I will say this, I have been teaching personal narratives in a writer's workshop capacity for about seven years (out of my ten years in the classroom), and I honestly have never felt so organized with my mini-lessons-- ever. I know this may come off sounding biased since this is my own product, but all of that aside, I have found it SO helpful to have scaffolds and organizers for every single mini-lesson to guide my students toward the writing target each day. Being able to walk them through each stage of a mini-lesson (the teaching point, the explicit instruction, the guided practice, the independent practice, the sharing, and the closing) and having resources to support them (instead of just having them record them into their notebooks without a template) has shaved time off of my lessons, and since we are slowing things down to begin with, this has been a huge blessing. It also has really helped my less-organized students to be more productive as writers. When I create something for my classroom, I always try to anticipate the needs my students will have, and I always have faith that it will enhance my teaching, but in this case, with this particular product, it has greatly exceeded my own expectations, and it has made my job easier. Truly.
For one particular lesson, my students helped me create an anchor chart about a shared memory. They chose to write about our Many Luscious Lollipops lesson from earlier this year. One student gave the example of what "telling" sounds like, then we worked together to expand that into a more detailed account of what happened using transition words. We talked about the positive elements of the "showing" account, but we also discussed how it could be enhanced even more. After we completed the chart, my students used a template in my Personal Narratives unit to list the main events that we described. This template was a precursor to the accordion template that they were about to utilize for their own seed stories. Scaffolding learning is SO important. It seriously cannot be underestimated or underutilized!
If you take a look at the photo below, you will see Silly Putty next to an accordion template for the interactive notebook. A few years ago, I started using Silly Putty to make the concept of seed stories and watermelon stories more concrete and tangible. First of all, I love that the container looks like a seed, but I love that when you crack the seed (ahem, idea) open, you can stretch it out. This year, I wanted to find a way to capitalize on this and create an organizer that would allow my students to intentionally sequence their story from beginning to end using sequencing terms, then I wanted them to be able to stretch it out. I LOVE how the accordion template literally expands and stretches out just like the silly putty...just like a good story should! In theory, I loved it, but in practice, I loved it even more. As you can see, my students planned out their stories, folded the accordion back up, then proceeded to work on one box at a time...giving more details about each important event in the story. This broke the process down for students to make it less overwhelming, and it also helped them to be more focused and intentional about each moment in their stories. I was really pleased!
Once my students started to expand on their seed stories, I gave them time to write and elaborate. Eventually, we stopped (despite the fact that the writing is still a work-in progress), and I designated some time for students to confer with one another. This is something I always try to incorporate, and I do my best not to short-change this component, even when we are short on time. They need real audiences. They need to see themselves as authors, and authors collaborate. They have people in their circles who offer advice and compliments along the way, and I want my students to have the same thing. So, I make time for it. I foster it. I model what it should look and sound like and what their discussions should be like. I explain what effective feedback is... I model it... I have them practice it... and eventually they own that. Now that I have 31 kiddos in my class, it's even more important to do this because I cannot conference at length with every kid every day, and it frees me up even more to float around the room to listen in or offer my own advice before we share out. My students like hearing what they are doing well...especially from peers. They also seemed appreciative of the fact that friends helped point out something that was confusing or a word that was misspelled. Many also really liked that they were able to get inspiration from their friends. All of this made my teacher heart happy, of course.
As we continue working through this unit (and the others from this product series), I am encouraged. I have already witnessed so much growth in a short time. I relish the cheers when I say, "It's time for writing, please take out your writing journal." I silently cheer when I see sensory details or interesting comparisons that help paint a clearer picture of the narrative. We have made steady progress already, and it's only the beginning. I know without a doubt... the best is yet to come!