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!

Sonia

 

 

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

Pen/pencil/markers

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

Pen/pencil/markers

2 pocket writing folder

 

 

We are good to go!

 Sonia

 

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!

Sonia

August 1 2018

STOP!

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!

Sonia

July 31 2018

6 Tips for Decorating Writer’s Notebooks

A good one-off activity for the first week of school is to have your students decorate their writer’s notebooks as they learn the routines and procedures of your classroom. It is one way to ease students into their new learning environment and to get ready for writing. Encourage your students to personalize their notebooks in a way that is pleasing to them. The aim is for students to see their notebooks as valuable treasures!  Here are 6 things to keep in mind.

Tip #1. You will need enough supplies for all the students in your class. You will need: glue, scissors, magazines, color markers, colored pencils, and notebooks for students who do not have. It might be that you are giving notebooks to all of your students. Try to have extra notebooks available for newcomers. Remember, some students may choose to bring in their own store bought decorated notebook cover designs.

Tip #2. Students can be encouraged to bring in personal pictures, stickers, etc. that they would like to use to personalize their notebooks. If you do not have enough magazines before the activity, you can check to see if any of your students can bring some from home.

Tip #3. I recommend telling your students to personalize only the front of their notebooks. This will mean you will use less plastic covering on each notebook. (Think budget!)

Tip #4.  Once students have chosen their pictures, they should make sure they are cut out neatly, arranged on the cover and all the edges are glued down. If students do these three things, it will save you a lot of time when you are covering the books with the clear contact film which is sticky.

Tip #5. Once students have finished, give each one a label to put on the cover of their book. If you are working with more than one class it is a good idea to color code them according to grade levels. This will make student and grade level identification much easier for you. Next, cover the covers with clear contact plastic. I recommend doing this because if the covers are left unprotected they will become tatty looking within a very short space of time. Remember, we want students to treasure their notebooks!

Tip #6. If a student has a store bought decorated notebook cover design that they like, during the lesson they can  work on designing a title page on the first page of the inside of their notebook. This does not have to be done by all students; it is intended to make sure that everyone is engaged during the lesson.

Happy Decorating!

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 18 2018

6 Read Alouds for Discussing Personal Narratives

July is a good time to start thinking about the read alouds that you will use in your classroom. At the beginning of the school year, I like to start with students writing personal narratives because I think this genre helps students to ease into their upcoming writing lives. I tell my students that a personal narrative is a story that has happened to them.

Read alouds are one way to create discussions around personal narratives. They can be used to spark writing ideas that students can brainstorm in their writer’s notebooks, and students can make personal connections to the experiences of the characters and situations.  For example, after reading Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, students can discuss their own memories. They could write about the ones that mean the most to them.

Here are 6 read aloud suggestions that can help you get started with your read aloud collection. 

 

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

A small boy lives next door to an old people’s home.  Miss Nancy is his favorite person to visit at the home. He learns that she has lost her memory. He asks the people in the home, “What’s a memory?” and gets lots of examples of things that make memories. He sets about to gather memories for Miss Nancy. When he gives her his box of memories, Miss Nancy finds her memories.

 

My Very Own Room by Amada Irma Perez   

The author shares her experience of growing up in a tiny, two bedroom house with a large family. In the story, she is almost nine years old and shares a room with her five little brothers. They often have visitors that make the house even more crowded. She longs for a room of her own where she can read, write and dream, but their house is too small. She spies a tiny closet and with her family she turns it into a tiny bedroom just for her.

This story is told in English and Spanish.

 

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Grace loves stories and acting them out. She wants to play Peter Pan in the school play. One classmate tells her she cannot be Peter Pan because she is a girl. Another tells her that she cannot be Peter Pan because she is black.  Her family helps her overcome these opinions and she realizes that she can be anything that she wants. She auditions for the play and gets the part she desires.

 

 Where’s Rodney? by Carmen Bogan

Rodney is easily distracted when he is in the classroom because he loves to be outside. The class is to go on a field trip, but Rodney is not excited because he thinks he knows all about parks. In his experience, they are no big deal! When they go on the field trip Rodney is in for a big surprise. He is able to experience the outside like never before.

 

 

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

The main character has only one enemy, Jeremy Ross, and he wants to get rid of him. His dad tells him the fastest way for that to happen is for Jeremy to eat Enemy Pie. His dad offers to make the pie but for it to be successful, the two boys must spend the day together. The plan is put into action, but there is an unexpected outcome.

 

 

My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams

Eight-year-old Sangoel is from Sudan. He is a refugee. He leaves the refugee camp with his mother and little sister for America. His name is very important to him because it is the name of his ancestors. In America, he learns the American way of life. Each time his name is said, it is mispronounced by everyone he meets, he quietly corrects them but it continues. He begins to feel that he is losing his name and his identity. Then he gets an idea to help people understand how to say his name. His idea works.

 

Teaching Ideas

Anchor charts can be created with possible writing ideas suggested by students and displayed in the classroom as go to charts for when students need inspiration.

Also, read alouds are a great time to discuss story elements: characters, setting, plot, problem, solution, theme, and change. The constant reference to story elements will help students understand that these should be found in all stories including the ones they write.

 Happy Reading!

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