching notes in hand. From their work and my notes, I can learn how much they understand about the writing process, I can create a list of minilessons based on the needs that I have found in their writing and my observations, and I can create flexible writing groups.

On other occasions I have had to do this assessment in a much shorter time frame. It is tempting to skip this assessment because of a smaller amount of time, but a version of it is still doable. I modify the full length assessment by only focusing on prewriting and drafting. When I do this, I keep the same questions in mind. Usually, I can gather some information about their grammar, spelling, and punctuation learning needs from their short writing.

My Follow Up!

At the end of the school year, I give another benchmark writing assessment. As the students will have had writing instruction throughout the school year, I will grade their writing. Next, I return the first benchmark writing assessment and the final one to my students so they can see their growth. They are often wowed by their growth because they have the evidence in their hands. It is wonderful to see their excitement! Go ahead and try this and anticipate the smiles you will see at the end of the school year.

Happy Assessing!


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August 1 2018


It is the beginning of August. Have you chosen your writer’s notebook? If not, do not make another move until you have made a commitment to the notebook you will treasure during your writing life this school year. It is important for you to have your own notebook so that you can write alongside your students. You will not only model writing, but also show the struggles that writers face. This will help your students to see that you identify with them. When you write, it will help you to understand some of their writing difficulties and together work through the challenges. I have found that when I do this, I am able to share my writing with my students from a place of real understanding. You will be able to do the same!

Now, it is important that you carefully choose your notebook. Do you like a spiral bound book? Do you like lined or blank pages? Do you like a plain or printed cover? Do you want to cover a notebook the same way your students will? Do you want a large, medium, or small notebook? What kind of notebook will help to pull you into writing?

Once you start to think about your writer’s notebook, you will start to think about some kind of writing instrument. Are you going to use pens, pencils, or markers? Maybe you will use all of them! How will they feel in your hand? How do you want them to move across the page? How do you want the words to look on the page?

As you can see, a lot of thought can go into choosing a notebook. You might decide that you do not want to put so much thought into choosing a notebook and that is okay; but I want to encourage you to try as hard as you can to have something that you will treasure and that your students will know that you treasure.

Happy Searching!


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