Friday, September 30, 2011

Making Seed Stories Tangible etc. etc

I love the watermelon story/seed story concept, but sometimes I still have kids who stare at me blankly whenever I bring it up for the first time.  They look at me like I'm speaking Spanish, but I try to keep plowing ahead with the analogies and examples until they are fluent in the "writing language" we use in class.  Even though I am no longer allowed to use Units of Study to teach writing, I still find ways to blend great strategies into the Reading Street curriculum.

We talked a lot about how watermelon topics are big huge stories full of lots of different ideas, just like watermelons are full of lots of seeds.  I rambled a bit about my dogs, making sure to give lots of irrelevant information while also staying away from any really specific or particularly vivid details.  You know the type of story I'm talking about:  "I have two dogs named K-Fed and Loralei.  They are soft.  They are funny. I like to play with them.  Sometimes I like to take them to the park.  They don't like to go to the vet. They bark.  They are crazy.  Sometimes they drive me crazy.  I had a dog when I was a kid.  Her name was Mindy.  Now my parents have a dog named Sadie.  My sister doesn't like dogs.  She has a cat named Fancy.  I like to be fancy, but my husband tells me that I don't need another purse.  I love purses..."  You get the picture.  The kids are always quick to point out that I changed my topic and that the story could use some work.  So then I tell them that usually when I read my own writing and realize that it's kind of veering off-track, I ask myself, "What am I really trying to say?"  In that case, I was trying to talk about my dogs, but somehow I started to talk about purses.  So, I explain that we sometimes can start with just one tiny idea to write about a small moment or a seed story.  I think out loud about different ideas I could write about.

At this point, I usually explain how I'm going to focus on one small moment with my pets that I really remember well.  So, I usually talk about how my dogs can be destructive, because it always gets a rise out of the kids, and they can really visualize it playing out.  So, I typically tell them about how my mom, my sister, my grandmother and I went to breakfast one summer morning at Bob Evans, and how I left the dogs in the crate before we left my house.  I explain that, "...when we got home, K-Fed met us at the door.  He jumped and danced around my feet like a little lima bean and squealed like a pig.  I heard barking coming from the living room.  Loralei was crying in her crate, and K-Fed's was peeled back like a candy wrapper.  The middle of my floor was bare and carpet-less.  My couch had a gaping white hole on the arm, and the floor was littered with stuffing, shoes, broken sunglasses, a water bottle, and my husband's gym 30 lb. gym bag that had been dragged down the hallway from our spare room." At this point, half of the class usually has their mouth open in shock and the rest are laughing hysterically.  Of course, they ask if this is a true story, and I explain that it is.  I tell them that some of the best stories are based off our our own real life experiences since we are the main characters in our lives.  

This year, I launched Phase II, kind of spontaneously.  I was talking about how I took one experience and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d it out while adding that to our anchor chart.  I happened to have Silly Putty in the marker tray that I tried to use with a student for a sensory anxiety-reducing tool, and it caught my eye.  It was one of those moments that you wish you could just bottle up and tap into any time you feel like you're stuck in a rut.  Totally lightning in a bottle!  I finished writing on the chart paper, sauntered over to the board, and clutched the Silly Putty in my hand.  The Silly Putty's little egg-shaped container looks little seed-like, don't you think?!  So, I reread what we just wrote on the anchor chart, and reminded them how I tried to write a seed story.  Then, I cracked open the "seed" and started to s-t-r-e-t-c-h it out.  I pointed out how some ideas start small, but we can make it longer by adding details about the experience.  Insert oooohhhhs and aaaahhhhhs here.  My captive audience of 8 and 9-year-olds love anything toy-like, so I knew it did the trick, especially when I heard, "Ooooooohhhhhh, now I get it!"  Now, this is my little prop whenever we review the idea of writing small, focused seed stories.  I'm definitely going to keep it in my little bag of writing tricks.  

I haven't been taking a ton of pictures or doing anything particularly earth-shattering lately.  In fact, we're in the process of moving, and my old computer crashed, so I'm in also in the process of moving old files onto my new computer, because {of course} I can't get it to communicate with my external hard-drive.  It figures!  Anyway, here's a little hodgepodge of some of our classroom happenings:

Constitution Day activity that goes with my We the People unit on TpT! 

I was inspired by Reading Resource. Net, so I created a little poster to use while teaching vowel digraphs! 
This little beauty was not my idea, but it's a great tool for kids with anger/anxiety.  

Contents of the Stress Box.  Clearly it's being used for its intended purpose.  :)


  1. Thanks for the tip about the seed stories. I am doing Writer's Workshop for the first time this year and this week will be tackling the seed story idea, your idea will hopefully make all the difference in their understanding.

    Could you explain more about your stress box. How do the students access it? Do you have rules for using it?

  2. Your silly putty idea is awesome! I will have to remember your great idea when I introduce Personal Narratives to my 2nd graders! Also, I am your newest follower! Great blog!


  3. Great ideas!! I'm working on personal narratives right now so your ideas have perfect timing. I know just what you mean about a spur of the moment teaching idea. I'm going to try the silly putty idea but it will never be the same as if it just happened, fit, and flowed.

    Blackboard and Beyond

  4. LOVE the stress box idea; I'm going to make one and give it away as a door prize next faculty meeting!!! Thanks.

    The Corner On Character

  5. Great blog! I'm your newest follower! I love your anchor charts! I also loved using lucy's writing worksop units but can't use them anymore either! We use best practices so I try implement where I can!

  6. Hi there,

    I stumbled upon your blog via pinterest. I am not a teacher. I am a parent of twin boys with mental health illnesses. I love the idea of a stress box. Both of my sons suffer from anxiety and can behave in some inappropriate fashions. We began this year by including a stress ball in their 'calm down plans'. The idea of a box of stress releasing items is intriguing. I think this could work well for my boys. However, I have to ponder what kind of rules / guidelines you would have regarding the box so that it does not become a tool for manipulation or a distraction?

  7. As an early childhood educator I have to ask what was your reasoning behind the "real vs fake" reading poster? I find a lot of children who haven't quite grasped every aspect of reading like to mimic the action by flicking through pages and almost all children in my class enjoy and are encouraged to share their thoughts of the stories with each other. Turning pages "at the appropriate pace" seems extemely restrictive to me, if a child wants to experience a book I think they will find the best way to do it.

  8. It is actually not restrictive at all. This anchor chart was by Holly Nowalk (originally). I absolutely encourage my students to go on picture walks, browse/preview, and of course read at their own pace according to their purpose or interest with nonfiction especially. However, I teach third grade. Most of my students can read proficiently. When modeled, I show that rapidly turning pages without giving it more than a second's glance isn't convincing. We have mini-lessons about how our pacing will be different depending on picture supports, the size of the text, the amount of text on each page, etc. I have time set aside for buddy reading when I want the kids to talk about reading... and I have time to "turn and talk" after independent reading time. I think teachers definitely have to give students time to "experience" a book and experiment with reading. Though most reading research suggests teaching explicit reading strategies and parameters for reading workshop. We have to teach them to be successful. We can't just hope that they will experience it by chance.

  9. Oh, and I'm assuming you teach a lower grade than me. I see your point, and I think that flipping through pages to mimic reading is SO important in the primary grades. My students, however, are familiar with directionality and other concepts of print, so as third graders, i expect them to read at an appropriate pace... according to their purpose, the genre, the amount of text on each page, etc.

  10. Hi there! I love your books in the "Spotlight"! Cute idea! I think I would like to do that! I will need to look for a lamp that would work for that. I also have a "Stress box" in my classroom, the difference is I call it a "Get Happy Box" it accomplishes the same thing, I just changed the name so it sounds a little more positive. In the past I made individual boxes (using plastic pencil boxes) for my kids that were experiencing anxiety or have emotional difficulties, then I could personalize each child's box. Thanks for your blog! I really enjoy reading it! I just wanted to share. I am not brave enough to have my own blog!!

  11. I love the book project idea. I clicked on the site for where you got them from and unfortunately the link doesn't work anymore. Would it be possible for you to e-mail me with the ideas you came up with? I want to implement daily 5 but need some new ideas to hold students accountable at some of the various activities - such as read to self.