Monday, March 13, 2017

Camp Write-a-Lot STAAR Writing Test Prep & Review

Test, test, test, blah, blah, blah. It seems like that's all we hear this time of year. Underline your evidence. Mark out unlikely choices. Check your bubbles. Blah, blah, blah. Tests are boring. There's no way around it. 
We don't have much wiggle room when it comes to giving state-mandated tests, but we do have a choice in how we prepare for them! Last year, my teachers and I talked about this during PLC and decided we wanted an engaging, stress-free review for kids.
That's why I put together this camping-themed STAAR Writing test prep and review to help students get ready for their big writing test in a fun and engaging way. It's also important to help reduce kids' (and your!) stress about the big day of the test.
Kids love (and remember)  hands-on, interactive activities that require them to figure things out and actively apply their learning. I wanted to balance that with making sure that they had practice in the important areas they'd be tested on. 

Setting the Scene
Some teachers decorated the hallways or their classrooms with cute butcher paper cut-outs of trees, rivers, and bushes. Wearing a cap or visor and a whistle adds a little camping-themed fun to the day! I'd also recommend reading aloud a fun camping book, such as A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee to get your day started in a camping frame of mind!

Moving Through the Stations
We did our test prep review the day before our big test. We took the whole day and used it to go through some fun, hands-on writing stations! Every student got a fun paper bracelet with an image for each station on it. As they completed a station, we used a hole puncher to mark them!

Another easy way to record the stations is with a punch card, or a signature card. Other teachers in the grade level used these cute badges to show which stations the kids had completed. As they finished the station, they colored in the icon on the badge and they glued it on their badge sheet. (My personal preference was the bracelet :)

If you have a group of teachers who'd like to do this fun activity with you, you can each take a station and have kids move from class-to-class to accomplish them. If not, it's just as fun in your own classroom!

Camping Stations!
We had ten engaging stations to get through on our fun camp day. These are some of my favorites!

Sentence Sort 
One skill that's necessary for both revision and editing is being able to identify complete sentences, run-ons, and fragments. I recorded a ton of each of these phrases and sentences on sentence strips and had kids sort them into those three categories. 
In the complete sentence category, I tried to include simple, compound, and complex sentences so students had practice in reviewing each of those sentence types. 
Revision Station 
For this station, I wrote several boring compositions on chart paper. I tried to do a lot of the things kids do that make their writing uninteresting: repeating lines and words, having little development, unoriginal details. 
Students were tasked to revise the composition using more interesting details and sentences. They were challenged to use the skills they had learned all year to make this piece of writing engaging and convincing to the reader. 
As you can see, this piece is still under construction, but students have begun to think about using different types of sentences and specific language. 
Editing Station
Do your kids love using dry-erase markers? Mine always do! For this editing station, I wrote sentences on sentence strips. In each sentence there was one specific error, whether it was spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or grammar. I laminated the sentence strips and had students use dry-erase markers to make the corrections to each sentence. Bonus points if you have kids sort the sentences by the error afterward: capitalization, spelling, grammar, or punctuation?
Using Transitions
One area that students often need practice in is using transitions meaningfully. I decided this was important enough to merit its own station! 
For this station, I wrote a couple compositions on chart paper, but I left out the transitional phrases, instead marking a blank line where they belonged. I wrote the missing phrases (and a few extra ones) on some sentence strips. 

The kids worked in partners to figure out which sentence strips belonged in the composition to improve the flow! They used a little piece of tape to stick them on. You could also laminate the chart paper to re-use next year, or for the next group!

In this station, kids have to engage a lot of different revision skills to create a composition out of sentences. This can easily be written on sentence strips, but I typed this one out and cut it up so we could do it in a small group setting with teacher support.  I wanted to use this as an opportunity to review and apply the revision language we'd been using during our writing lessons!

Kids figured out the organization of the composition and then sequenced the details in an order that made sense. This station might be my favorite because it requires so many skills!
These are just a few of the fun stations we used to review and get ready for our big STAAR Writing test. It was a fun day, even though the stressful test was on its way! We can't change the test, but we can change the way we prepare for it!

What's the best part of all these stations? They can easily be made with markers, sentence strips, chart paper, and dry-erase markers! But if you're looking for a ready-made Camp Write-a-Lot, look no further! Get these stations and more at my TPT store!
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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Seuss DIY: Big Truffula Trees!

It's COMING! Read Across America is next week, so I thought I'd share a very easy DIY that I put together to decorate our hallways! 
I've seen these adorable truffula trees all over pinterest, from adorable pictures of peoples' classrooms and photos from blogs. 
To celebrate Read Across America, I thought I'd make a few to put outside our library! 

It was much easier than I thought it'd be. Here's what you need:
  • Pool noodles (I cut them down to make trunks of different lengths)
  • Masking tape (I used black and blue)
  • tissue paper sheets (the larger, the better)
  • floral wire
  • floral wire cutters
  • scissors

First, I took the masking tape and wrapped it around the pool noodles at a regular interval to make the little stripes you see on the truffula tree trunks.

Then, I followed the directions from this post from Martha Stewart to make the poofs on top of the truffula trees. It was surprisingly easy! For the first tree I made, I used a rounded edge, which made the petals on the poof look round on the ends, but for the others, I cut it into a pointy triangle, so it could look a bit more truffula-ish.

One of the steps in making the poofs is to wrap the floral wire around the middle of a stack of tissue paper. I left the ends of the wire very long, so I could use it to punch through the pool noodle and attach the poof to the top. I also only fluffed out the petals into one side, making a  180 degree flower, rather than a 360 degree flower, so I could lay the flowers flat against the wall.

I made six truffula trees of different colors in about an hour (maybe an hour and a half). Easy peasy!

We used our truffula trees to decorate the doorway outside the library. We covered the wall with a bright blue background, and layered on grass, little Seuss-like hills, and clouds to make a cute truffula scene.

What do you do to decorate for Read Across America? I know a lot of teachers decorate their doors. I'd love to see your photos!
Looking for more ideas? Check out my posts from the last few years!
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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Writing Better Beginnings for Personal Narratives

Not too long ago, I had to write a script for our holiday program at school. 

"Me?" I asked. "You want ME to direct the Christmas play?"
Yes, they said. Because we don't want to anymore.
Hee-hee. That's how we get suckered, right?
Anyway, the point is that, before I wrote my play, I took a look at a few others. I asked the person who wrote last year's play if I could take a look at it and make sure I was on the right track. I thought about how the play had worked before, what went well, and how I could ensure that would happen again.
Basically, I looked to the experts.
That's what we want our kids to do when they write, too.  We want them to look to the experts to figure out what they did and how they did it, so they can use that inspiration in their own writing. It's called "Reading like a writer" and it's an important focus of our campus writing approach.
It starts with getting your mindset ready to read like a writer. We built this little anchor chart with kids - what do you think about when you're reading like a reader, and what do you think about when you're reading like a writer?
This requires a lot of modeling at first. Kids really need to think carefully about this mind shift! It's tricky to move from simply understanding and connecting to analyzing and thinking about, "What did the author do here? Why did they do it? How did they do it?"

We used this approach recently as we helped kids understand how authors begin their narratives. Starting with a few experts (Kevin Henkes, Jane Yolen, and Patricia Polacco), we analyzed the beginnings of their stories. 
Using this chart, we looked for the kind of beginning (Character description, setting description, and dialogue), what kind of details the author included in the beginning (usually who, when, where, and sometimes what is happening), and we critically analyzed to figure out why the author used that type of beginning.
This is the most difficulty part - understanding why an author would choose to write in the way he or she did. What is the impact on the reader? What are they trying to help us feel or see?

In their notebooks, kids had a typed-up copy of the beginning so they could annotate it as well and color-code it for "who", "when", "where", and sometimes "what".

And then we tried it! We decided to try out a setting description and brainstormed the kinds of details we could use our five senses to discover on a soccer field. We spent some time generating the language so we could use it to collaboratively write our beginning.

And then we tried it out! Not my best work, honestly, (I mean, who likes to start with "one summer evening?!") but, as I always tell the kids, I can go back and revise when I've had some time to think of a more interesting idea. We start by getting it on paper, and we can - and should - always improve it. 

Then kids tried their own in their notebooks.

 What are your favorite mentor texts for narrative writing? Read more about our school's mentor text baskets here!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Scaffolding expository writing for struggling writers

Do you have kids who are trying to write well but struggle with keeping their writing focused and
organized? They start out writing about their favorite sport, baseball, and end up writing about how their hamster got stuck under the sink? Or their sentences are out of order, creating a disorganized mess?

I've worked with these students every year of my career - I think all of us have! I'd like to share with you the approach that's working for my kids.

For these students, I tried a differentiated approach to writing expository pieces. It's highly structured (you might say formulaic) approach. To be clear: I don't like to teach students a formula for writing! It's not real; they can do so much better with consistent instruction.

But to support those students who were significantly behind and struggled with simple sentence structure, organization, and coherence of their writing, I wanted to provide them with a very guided structure so their writing would make sense.

Because that's really what it is - when writing doesn't make sense to the reader, it's frustrating to the writer and they really don't know how to revise it. It's better to start with a scaffold before your writers get so frustrated. It's meeting their instructional needs through differentiation! (I wouldn't recommend doing this with all your kids! That's limiting your stronger writers.)

Setting a purpose for writing

First, we read the prompt. I have kids flip the prompt to write a topic statement that their whole piece will be about. We leave a blank so they can generate ideas to write about and fill it in later. I start with the topic statement so we stay focused! Example: My favorite season is _______________.

Generating ideas

Then, kids write a quicklist of all the ideas they can think of to write about. It's important to stretch their thinking - if they only think of one possible idea, they're stuck writing about that. Also, we're not doing much to grow their writing abilities if they write one idea and we accept it. We have to push for fluency of ideas! My quicklist included the four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall/autumn.

After that, we choose the one they'd like to write about (one they have the most to say about) and put it in the blank. That's the completed topic statement. My favorite season is spring! (I say that now, because I'm done with winter and ready for spring. Two months into spring, I'll be thinking, "When will it be summer already?!" And thirty seconds into summer, I'll be ready for fall. In the fall, I'll say, "Winter is my FAVORITE season!" I'm always excited for the start of the next season!

Kids put their topic in the middle of a donut map. Around the edges, they brainstorm any details they can think of related to that topic! Then, they use colored pencils (or in a testing situation, we use symbols) to bundle the ideas into like groups. For example, in my brainstorming donut, I came up with "gardening," "rain," "sun," "shorts," etc. Then, I bundled them into two main reasons: "I can garden in the sun," and "I can wear my favorite outfits." Brilliant, I know. It's not my most riveting piece, ok?

Students choose their strongest two reasons to move on to the planning stage.

Getting organized

After we have 2 main reasons (I keep it focused on a couple. I'd rather kids develop 2 reasons well rather than stringing along 5 ideas they don't have the time or energy to develop), we start our expository organizer. They build the 4-square organizer, including the sentence starters for each piece to help them stay focused and organized. This is what it looks like:

We fill in the 2 main reasons we came up with in the "Reasons" column. Then we go back to the introduction.

The introduction is a question. It can start with question words such as, "Do you-," "Can you think of-," or "Is there-." Then we plug the topic statement into the line under the question line. After they master this simple introduction, you can jazz it up by reading about the ideas here.

After that, students add in the details: why the reason is important to them, and an example for each reason.

At the end, students fill in the blank conclusion line by flipping the topic statement: In conclusion, spring is my favorite season.

Here's another sample where I wrote about my favorite place:

And this is how a student applied it to her own prewriting & planning:

After we plan, we turn our plan into a four-paragraph draft. It's a start to a basic piece for students who are struggling with writing simple expository pieces. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

To guide students to deeper revision of their writing, check out my Expository Revision Guides on TPT, or watch this handy dandy video to learn about how to support kids in revising their writing!

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blast off to family literacy night! Space themed

You know, 55% of being a teacher is coming up with clever themes and gimmicks. That's one of my favorite things to do, actually. 

Our family nights are meant to be simple, accessible activities that parents can do with their kids. Some things are made at the event and taken home for more practice and fun, and some are activities they only do at the event. Parents are not learning about rigor or testing; rather these events are meant to be low-stakes and easy to participate in. We want parents to enjoy coming to school and doing literacy activities with their kids!

Every year, for Family Literacy Night, I choose a different theme. So far, we've had family nights with these themes: camping, superheroes, movies, and pirates. This year, we chose to go with: outer space! Because we're starting our first year as a STEAM school, we thought it would be important to encourage kids to think about a science topic. 

To read about how I plan Literacy Night events, visit this blog post.

I planned seven stations. 

We gave out books at the front of the school. Each student gets one free book to take home! That's always a big seller to get students and parents to participate.

After they get a book, students can visit seven different stations that involve listening, speaking, reading, and writing. 


Big Bang Brainstorming

Students brainstorm as many words as they can for every letter in the alphabet! We tallied up the number of words students came up with and found the top three places. Those students received a little bag with fun stuff! Some space stickers, colored pencils, Starburst, Milky Ways, and other fun prizes. Our #1 winner had 83 words!



Mission Control

Students found a cozy spot and read space books with their parents. We had many copies of Star Stuff, about Carl Sagan, placed in baskets, as well as other space-related books and other topics of interest.

Students also went home with these adorable bookmarks!


Space Race

Students made a fun board game that would help them work on following directions. They built the game and played it with their parents!

Moon Rocks

At this station, students competed in two different word games. For one game, they hunted for rhyming words, and for the other, they hunted for synonyms. Kids really got involved in this one! We made the station by using plastic wading pools and filling them with balled-up butcher paper. Then we scattered the word cards throughout the paper and had kids start digging!




This might have been my favorite station. First, students and parents made fun partner play hats to show which role they were reading in the play: the alien or the astronaut. Then, students and parents read a fun partner play together about an alien meeting an astronaut. 




 Rocket Writing

This station was fun because kids love to get crafty! Kids used a straw and a little spaceship cutout to make a space shuttle. Then they wrote an acrostic poem using the word "Rocket".









3-2-1 Blastoff!

This station integrated a little technology by projecting the book Mousteronaut being read aloud on YouTube. It's an adorable story. Kids got to color and write on a retelling wheel to retell the story! Here's the link on YouTube.

At the end of the event, kids got a free dress pass for participating and were allowed to wear free dress the next day!

All in all, Family Literacy Night 2017 was a BLAST! Want to do the activities we did? Grab it on TPT!
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Friday, January 20, 2017

Celebrating Kindness #weholdthesetruths

Hey, everybody.

Let's talk.

This country is a big place, full of lots of people. There are many different kinds of people, with lots of different backgrounds, beliefs, and goals. We don't always agree. 

Growing up in a time like this can be a challenge. Little people feed off the energy of big people. 

This is evidenced by conversations my students have on a daily basis. The fears of their parents become their fears. The anxiety of their teachers becomes their anxiety. The concerns of the world rest in their ten-year-old faces. 

It's a hard life. 

So I think it's time (and so do many other amazing Teacher-Authors) to pause and take inventory. All we really have is each other. That includes the little people. And we might be sending some mixed messages. 

But when you come right down to it, what's the most important message? Kindness.

If we can choose one thing for our kids to learn, it's kindness. Kindness towards themselves, kindness towards other Americans, kindness towards the rest of humanity, and kindness towards the Earth.

And that's why I've teamed up with so many amazing TPT Teacher-Authors to create some free resources for you to use in sharing the message of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths with your students!

What does Cesar Chavez have to do with kindness? He stood up for underprivileged Mexican Americans because he believed they deserved to be treated like people, too. Sometimes kindness takes courage, and Cesar had it. 

This Cesar Chavez partner play is a great way to introduce upper elementary students to Chavez's life and accomplishments, while developing comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency, too! And the best part: It's a FOREVER FREEBIE! That's right! All of the products mentioned in this post will be forever free!
But this freebie is only one of dozens! Visit Teachers Pay Teachers and search for #kindnessnation or #weholdthesetruths to view all of the incredible freebies about these important topics:
-Understanding our Branches of US Government and the US Constitution
-History of civil rights movements, including suffrage
-Environmental issues including climate change
-Critical thinking and examining media bias
-Kindness, empathy, compassion
-Equality and inclusion for all people
-Understanding and respecting of cultural differences
I've selected a few of my favorites for upper elementary to share with you here. 
Empathy Interactive Notebook Kit by Adventures at Home
I am really impressed by this product. It's beautifully designed and thoughtful. Students think about empathy and how they can demonstrate it to others - what a powerful message! 
This 32-slide presentation guides students through the ideas of positive peace and negative peace, and includes some excellent discussion starters to get them thinking. 

These eye-catching posters include important themes and great Americans. The quotes are inspiring and serve as great discussion starters, too!

Keep being kind, America!

Want to find even more awesome freebies? Check out the link-up below!

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