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!

Sonia

July 30 2018

All About Me Posters Told in Pictures

One of the things you may have done to get ready in July is gather a collection of magazines for students to use to decorate the cover of their writer’s notebooks. Another activity that you could do with the magazines in the first week of school is have students create All About Me posters.  I am sure that some students will have done a similar activity but the focus was probably on writing about who they are. The difference with this activity is that students will use pictures.

Students will look through different magazines and find their pictures and arrange them in a creative way on construction paper. If you intend to display the students’ posters, then instruct them that once they have found their pictures they should cut them out neatly and glue all the edges down of each picture. Also, a dark color works best for the background construction paper. These three things will ensure that the overall look of the posters is pleasing to the eye. Once students have completed their posters, everyone can sit in a circle on the carpet area and take turns to tell each other about who they are. Don’t forget to include yourself in the sharing! The posters can be put up immediately as a classroom display created by students.

These posters can also serve another purpose. They can be inspiration posters for the students’ writing. Students will often say that they do not know what to write about. If the posters are displayed, students can look at them during writing time and be reminded of personal experiences, things they like to do, places they have been, special relationships, etc. They could discover the beginning of a writing idea.

Teaching Tip

I have found that when I make my All About Me poster before the lesson and use it as an example, students are more motivated and inspired!

Happy poster making!

Sonia

July 27 2018

6 Tips for Creating a Writing Environment

Tip #1

As a writing teacher, you will want to conference with all your students as many times as possible. I prefer to go to my students when I am doing one on one conferencing, but when I am meeting with a small group I will set up an area/space for us to meet together. I have noticed that students stay more focused on their independent writing if I am moving around the classroom than when I stay in one spot! So with this in mind, the arrangement of classroom desks, tables, chairs, etc. need to be in such a way that it is easy for me to quickly move around the classroom and to draw alongside students.

Tip #2

Students have a regular writing spot. During writing time, my students may stay at their desks, but I like to give them the option to find a writing spot anywhere in the classroom. As I know that some students will be sitting on the floor, I provide floor cushions and a few comfy chairs that are not the standard school chairs. The carpet area is also available as a writing spot. Once students have chosen their writing spot, that is where they are expected to work during writing time. They will have a chance to change their spots later on in the year, or when the current spot is not helping them to produce their best work.

 

Tip #3

Consider adding inexpensive table lamps and/or floor lamps to your classroom décor to help create a writing mood.

 

 

Tip #4

Image result for music notes free imagesOnce students are writing, I like to play very gentle background music to help create a writing atmosphere. It also signals that it is our writing time. As I do not want students to be distracted by the music, I prefer to play the same music each writing session. You might prefer more of a variety. Try it and see what works best for you and your students!

Tip #5

Establish a writing center where students will have easy access to materials that they can use during writing time without your supervision. This will free you up to conference with students uninterrupted. In your writing center you could have papers, pens, pencils, markers, pencil sharpeners, scissors, etc. I would avoid having too many items as you want students to be more focused on their writing than spending time deciding which materials they want to use. As the school year moves forward, you will be able to decide the essential tools for the writing center that you want to provide for your students.

Tip #6

Have a variety of dictionaries available. Usually elementary classes will have just one kind of dictionary available to students. Instead of this, try to have on grade level dictionaries, above grade level dictionaries, easy dictionaries, illustrated dictionaries, easy picture dictionaries, bilingual dictionaries, etc., and of course, access to online dictionaries. You do not have to have a class set of each of these dictionaries. The availability of dictionaries means the spelling needs of all students can be met. Many times, students will get fixated on spelling and miss out on developing their writing, so I do not encourage them to use a dictionary until they are at the editing stage. When they are ready, the dictionaries are a go!

Happy Creating!

Sonia

July 25 2018

Inspiring Quotes in July

As you prepare your classroom for the school year, have you thought about having inspiring quotes about writing either in one place or around your classroom? I liked the idea of a writing gallery wall and wanted to create one in a very inexpensive way. So, this is what I did.

I went to my local thrift store on its half price day and I bought a selection of picture frames that were in very good condition. It didn’t matter the color as I intended to paint all the frames black.  The frames I bought were 50 cents or less. A bargain!

Once I got the frames home, I painted them black except two of them as I thought their colors worked well with the black. I went online and found quotes specifically about writing and that my students would be able to make some sort of connection. I printed them out in typefaces and type sizes that worked with the different frames.

How will I use the quotes?

When I display the quotes I will use them as discussion points with my students. We will discuss each one on different days. I will ask my students two essential questions to help them focus on the subject of writing, “What does this quote mean to you?” and “What does it make you think that you can do in your writing?” I want my students to move beyond thinking that writing is just an exercise that we do in class and begin to see that writing is so much more.  The quotes will stay up so that they can be a source of inspiration the whole school year.  I will keep adding to my collection as I find more inspiring quotes. Also, I will  encourage my students to look out for their own writing quotes!

If you have not thought about having inspiring quotes in your classroom but like the idea, please feel free to use the ones I have shared to help you get started.

Happy July!

Sonia

 

 

July 9 2018

Preparing in July

It has arrived. The month of July. This is the time when many teachers are beginning to think about the upcoming school year and . . . the back to school sales have started!

So with these things in mind, we need to start thinking about getting ready for writing with our students. Before we can jump into writing, we need to get prepared to organize our students for their upcoming writing life. Here are three things that can be done in the month of July.

#1

Store bought or decorated?

Every writing student will need a writer’s notebook. We want to encourage students to value their notebooks. One way to do that is for students to carefully choose a store bought notebook cover that appeals to them; another is for students to show their creativity and personalize a spiral notebook or composition book using pictures and words. I have found that when students are allowed to take ownership of the type of notebook they use for writing, they are more motivated.

If you think you will have students personalize their notebooks, then this is the time to start collecting old magazines, catalogs, pictures, etc. that students can use to decorate their covers. Try to collect images that will appeal to boys and girls. If you do not have a supply of magazines, thrift stores are great places to get a good supply at a reasonable price. Don’t forget to check with family and friends for their unwanted magazines and catalogs!

#2

Pencils or Pens?

Do you want your students to use pencils? Do you want them to use pens? I allow my students to write in pens because they spend far less time on erasing their work and more time on their writing. If students are going to hand write to publish their work, that is when they will use a pencil. If you decide that you want students to use pens during their writing time, the back to school sales are a great time to get good deals. Don’t forget to check out supermarkets/grocery stores!

#3

Do you have a camera on your cell phone?

To help students have writing ideas, a supply of pictures can be used to inspire them. So start taking pictures! As I am going through my day to day life, I take pictures of things that I find interesting. I am not necessarily thinking that I will use them in writing, but I have been able to use some of them during writing time with my students. In a later blog, I will talk more specifically about how I use them to support my students in writing.

These are just some of my thoughts to help you get started. Happy preparing!

Sonia

 

October 6 2017

Getting Ready to Write!

The Writer’s Notebook

First, students will choose their own notebooks to use during writing workshop. My only requirement is that the book be a reasonable size to hold their writing for the school year. They may bring in a book that has a cover they really, really like or one they want to personalize during our first session together.

 

Writing Tools

Next, students will decide if they want to use a pencil, pen, or a marker for their writing.  I know that when I am writing that I like to have a pen in my hand that has a nice feel and moves smoothly across the page. I don’t mean an expensive pen, but I have found that certain pens can distract me from my writing. I’ll have a selection of writing tools available for the students.

 

Writing at Home

One place that I like to write is in my home office, but sometimes I like to be in a different place. On those days I will head for my local coffee shop or bookstore to people watch and write. I think encouraging my students to decide on one or two writing spots at their home will help them to be more engaged in writing.

 

A Writing Spot at School

Finally, students will be given the option to choose where they want to work in the classroom. They can make a different choice each session providing they are able to concentrate on their writing.

 

Writing Together,

Sonia

 

 

 

July 20 2017

Writing Together!

Welcome to Our Writing Space and to the writing journey that I am about to take with my students this coming school year. My name is Sonia and I teach writing as a special to K-5 students in a Title 1 school.  The majority of our students speak more than one language. We have over 42 different languages in our school. I was a homeroom teacher for many years before becoming a writing teacher three years ago. During that time I taught all the core subjects, but my passion is teaching reading and writing through a workshop model.

My biggest challenge is that I see my students once every six days for 40 minutes. I’m not able to do anything about the schedule, so I have to think outside the box. I’m a firm believer in the writing workshop model and so I keep trying to develop ways to use its structure within my classes. Homeroom teachers see their students every day so they have the opportunity to work through specific writing programs that are meant to be implemented daily. What can I teach in 40 minutes when I see students on a six day rotation?  Surely they won’t remember anything!

After thinking about my students and their out of school habits, I realized that they spend a lot of time watching their favorite weekly TV shows and are able to remember the ins and outs of the different stories. So I decided that I needed to structure my teaching in a bite-size way. By this I mean, I teach bite-size lessons (a little at a time) and I then build on each bite. Keep in mind that the students get most of their writing experience with their homeroom teacher and I’m a support. My goal is to reinforce what they already know about writing, and to help them grow as individual writers.

Writing is such a vast topic and can be overwhelming when trying to think where to start when you want to help students grow as writers. Of course, looking at state standards for writing is one place to begin, but where do you go once you have done that? I decided that at the start of this school year, for grades 3-5, I’m going to put a lot of emphasis on keeping a writer’s notebook.

Why start there? I have observed that when students are given the opportunity to write on self-selected topics, they’ll often say, “I don’t know what to write about!” In writing workshop students are encouraged to choose their own topics, which is great, but if they don’t know how to come up with ideas they’re lost. Before students can write anything they need to have some ideas. They need to have writing ideas at their fingertips!

My Personalized Writer’s Notebooks

I see a Writer’s notebook as . . .

a place to hold thinking, ideas and thoughts,

to try new things, a place to practice, to revisit ideas,

a tool to support writing, and

meaningful.

When I taught fifth grade, at the beginning of each school year I always centered the first writing workshop lesson around students personalizing their individual writer’s notebook.  I would explain that the purpose of the notebooks and we would use them throughout the year, but they were never seen as a meaningful tool. I would also start a writer’s notebook, but would often abandon it because of the pressure to complete other necessary teaching duties. I’d be in the do as I say, not as I do mode, but this year I want to say, “We’re doing this together!”  So my goal is to keep a writer’s notebook and write alongside my students for the entire school year.

Writing Together,

Sonia