Sunday, August 2, 2015

Writer's Workshop with an Interactive Twist!

I LOVE teaching writing!  A LOT.  I enjoy seeing students transform from reluctant writers who want to crumple up their pages or stare at empty pages into students who are voracious readers and writers. I love seeing students become prolific writers who just can't stop themselves.  I LOVE how it's a different experience every year because my students bring their own interests, experiences, and skills to the table.  I just LOVE it.  PERIOD.

I created a unit to launch Writer's Workshop a few years ago called We Are Authors: Launching Writer's Workshop, and it has helped set the tone for living writerly lives by helping my students SEE themselves as real authors with stories WORTH telling!  I believe that's part of the battle.  If your students BELIEVE they can write, and you give them the tools to do it by explicitly teaching them the author's craft and studying mentor texts by fabulous writers, THEY WILL AMAZE YOU.  I promise.

As part of that introductory unit, we read "Author: True Story" by Helen Lester, and then the kiddos create their own autobiographical books about their literate lives.  This is a great formative tool for me to find out what their perceived strengths and weaknesses are.  It also helps me develop a list of mini-lessons to hit each year based on my students' questions.  This is a great tool that serves dual purposes!

I also send them home with Inspiration Bags.  It's their first homework of the year!  They bring objects to school (almost like show and tell),  but they have to fit inside the bag.  The kids have to write descriptions of their objects, put them back into their bags, and then they have students at other tables guess the contents based on the descriptions! It is always a big hit with the kids!

Because I have had so much success with this hands-on approach to Writing Workshop, I really wanted a way to beef up my writing instruction and make it a little more engaging for my kiddos while building in a natural scaffold to help them with the various stages of the writing process, so I have started creating a series of units that incorporate interactive notebook templates to provide support along the way.  So far, I have created a Personal Narratives unit and a Fictional Narratives unit, and I have plans for at least three more units throughout the school-year.   You can check out the Scope and Sequences pages of my new units below:

Now, I was trying to figure out a way to show how this is all laid out, but as as a brand-new mommy, I don't have the time to fancy everything up as much as I would like.  I did take some time during one of Mr. Man's naps to create a few examples of the interactive templates that are contained in my Fictional Narrative unit.  I LOVE them so much!

This first page shows the header to keep the separate units labeled in the interactive notebook, and it has a KWL foldable to begin the unit and assess prior knowledge about the genre.


I created a little flap for a heart map so the students can sketch out things that matter to them and they can begin to see how those ideas can be a spark for new stories. 

These templates help the students think about themselves and their ideal fiction pieces before having them develop a new character for their story.

 As the unit progresses, they will reflect on how they are alike and different from their character, and they will reflect on their character's traits, thoughts, and motivations for deeper development.

They will build on that by planning out positive and negative internal and external traits. because characters are not perfect and perfect is boring!  Ha!  Great stories have TENSION, right!?

This is an example of one of the peer conferencing templates in my units, and you can see that I used an accordion template to help sketch out the plot of the story.  I like that it folds back and forth just like the plot of a good story.  There's always progress and set-backs!

You can see that there's a lot of attention to character development because its so critical to a believable and interesting fiction piece.

There's also a lot of time spent on the plot and building suspense, and that's hard, so I have created templates to help them plan it out as they expand on their stories.  You can see a few examples of this below.  I love using the plot rollercoaster as a tool with my kiddos to make it more concrete.

Now, that's just a sampling of the lessons, and it certainly doesn't give you a complete picture of the minilessons or the entire units, but I hope it gives you a clear idea of how they are set up.  Again, I believe that it's CRUCIAL to scaffold kids and give them the tools to be successful. I believe that this approach will do just that, and I can't wait to see the journey it takes us on.  I am P-U-M-P-E-D!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to School Bash Grand Prize Deets

Have y'all had fun hopping around to all 18 of our Bash Baskets?  If you haven't done that yet, please start HERE and make sure you do!  You only have until midnight on August 2nd to enter!  You may be thinking "Ohhh, I'm not lucky enough to win... I never get picked for prizes...There's just no way that my name will be selected!"  But, I would say:  YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL YOU TRY!  So, go for the gold, folks!

Here's what you NEED to do FIRST... like RIGHT NOW!  We are doing an Instagram Hop with a secret message.  This secret message MUST BE entered on the Rafflecopter below or you will NOT be chosen as a winner!!!!  Look for THIS graphic on Instagram.  THIS graphic will start the secret message.   Hint:  You'll start with @stepintosecondgrade
You might want to grab a sheet of paper and a pen so that you can collect all letters as you are doing the Instagram hop because YOU MUST COLLECT THE SECRET MESSAGE!  Here are some tips for your Instagram Hop!
Don't have an instagram?  Well, sign up so you can enter the grand prize basket!!!  If you start in the right place and follow the order then all of your letters will nicely flow into one message :)  If you go out of order then you will have to unscramble the letters to make a word, and no one wants to do that!!!

So, let's talk about the Grand Prize!  This is the LARGEST, MOST AMAZING, INCREDIBLE Grand Prize ever... in the history of teacher giveaways!  
Your eyes are not deceiving you, that is a REAL Smartboard!  Whitlock (a Smartboard distributor) generously donated a Smartboard to our giveaway!  Isn't that amazing?!!!  Do you want to know all the details about the specific Smartboard and if it will work for you?  Look HERE!!

Whitlock will ship the Smartboard to the winner (continental US only!).  It comes with a projector and all software needed!!  The winner will need to have a way to mount the Smartboard AND will be in charge of maintenance after installation.  We want to make sure we lay it all out there before you enter :))  I'm sure that your school or district would be happy to help if you were the winner!
And, that's not all, y'all!  The winner will also receive a Silhouette Cameo and a One-Year ESGI Subscription!  OHMIWORD!!!

Once you have collected the secret code from our Instagram Hop, you can enter below!  You only have 24 hours, so don't delay!!!

Writing Opportunities for Early Finishers and Enrichment!

I am always looking for new ways to engage my students in meaningful early-finisher activities, because, let's face it, kids are not robots.  They are going to work at different paces, and that means that there will always be kids who finish first, even when you differentiate and provide sufficiently challenging work.  It's one of those unspoken truths of the classroom.  As much as I encourage my students to read, work on task cards,  or complete independent projects, I like to have some creative writing opportunities for them as well.  Over summer, I expanded my proverbial bag of tricks, and I'm excited to share them with my kiddos this fall.  I know they are going to LOVE the new options!

One of the centers I created is called Creativity Cards.  Basically I created cards with various picture prompts on them.  Then I created seven different direction cards to go along with it in two different sizes.  So, if we are working on narratives, I could put out directions that instruct them to write a narrative.  If we are working on opinion-based texts, I can put out that prompt. You get the idea! I even created a WILD CARD option to let my students tap into their own creativity while writing.  I love the simplicity of this, and I can't wait to see the texts that come out of this center!

Another center I created is called Picture This.  Essentially this is a pack of task cards with photo prompts to inspire interesting stories.  I intentionally chose colorful, whimsical, kid-friendly photos that I thought would be intriguing to my students.  I also intentionally included full-sized versions just in case I decide to use them as morning work and project them on the SMARTboard.  This center will undoubtedly capture the attention of my kiddos and get those gears turning!

I've recently started working on Writing Workshop units to complement my We Are Authors: Launching Writer's Workshop pack.  I've already wrapped up a Personal Narrative unit and a Fictional Narrative unit that I'm excited to blog about soon, so I created a set of 100 Narrative Early Finisher Prompts to use as an early finisher activity.  It's going to be a great way to extend the learning, especially since my units encourage students to brainstorm their own topics and choose what to write about.  This will offer the other side of the coin, because prompt-writing is so important in the world of testing, and I want my students to be able to write exceptionally both ways.

The writing prompt task cards can be used just as they are... and stored in a baggie or box...or you could attach a few prompts to composition notebooks.  I like using prompts in this manner because students write their stories within the notebooks AND they also read the stories by their peers.  This is a great way to give your students an authentic audience, and it also can provide models for your students.  I purchased a basket from Michael's last summer that says "Inspire", and I keep composition notebooks in it for this purpose.  It was a HUGE hit with my students last year... so much so that the basket was almost always empty because the notebooks were always in rotation!  I should have snapped a few photos of their stories, but #newmommybrain.  The bottom line?!  This is a fun twist on the traditional way to use task cards for writing. 

The next idea was a random one that hit last summer.  I found really neat school-themed scrapbook embellishments, and I thought it might make a neat creative writing center.  I  plan on tying it into one of my author studies this year as an early-finisher activity.  I'm sharing it because literally ANYTHING can become a fun prop to unlock your students' creativity and write fabulous stories!  Just be prepared to think about objects in new ways, because that's exactly what we want our students to do!  And...we want them doing this organically in Writer's Workshop too!  Writers often use their own lives and experiences as jumping-off-points.  This is a nice way to foster that flexible thinking and help them see how everything is a story waiting to happen!

You know those wooden shapes in the kid section of nearly every craft store?!  The cute ones that are painted to look like animals, flowers, and celestial bodies?!  Well, they can also be great tools for creative writing!  If students are stuck and looking for ideas, they can dig through the box to see if anything piques their interest and gives them an idea! It's simple, tangible, and fun for kids!

So, there you have it!  A few ideas for writing early finishers and enrichment that can easily be incorporated into your classroom with very minimal prep, but will yield great rewards for your kiddos! Creativity is everything!  Writing skills are SO important and SO critical in an information-based society like the one we are living in! Tackle it all with pizzazz and help your students make the most of their "free" time! 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bash Basket #14: Neat Seats

It's back for the THIRD year in a row!!  I can hardly believe it's already THAT time!  Our Back to School Bash is officially LIVE, and now it's time to ENTER to win fabulous prizes! We have EIGHTEEN amazing bash baskets for you to hop around to! At each blog you will find a little bit of info about the prize that you can win, a Rafflecopter to enter, and a button to hop on over to the next blog! While you are hopping around, we would love for your to follow our blogs so that you will always be "in the know" about what's going on!! Are you excited?!  I know I am!

Let's get started, shall we?!  I'm super excited to be sharing Neat Seats with you today!  When my friend Michelle from Fabulous in First (and now The Fabulous Classroom Shop) told me that she was embarking on this new business venture, I was SO excited!  I couldn't wait to purchase a class set for myself... because as a teacher who is departmentalized... I just couldn't deal with the clutter anymore.  My third graders contained their materials in the desks, but every time the fourth graders came into my classroom, it was like a tornado ripped through my classroom.  No joke. Stuff on desks...stuff under chairs...stuff in the walkways.  No matter how much I tried to come up with a system and a solution, there really wasn't a good place for my kiddos to put everything.  #sopainful #desktopslookedliketrashheaps #onlyslightlyexaggerating   Now that I have Neat Seats, I am optimistic that my room will be a little more zen-like.  Seriously, check out these bad boys!   They. Are. Awesome.

What I really LOVE about the Neat Seats is that they are really deep, they can contain binders, books, and other folders, they have a zipper pouch for highlighters and such, they have pockets for name tags, AND they are made of vinyl for easy clean-up.  I just couldn't wait to get my hands on them!  Plus, I LOVED that they were available in a neutral black.  (They are also available in a snappy red color...but my classroom has pops of neon!) 

Aside from all of the great features, the Neat Seats look fabulous in my classroom!  Check out how they mask the chairs that kinda-sorta clash with the rest of my decor.  BONUS!  (As a side-note, while you're scoping them out, please realize that my room is a total work in progress right now.  Mommyhood is a time-consuming thing, as it turns out!)

Anyhow, I am SO excited to be able to offer ONE LUCKY teacher 24 RED Neat Seats for their own classroom!  :)  Yay!  I just KNOW you'll LOVE them as much as I do! #henceallthecapsintheworld

...BUT that's not all!  (I always wanted to sound like an infomercial!)  The winner will also receive a Whisper Phone Select that's perfect for small group instruction!

The winner will also receive a prize back FULL of the following units from participating bloggers! 

Enter to win these fabulous prizes below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

HOW AMAZING ARE OUR SPONSORS?!  SERIOUSLY!?  Their generosity is mind-blowing!  Let's all take a moment to acknowledge their acknowledgment of hard-working teachers! THANKS!!

Now... it's time to hop along!  The next stop is my sweet friend Holly's blog Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten Connections! Click on the image below to see what she's giving away! You won't want to miss it!