My Revising Writing Process Week of Fun

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You know how teaching writing can be in elementary school … the students just have a hard time really working through each of the stages of the writing process with full effort.  I believe they try their best with rough drafting, but they just don’t get the process of revising.  They are so quick to just read their writing over and then say, “I’m done” without adding any details or making any necessary changes to their writing to make it better (or sometimes to even make it make sense).  So, I decided to make the revising process memorable.  To prepare, I drafted several of my own personal narratives, which is what my class is working on when I first introduce revising in the school year.  I wrote a few drafts about experiences with my family (going to Jump, going to a high school football game, and a family vacation).  I purposefully wrote my drafts to match the kind of drafting I read from my students all the time.  You know what I mean, one sentence for each part of the story, not a lot of explanation, and with no transitions or interesting word choices.

I started our revising lessons this week by adding details that answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions we had in one of my writings.  I purposefully started with a funny story about my toddler’s socks and pants being pulled down in a foam pit at Jump (you’d have to hear the whole story).  The students had TONS of questions about this story.  They just NEEDED more information about how this happened.  I wrote all of their questions down and then went to work modeling how I’d add the answers to those questions into my writing.  Now, when we re-read this writing after adding all of the details, they drew their visual images while I read and they totally grasped the necessity of adding these details.  Next, the students went through the same process with a small group of students to start revising one of their own drafts.  They loved it, the sharing and drawing totally caught their attention during this lesson, and their revisions were successful.  So, SCORE for me AND the students on our first revision lesson.

The next day, they’d been told to wear their best, most stylish, outfits.  You know what’s coming.  When they walked into the room that day, it was turned into a red carpet fashion show.  This was a really easy, free transformation (just some red anchor chart paper and I moved my lamps and seating around to outline the “carpet”).  I also had a Kidz Bop playlist ready for the show.  Our lesson today was all about adding more interesting, descriptive words to our writing.  I read another draft out loud to them before beginning and then shared an adjectives and adverbs t-chart with them on their chromebooks.   Adjectives and adverbs are a review for fourth grade, so I didn’t need to teach the vocabulary, so I focused on choosing more interesting descriptive language for our writing.  Now, we had the fashion show.  We hooped and hollered, clapped and cheered, and we got our groove on while walking the red carpet.  Meanwhile, the audience wrote all of the adjectives and adverbs they could come up with while watching.  It was quick, ten minutes maybe, and then we focused on our writing.  We started by sharing the words they came up with while watching the show to create a whole class t-chart.  Next, we chose a few words to make more interesting by finding them in a thesaurus and choosing some synonyms that would really catch our reader’s attention.  Now, we worked on adding some more interesting words to the draft I shared with them (some could be used from our t-chart and some we came up with based on the story and used a thesaurus to find more wow version of the word the students came up with.  You see, in my county, background knowledge and vocabulary tends to be one of our common struggles, so the use of the thesaurus is especially necessary for this lesson.  Again, just like the day before, now the students worked with a partner to add some more “wow” descriptive language to their own writings.  Again, everyone was excited about the learning, and their writing benefited from this added engagement.

We focused on adding sensory details for our last lesson this week.  This was going to be the big room transformation, and the students had been told ahead of time to wear their favorite sports gear.  I transformed the room into a football stadium for this lesson.  Everything for the transformation was either made, already available at my school, or purchased at Walmart or the Dollar Tree in the party sections.  I probably spent about $25 – $30 on this transformation, and with help, it took about an hour and a half to decorate the room after school for this lesson.  I found videos on YouTube of our high school football games and prepared a draft for this experience that the students would work on revising.  We’d already discussed sensory details in our reading lessons when practicing the reading strategy of visualizing, so I didn’t need to teach these details.  We were just able to focus on coming up with the details and adding them to our writing.  I chose different parts of the game to focus on and divided the draft into those sections.  We recreated the beginning of the game (the team entering the field and chanting), and then the students were divided into several teams.  Each team had their own football on the field taped out on the floor and earned yards for the sensory details they were able to add to each part of the shared draft.  You can watch the video that was made about this lesson here.  I gave this lesson extra time since the students were responsible for revising each part of the draft (their were six different events in the draft I shared) and we included a half time for students to get popcorn (thanks to our school’s PTA).  I have a two hour language arts block and this activity took about an hour and then included “overtime” for students to begin working on one of their own drafts.

For the rest of the week, the students worked on revising their own writings that they’d been working on during this unit.  You see, I’ve divided the writing process into weeks in my classroom.  So, the students spent a week in prewriting as many personal narratives as they could (we use a storyboard for prewriting personal narratives).  Then they spent a week drafting as many of those personal narratives as they could.  I use this time to have individual writing conferences to get to know my students and their writing.  This week was all revising and so they spent two days just adding the types of details we focused on this week and I used those two days to have conferences again to check on their progress.  Next, we’ll spend another week revising to work on transitions and leads, an then we’ll spend a week editing, leading to a week of publishing.  As we work through this process in the classroom, students are often in different stages by the end of the week.  Some will go back to prewriting to add more narratives to their portfolio as they finish working on the narratives they’ve written so far.  This way, all students are busy and can work at their own pace.  It’s not quantity that counts in my classroom, but quality and I make sure the students understand that before we ever begin.

For you teachers out there, I hope this may help you in planning your own writing lessons, or spark more creative ideas to add engagement to your own classroom.  If you do something else that you’d like to share, I’d love to read your comments!

thanks for reading!

 

Making Inferences with Wordless Picture Books

 

One of the hardest strategies I teach my fourth grade readers is making inferences.  Of course, I begin by modeling with a picture book.  I read aloud, I stop and think out loud and show how I use my background knowledge and fill in the gaps to understand.  We discuss our understandings based on information that’s given “right there” and information that must be inferred.  This part my students get.  However, when it comes to my students’ own reading, they have a really hard explaining their thoughts and inferences.  It’s the metacognition that gets in the way.  Have you seen this?  Even the ones who are making inferences have a hard time explaining how they know.

So this time, I started by explaining to my students that inferences are something that happen all the time.  I asked my students what they would think if I showed up to school in my high heels and fanciest dress with my hair done up.  I asked what they would think if they heard thunder, if they saw smoke, if a diaper fell out of my purse.  I gave examples over and over and they all inferred, and they all explained how they knew.  I told them, you’ve been making inferences since you were born.  Next, we talked about visualizing, which we’ve been working on anyway, and connected those mental images they get to filling in the gaps while they are reading.  It was a quick introduction that took about 10 minutes and my students were feeling good about their ability to make inferences for the rest of our lesson that day.

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Next, I introduced our anchor chart.  I explained the most common inferences good readers make.  I explained the process of making an inference.  And we were ready to begin our “inference challenge”.  Now, I logged into Epic! (a free for teachers digital reading app) and projected the first couple of pages of two different wordless picture books.  I told my students I wanted them to look at the pages and think about their thinking (the metacognition part).  If you’re wondering, I gave my students two books I knew they’d never seen before, “Blue Rider” by Geraldo Valerio, and “Bird Cat Dog” a graphic novel by Lee Nordling and Mentikell Bosch.   Graphic novels really hook my boys.  If you haven’t tried using these with your class, I highly suggest it!

I asked my students to share their inferences and their evidence and recorded it on a t-chart.  I praised everything.  They were inferring so accurately!  Now for the challenge … they were to work with a partner and write the narrative story that the authors left out.    I can’t even tell you how hard they worked and how well they did.   What you should know is that I teach a collaborative class and my students who are labeled sped did just as well with this activity as my general ed students and my TAG students.  It was a success!  And you guessed it, most of my boys wanted to use the graphic novel and were just as engaged in their work as my girls.

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I gave them about 35 minutes to read and write the story.  They were engaged and actively working the entire time, and although they were finished with their narratives, I stopped them and asked if anyone wanted to share.  This is a time that is often hard to get everyone to participate in, but not this time.  EVERYONE wanted to share!  And when it was time to move on to reading groups and independent assignments for the week (which wasn’t this), the students begged for more time to write their stories.  So, I made a promise that they’d get to continue next week.

Y’all, I would do this lesson and activity over and over again.  They just got it in a way that no other introduction lesson I’ve done ever showed.  Even in our reading groups, in which we were working on visualizing and sensory details, my students began talking about the inferences they were making while we read.  I can’t tell you how proud I was.

thanks for reading!

Eight Beach-Themed Genre and ABC Order Activities

 

Every year I wonder how I could make my reading genres unit more engaging.  I’ve tried book tastings, a powerpoint with notes, concentration games, videos, and it goes on and on.  My students never fully master this unit and I know that it’s my fault.  So … when it was time to plan the unit this year, I knew I needed more exciting and active learning.  These eight beach-themed genre activities and ABC order activities include ideas for beach volley(genre)ball, a cornhole game, building a sandcastle, and saving the baby beach crabs!  When I showed up in a lei and pineapple sunglasses, playing hula music in the background, I’m pretty sure the students thought I was crazy.  As the learning activities progressed they were so involved and excited about what they were learning, that they asked to do it again the next day!  Even more, I had students from other classes asking about what we were doing in our room!  They wanted to join us!

And you know what, my students know their reading genres! Learning was fun and effective!  Click here to get all of these fun activities and take your students back to the beach!

thanks for reading!

My Back-to-School Beach-themed Room Transformation

For those of you who go back to school in early August like I do, you know what I’m talking about when I say getting the students engaged in the curriculum while competing with Summer out the window is crazy difficult!  My solution … take your kids back to the beach.  Bring Summer inside!

It started with a pacing guide.  I begin the year teaching genres on the third day of school.  I know it’s review for my fourth graders, but it’s always a difficult unit in my class.  It’s not hard getting them to remember the vocabulary.  It’s hard getting them to apply that knowledge and use it to determine the genre when reading.  Well, with that in mind, and my own mind still having a hard time getting it’s school brain back and off the beach, I decided to use this as an opportunity.  EVERYBODY LOVES TO READ ON THE BEACH, RIGHT?  Then I looked at the pacing guide again, and this time I noticed the change from last year.  Not only was I teaching genres, but I was also introducing use of reference materials (including ABC order and guide words).  Oh no!  It’s only the third day of school!  So instead of doing the common genre book tasting that I usually start with, a simple wish that I was still at the beach turned into my first room transformation (I’m channeling my inner @elementaryshenanigans).  I had an idea … I’ll bring in my beach chairs, some yellow table cloths for sand, and an umbrella and we’ll “read on the beach” while we analyze the characteristics of the different genres.   What did I read on the beach this year, “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.

At first it felt crazy.  Why put myself through so much work, and how was I going to also include using reference materials? 

The genres part was easy.  After having the students analyze and take note of the characteristics of each of our genres, we threw a beach ball around the room (that I had written each of our genres on) and the students shared a characteristic of the genre they were reading when they caught the ball.  I used that game to create our anchor chart.  Next, I projected different book summaries and the students worked with a team to determine the genre.  Of course, each student had to write their own answer first,  before they were allowed to collaborate and generate a team answer.  The teams with the correct answer got a chance to throw in a modified game of cornhole to earn points for their team (one throw per team with the correct answer after each book summary).  They LOVED it!

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Next week, we’ll continue in reading groups by creating genre sand castles.  Students will read a summary, determine the genre, and then use the decorations key to decorate their sand castles (ex. realistic fiction = purple seashells).

As I gave it more time and thought, I realized I could use beach-themed words to change my reference materials unit.  Why not put words in ABC order in paper chains and create an octopus or a jellyfish?  We could use crab families to determine which entry words fit with the guide words.  I gave my students scenarios that centered around different beaches and ocean animals when deciding which reference material to use.  

In comparison to my usual first weeks activities, this week was incredible!  My classes entered the room dancing to hula music, smiling, and excited to find out what we would be doing each day!  At first I was worried about behavior since it was ONLY the third day of school.  I worried that it would be too exciting, too early in the year, and that my students would forget all of the expectations, procedures, and routines that we’d only barely practiced in the first two days of school.  They did just fine and we had an unforgettable first full week of school.  My students begged for more vacation time next week (okay, sure, I love the beach, why not) and are asking what I might have in mind next.  It only took borrowing from family members and a few dollars from the summer section at Walmart and I’m amazed at the difference it made.

If you’ve been considering a room transformation, or if you’ve been looking for new ideas to get your students engaged, I recommend reading “The Wild Card” by Hope King and Wade King.  And, just go for it!  Step outside of your box a little and have fun teaching!  It’s SO WORTH IT!

thanks for reading!

Back to School

We're so #cool

I changed the theme of my room this year and that means ALL NEW decorations (yippeee!!!).  I absolutely love setting up my room.  It seriously keeps me awake at night thinking about it:)!  So, while I’ve been wakefully dreaming for hours each night, one of the decorations on my mind was a cute, SIMPLE bulletin board display and student gift for our Back To School night and for the beginning of the year.  For fun, I’ve decided to go with a popsicle paint chip theme for my room for the beginning of the year.  (I can’t wait to show it you when it’s all set up!)

This popsicle-themed bulletin board display includes popsicle images and text that says, “We’re so #cool in (grades 1-5)”.  Student gift tags are super cute and say, “Thanks for Pop-pin in!” and look great tied to unfrozen ice pops!  Grab it here for FREE!

thanks for reading!

Build Classroom Community

 

ORIGINAL - Farmhouse Brights Burlap & Wood Morning Meeting Slides (11)

Do you do Responsive Classroom or Morning Meetings in your school or classroom?  If so, you know that spending 15-20 minutes a day sharing thoughts and “playing” with your students can be your most successful relationship building moment of the day.

My students and I learn more about each other and build the strongest community bonds during our Morning Meeting time.  In the time that most teachers would be transitioning from breakfast/morning work to “class” time, we are sharing our thoughts, writing songs together, completing mini-stem challenges, playing teamwork building games, solving critical thinking puzzles, character building, and learning about each other’s strengths and unique personalities in ways that just can’t happen during any other class time.

To make my morning meetings easier to plan and keep routine, I use a Google slides presentation.   Having this routine has allowed me to share these with my substitutes, collaborative teachers and students so that meetings can still run smoothly when I’m out.  Because my students are used to seeing the same layout each day, I can often choose a student to lead the meeting on the days that I’m out.  For those teachers who know what it’s like trying to explain a morning meeting to a substitute on paper, you know that the ability to have a student run your meeting instead is amazing!  (Of course, I teach 4th graders who are capable of leading this and reading the presentation, but I’m sure this is possible of some of the younger grades also!)

If you want to pick up one of my Editable Morning Meeting Slides, you can get it at Teaching and Learning in Mrs Gentry’s Class on Teachers Pay Teachers.

thanks for reading!

My Most Successful Parent Communication Tips

Staying in touch to keep open communication with parents at school used to be one of the hardest parts of this job for me.  I am NOT good about picking up the phone and making calls during my planning or after school and no matter how many reminders I set for myself or how many times I make this a goal to improve each year, phone calls just don’t happen often enough for me.  I’ll bet there are plenty of teachers out there that would say the exact same thing!  Yet, working with and communicating progress with our school parents is extremely important!  Here’s what I’ve found that has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE:

  1.  ClassDojoWatch this video on youtube for an intro to ClassDojo and some of the resources available in this AMAZING (FREE) app!  My team and I share our classes with the resource teachers, the lunch team, our parents, favorite substitutes, etc. to keep our behavior management strategies uniform for our students throughout the school day.  Those of you who know what it’s like to share your class with other teachers, know how important this is.  My parents are also connected and can see their student’s behavior points, whether they are growth or grow points, and why their student is earning that point at any time of the day.  I can message my parents one-to-one or send out whole group reminders.  I can send pictures, videos, or text messages.  This allows me to send updates or just some “yay” moments that allow my parents to help celebrate those moments with the class.   Parents can message with questions or concerns, they don’t have to wait for you to initiate communication.  Students can keep digital work portfolios for parents to see what they are working on in class.  It really is an all-in-one resource for the classroom.  Best of all, the parents that have connected with my classroom have given nothing but RAVE reviews about my communication throughout the year.  Go to classdojo.com to learn more and set up your own class!
  2. Seesaw – Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio.  Teachers can enable students to create, reflect, share, and collaborate; showing what they know through drawings, text, videos, photos, links, PDFs, and by uploading files from Google apps.  It is FREE and easy to use, allows for parent connection, including the ability to comment on posts (if enabled by the teacher), offers a free “class blog” site to give your students more of a world-wide audience (again this must be enabled by the teacher), and no posts are uploaded without teacher approval.  In my experience, parents LOVE being able to see their child’s work and send encouraging comments or suggestions to stay connected to their child at school!  My students LOVE this site too. It has been a highly engaging addition to my classroom.  I suggest browsing the resources section of this site for great ideas and PD opportunities to get the most out of your use of this AWESOME resource for your classroom!
  3. Google Classroom – This one is only available to teachers who have access to Google Apps for Education.  It is a classroom website that enables the teacher to send assignments, announcements, questions, files, videos, and links to students and connected parents.  Students can turn in their assignments directly on the Classroom assignment page and teachers can grade, comment, and send the assignments back for revision if necessary.  The teacher has full control over what is added to the Classroom page, including frequent links or files used in the classroom.  It can even be shared among teachers for team collaboration.  Assignments can be differentiated and viewed while the students are working, allowing the teacher to check in and make suggestions before the work is turned in.  Connected parents are able to track their child’s work and progress, making for more informed communication.  I use this one DAILY in my classroom.  This is truly a resource that has transformed my teaching!

I know there are other great apps and communication sites out there, but in my experience (and I’ve tried quite a few), these are the best!  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like any more information about any of these classroom tools.

thanks for reading!