Sunday, September 23, 2012

Writing Unit 2 - Personal Narrative

Tomorrow we will launch into our second writing unit. This unit focuses on writing a personal narrative. At the end of five weeks, students will publish a picture book to tell their story. Goals for this unit include choosing a topic, narrowing the topic so it isn't so broad, writing a strong lead and satisfying ending, and adding details to the story to make it interesting.

The first two days of this unit are spent helping kids think of possible ideas for topics to write about. Day one is thinking of important people in your life and experiences you've shared with that person. It's important for kids to realize that they are the main character in this story. This isn't time to write about sister's birthday party or the time Uncle Johnny had car trouble. 

Day 1 - Important People In Your Life
Here's my notebook entries to use for the lesson on important people in my life. At first I made a web of important people in my life and thought of three or four big events that happened with that person. This was quick - maybe 5 minutes or less. That's why I didn't make it fancy. 

After that I decided on one item I wrote on my web to zoom in on and write more about. I decided to write about the day I finally got to bring my baby home from the hospital. I took some time to really think deep and brainstorm as many details as I could remember. I decided to record the details in some sort of graphic organizer, so I sort of borrowed the heart map idea and tweaked it.

Then after brainstorming I decided to write a little entry in my writer's notebook. Here's what I've got so far. Is it ready to draft? Absolutely not! But as I tell the kids, your writer's notebook is like a dressing room in a store - you go in, try things on, see how they work, and then make decisions. You aren't ready to wear things out in public yet. The same goes for your writer's notebook - you open it up, write things, try ideas out, and make decisions. It's not a place for finished items. I'm still "in the dressing room" so to speak on this one.

Day 2 - Important Places In Your Life
Here are my notebook entries to use for that lesson. It is important to do the same things you are asking kids to do - write in your writer's notebook and do what the kids will do. It gives you a lot of insight! Just like day 1, the focus is generating a lot of possible ideas to write about. Give the kids some time to think about important places or the setting for important moments in their lives. I made a graphic organizer in my notebook to help me keep my thoughts straight. Here it is.

After generating possible topics, have the kids choose on to zoom in on. Give them time to brainstorm details and organize their ideas. I decided to write about the time my dog got lost. This happened at my home, so thinking about things that happened at home gave me the spark for that idea. I want to make sure the kids include concrete details in their writing so I tried to remember as many sensory details as I could before I attempted to write the full entry in my notebook.

The top of the paw print is for sensory details. The big part of the print is for a timeline of events.

Reading is Thinking - Making Connections

As a first grade teacher the reading comprehension strategy I always hit the hardest was making connections. If the kids could relate to the book personally they would invest more time and energy into their book and comprehension would increase. The problem was that often their connections would not be the type to help their reading and instead would be superficial - "Henry has a dog and so do I" or "Junie B. doesn't like tuna fish and I don't either." I struggled with that all year long.

So now when we go over connections, I really focus on the idea that your connection should help you understand the book more. It should give you insight on how the character feels or what's happening. If your connection doesn't make you think more deeply about your book, it probably isn't a meaningful one.

I am using one videoclip for the lesson. This clip is from Toy Story 2 and is the song Sarah McLachlan sings while Jessie explains her background to Woody. It is a sad song but I chose it for several reasons: most kids have probably seen Toy Story 2 and will be likely to connect to it somehow; all kids have some sort of favorite or special toy; and most third graders are on the verge of growing up and getting rid of their toys. I think the opportunity for meaningful and not-so-meaningful connections is there.

I am going to play the video and then give the kids a few minutes just to jot 3 or 4 think notes with their connections on there. From that point we will talk about meaningful and not-meaningful (call them "distractors") connections and sort our own think notes. I'll post a picture of mine shortly.

If you're not the sad video type, here's the theme song from Toy Story. Again, it's one that kids can likely make a variety of connections to - both meaningful and distracting - and it's fun. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Reading is Thinking - Visualizing

This week in reader's workshop we will be looking at the things good readers do to help stay engaged or focused on the text. We will review several comprehension strategies - making connections, questioning, predicting and visualizing. The goal is to make each strategy as concrete as possible for the kids to help them grasp the concept and begin using it in their own independent reading.

On Monday we will launch into the comprehension strategies with visualizing. We are going to read the lyrics to John Denver's song Grandma's Feather Bed as well as listen to it and then the kids will sketch a picture of the image the song brings to their mind. We want the kids to understand that visualizing isn't simply just drawing a picture. When you visualize, you put yourself into the book - almost as if you become a character in the action. It's not only about what you see, but what you hear, smell, taste, touch, and feel. Use your senses!

When I use music and video in the classroom I try for things the kids haven't seen or heard yet. I think of songs and things from my childhood. Most of the kids these days have never heard the theme from the Brady Bunch! My mother was a huge fan of John Denver and still has many of his albums on vinyl.  Listening to these songs makes me feel like a kid again.

If you haven't ever heard John Denver sing Grandma's Feather Bed, you are in for a real treat! The song is very descriptive and downright fun. The kids have a great time with the song. Here's a clip of John Denver singing the song on the Muppet Show. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Knight Readers

One of the best things about teaching and learning at the Education Village is all of the many opportunities available to us that aren't always available at other schools. Because we are connected to a high school and intermediate school through a set of doors our opportunities for collaboration are sky high. The kids love walking to the high school or intermediate school and the "big kids" enjoy seeing the little friends on their campus.

This year we are beginning a new program. The varsity Knights football players have been paired up with classrooms at our school. On the days of home football games the players will come to our classrooms and participate in an activity. The same players will visit each time. This gives both sets of students (elementary and secondary) a chance to build relationships.

Our first visit was this Thursday and boy were my friends stoked for our visitors! The young men arrived dressed in their finest and took turns reading the book "Miss Nelson Has a Field Day." The kids enjoyed the story and then asked questions and wanted autographs! One friend pulled out a football he brought for recess and got our Knight Readers to sign it. I don't know who had more fun - our students or the boys.

We're looking forward to their next visit! They will be coming again this week and will read "By My Brother's Side" by Tiki and Ronde Barber. We are planning some fun decorations to help build up spirit for their visit.

It's a great day to be a Knight!

Writers Use Strategies To Get Ideas

Perhaps the most often heard comment during writer's workshop at the beginning of the year is, "I can't think of anything to write about!" We've spent the last two weeks working on giving kids strategies to try (or putting tools in their writing toolbox, as I like to say) when they are tasked with writing.

On Wednesday we took a look at our last strategy - thinking, wondering and questioning. Kids are natural questioners. I read somewhere that the average four year old asks over 400 questions a day, and after living with my son (who won the "Curious Learner" award in his class last year!) let me tell you I believe it! This strategy lets kids tap into that natural curiosity. There is no question too big or too small.  Share your own questions and let the kids take it from there. We had a lot of fun with this one.

These are my questions/wonderings in my notebook. I'll take any chance I get to color! It gets the kids interested in what we are doing because third graders don't get to color too often and most still enjoy it.

Writer's Notebook Update

We have launched our writer's notebooks this year. The kids were excited to get them and enjoyed covering them in paper and making the divider pages for our first unit. It was some of the only coloring we got to do! We are off to a great start. I know things are going good when I hear some friends ask "When are we going to write?" or I hear a couple of friends say "Yes!" and pump their fist when I announce it's time to get out writer's notebooks and come to the rug.

The beginning of our writer's notebooks have several blank pages for charts that we've made during each writing unit. Real estate is at a premium in our classrooms and I can only afford to leave up the most important charts as we go along. That is why I made a section in the writer's notebook titled "What We're Learning." On these pages I have (and will) type up small versions of charts in our room so that the kids can glue them in and have the charts to refer to even if they aren't on the walls.

Here's the charts I typed up from unit 1 that are glued in my notebook. We are wrapping up unit 1 this week by moving on to drafting, revising/editing and publishing, so I can review those concepts and have the kids glue them in this week.

If I was really crafty I would make these colored or use cute fonts, but sometimes simple is best!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Complete Sentences

This week we've been looking at complete sentences. We're learning that a complete sentence has two parts. One part of the sentence names who or what - it is usually a noun. The other part of the sentence tells what happened. Here's a short video to check yourself. Can you spot the complete sentences and the fragments?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What I Am....What Are You?

I am beyond excited for next week because we will be writing in our writer's notebooks for the very first time. Last week we covered the notebooks but next week we will dive in and learn what can be found in a writer's notebook and begin to live a writer's life.

One of the lessons that we will do next week involves thinking about yourself and coming up with words that describe you or questions you have about yourself. I found this terrific video from the artist (doesn't his name just make you think of poetry and self-expression?) singing the song "What I Am." This goes along perfectly with our lesson on Friday. Even if it is Sesame Street, I want the kids to pay attention to the words and how they match the characters, not the fact that Bert and Ernie are singing. I want the kids to think about what words they would use to describe themselves if they were in the song.

Here's the video. Enjoy!