Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

Narrative Writing In Action

Just a short post for you tonight. I’ve been meaning to post some pics of my students’ rough drafts for their narrative pieces, but I’ve been so extremely busy with so many other things that it slipped my mind. Some students have already finished their publishing, so I figured it was past time to get these on the blog!

Last week we worked on thoughtshots and snapshots that Gretchen Bernabei references in her books and trainings. We used mentor texts from Fun Size Academic Writing for these activities, and the kids really took off with it. The picture below is the mentor text that we colored up for thoughts.

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We glued our drafts to large construction paper and then used the outside edges to write in our snapshots and thoughtshots. The students just drew arrows to the places where this new information would go.

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The students enjoyed the lessons, and once they were finished they were amazed at how their narratives were transformed. A quote from one of my students: “Wow, Mrs. Shook, my story sounds so much better with this extra stuff I added!” Gotta love ’em!! 😉

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Narrative 11-Minute Essays

After several long weeks of expository writing, we have switched back to narratives again.  Students always usually enjoy writing narratives more than expository pieces, so this was refreshing to most.

I have tried the 11-minute essay (introduced by Gretchen Bernabei) with my students for expository writing, but not for narrative.  I thought I would give it a try.  Rather than giving them a truism to think about, I gave them a narrative prompt.  Their prompt was: Write about a time you went to your favorite place.  They used the text structure: Where I was–>First Moment–>Next Moment–>Last Moment–>What I Thought.

Wow!  They impressed me once again!  Simply speaking–they wrote an entire narrative in 12 minutes.  Yep, I gave an extra minute for their introduction (2 mins. for intro., 3 mins. for each body paragraph, and then 1 min. for concl.).  The craziest part about it was that some of my students wrote more in 12 minutes than they have in an entire week of Writer’s Workshop.  I guess the time crunch works!  I’ll definitely be doing this again…probably as our rough draft for just about every piece of writing from here on out.

Canyon Lake by Gasseli

Basketball Court by Ciarra

Closet by Avery

My Room by Joe

Pantry by Avery

The River by Annaleah

The Car by Daniel

They loved it SO much, that we did it two days in a row. After sharing out on day 1, we noticed that some students were spending too much time on their way to their special place.  On day 2, some students chose to use their same place and make it better, while others chose to write about somewhere totally new.

I made copies of each student’s writing (it was in their notebooks) and gave it back to them.  Since they did not skip lines, we had to come up with a way to add to our stories without trying to squeeze everything between lines or in the margins.  The students have cut out their writing pieces and glued them down onto large pieces of construction paper.  They will be adding icons, ba…da…bing sentences, snapshots, thoughtshots, etc. on the construction paper with arrows pointing to where the information will go.  I’ll be sure to post some pictures of their work.

I will also have them publish this piece of writing, so all can see what they look like after some individual conferences with students.  Remember: They wrote these in 12 minutes!

I have posted a sampling of some of their papers (above).  Some of them are already really well written, while others need some serious interventions.  I like to post more than just awesome papers so that we can look at them and use them as a teaching tool for students.  I do this in my classroom–use real student writing to show how we can make it better: adding icons, changing verbs, punctuation marks, checking for spelling rules, schesis onomaton (renaming), etc.  Hopefully you can find a use for them in your classroom, too!

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Expository Writing Samples

Our first day back from the holidays was a success.  My students, although lethargic at the start of the day, worked hard and finished up their expository essays they had started before the break.  Some are still working, but since it is time to move on to narratives, I told them that they can revisit their pieces a little later if they had not quite finished.

For this essay, we used a different prompt and text structure than our first attempt. This time, I gave them the prompt: Everyone has something that they consider special.  Write about your most prized possession.  Explain why it is special to you.  We used the following text structure: I just couldn’t do without… –> It has the most… –> It also has… –> Before I had it… –> That’s why… –> Without it… What I found the most interesting was that my students were already taking risks and changing up the text structure to make it relevant to what they were doing.  They would ask, “Can I change the text structure around?” and “Do I have to use that sentence starter, or can I change it a little?”  Yes, yes, YES!  Music to my ears.  Soon I will be posting their altered text structures and labeling them with the students’ names to give them credit.  Love it!

All this being said, they didn’t have a real long time to work on their papers this time due to testing and interruptions in our schedule.  I chose 3 papers from my homeroom to share with you.  I’ll be adding more from the other class, but this is what I have for now.

Cats by Mallory  (This one is a little shorter, but this is a student that did not come to me as a natural writer.  She has great ideas and is able to write very quickly and very well about things that mean a lot to her.  You can really tell that she admires her cats–she wrote about them for our other expository prompt, too.  I like that she is using the same ideas for more than one prompt.  I give her lots of credit for that!)

Multi-Tool Knife by Andrew (This one is longer than the first sample.  This student actually got to come into my classroom last year as a 3rd grader since he was more advanced in his writing than the rest of the students in his class.  He has learned a lot and is getting better and better by the day.  He has a wild imagination and his personality shows through his writing.  He has taken to heart our mentor text, Barbie, and incorporated some of her ideas.  If you’ve read it, you’ll notice!)

Balloony by Avery (This is the longest one–longer than 26 lines.  She is an AH-MAZING writer…and I can’t take credit for much of it.  She is definitely a natural.  She soaks up every lesson and incorporates new ideas in every piece of writing.  She, like Andrew, has taken ideas from Barbie and run with them.  She also uses a thesaurus just about every time she writes to be sure she uses just the right vocabulary to get her point across!)

You will also notice that all 3 of these kiddos modified the text structure to make it their own.  I will try to find some papers that used the text structure as it was given for my next installment.

We all hope you enjoy reading these papers.  I show my students my blog posts that relate to them, and we look at your comments together.  They LOVE to read your comments, so leave them some love! Let them know how awesome they are!!  😉

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Narrative vs. Expository

Texas requires all 4th graders to write a narrative AND an expository piece for their state assessment.  Now, if your school is anything like mine, students very rarely (if ever) write any sort of expository piece before stepping into a 4th grade classroom.  Nope, I’m not blaming the other grade levels because I know that they have their own battles to fight and win, I’m just stating reality.

So how do we tackle this?  How do we get students to understand the difference (and similarity) of narrative vs. expository writing?  What do we tell these kids?  My answer is simple.  Make it concrete.  Make it relevant and meaningful.  Allow students a visual that shows them, rather than just telling them.  I use grandma.

Grandma, you say? Yep.  I use an activity that I created (mostly on my own) that helps kids to compare narrative and expository writing.  It takes several glances at it to understand it completely, but my kiddos love to take “grandma” out and look at her and talk about writing.

"Grandma"

Here goes: I searched for kid-friendly grandma and balloons clipart.  I just googled it and found some that I liked.  I saved them, and then put the grandma pic in the center of a Word document.  I inserted a dashed line down the middle of the page.  I put the pics of the balloons on separate pages, so the students actually started with a page with only grandma and then a separate page with balloons.  I like to talk them through the process and leaving the balloons for later helps with our discussion.

I give the students about 10 minutes to color their grandma (helps with the management since they just HAVE to color her), and then we get down to business.  We then add Narrative and Expository labels at the top of each side of the page.  We talk about how grandma represents our topic.  I choose grandma because all students have some experience with a grandma, whether their own or someone else’s.  You see, the topic can be the same for both types of writing–it’s how the piece is written that makes the difference.  We notice how she appears on both sides of the page because of this.  We then label her as, “topic.”

Then we fold our page down the dashed line and talk about one side at a time (hence the lighting in the picture).  We start with narrative which is most familiar to them.  Narrative writing is when we tell stories from our hearts about a time we did something.  We use our Writer’s Tools to tell a story in the order that it happens.  In narrative, order matters!  I refer to the story of the 3 little pigs.  It just wouldn’t make sense or be the same story if the wolf visited the third pig’s house first.  It would change the whole outcome of the story, thus proving that order matters!  We discuss other stories and even refer to their own stories and think about how the stories only make sense in order.

Next we cut out and glue the cluster of balloons in her hands and label them one through five.  This represents the paragraphs that happen–yep–in order.  We put our own ribbons on the balloons and attach them to her hands.

Last, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for narrative writing.

When we have finished with the narrative side, we flip our paper over and begin our discussion about expository writing.  This type of writing is not a story.  Instead, we are required to explain our beliefs on something and give reasons why we believe it.  In expository writing, order doesn’t matter.  We discuss various topics and give reasons why we believe what we believe, flip the reasons around, and then talk about how the reasons don’t have a specific order–unless you have a spectacular reason (like why you just can’t do your homework) that you want to save for the “grand finale,” as one of my students mentioned.  But overall, the order of your reasons really doesn’t matter.

We then cut out and glue the one balloon onto the paper and label it with “central topic” and “WHY?”  This represents the main idea of our paper and the purpose for writing.  We draw only one ribbon from the balloon to grandma’s hand and put flags on it with our Writer’s Tools.  Those tools help us to explain our beliefs and make our papers longer and coherent.

When finished, we add our sentences to the side that remind us of our purpose for expository writing.

It is very detailed and takes lots of time, but the students really respond to it, especially when you tell them that they will be required to add to a final discussion about the similarities and differences of these two types of writing!

Hopefully this makes sense to you.  It makes sense to us.  Please feel free to ask questions if you have them!

What do you do to help your students with this?  Leave a comment with your ideas!!  🙂

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Color It Up

Once again, my students took on the challenge of an amazing activity created by none other than…Gretchen Bernabei! Color It Up. It’s pretty simple but has incredible power and learning potential for students–and they enjoyed doing it.

In her book, Fun Size Academic Writing, Gretchen uses this technique with the first story, which is a narrative. Well, we are currently working on expository pieces, so I decided to take another of my favorites from that book which is an expository piece, and color that one up instead.

We used the writing about Barbie. It has so much personality, and the kids absolutely LOVED it! I ran copies for each student so that they could keep it in their folder as a mentor text to refer back to when necessary. Before we began highlighting the icons, we made a key at the bottom to remind ourselves of the 4 different writer’s tools we would be finding–actions, dialog, thoughts, and what the author saw. We coded them with the appropriate colors (see picture), and then got started.

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At first, I had to explicitly point out each strategy this author used, but as we went on, the students began shouting out the writer’s tools before I could finish the sentence! This showed me that not only were they “getting it,” but they were really thinking. (I feel like so much of the time students want things to be spoon-fed to them, so when they step out if their comfort zone and take risks by thinking for themselves, we celebrate!)

The level of understanding drastically increased. They were making connections about what they saw. They noticed that there was lots of action, even in this expository paper. They noticed that there was a plethora of thinking within the text. They noticed a pattern–that each time there was a thought, there was an example to back it up. They noticed that there was NOT much dialog. They noticed that each paragraph ended with a thought.

This allowed us to go into some deep discussion of why authors use specific writer’s tools for specific purposes. Some of them wondered why this author kept saying that she loves her Barbie at the end of each paragraph, which led us to the realization that she was connecting back to the prompt each time and letting us know that this possession was extremely important to her.

We did a lot of noticing about writer’s craft. Did I mention that this was awesome?

Kids can and will notice things like this when given the opportunity. In fact, one of my students who usually “sits on the sidelines” during class was so engaged in this activity that I had to think of some sort of reward for such effort and participation. It totally blew me away.

Part of what made this so powerful was that the students began making their own connections and noticed things for themselves, without me having to tell them. It increased the rigor of our conversations and the learning skyrocketed! It made my day! 😉

We are now working on our own pieces for our most prized possession. I’ve included a few pics of their planning pages for you. Some of them have been revised a bit to make sure that the students are getting to the deep meaning and not repeating themselves, but these are the raw products. I will definitely post some samples when they are finished, so keep checking back for those!

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Oh yeah, when I get a few more seconds to spare, I’ll be uploading some expository samples from our first attempt. I just have to get them typed up so that you can print them off and use them if you’d like. 🙂

Happy Tuesday!

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Gretchen Bernabei’s 11-Minute Essay (In 9 minutes)

Earlier this week, I challenged my students with the 11-minute essay that Gretchen Bernabei uses with her students…only we did ours in 9 minutes.  The text structure she uses is this: Truism–>How this is true in a book or personal life–>How this is true in a move or TV show–>How this is true in history–>What I think or wonder.  Because 4th graders don’t know all that much about history (and because our truism was about pets), I omitted the paragraph about how it’s true in history.

The students were excited about this challenge I set forth for them.  I gave them 1 minute for paragraph 1, 3 minutes for paragraph 2, 3 minutes for paragraph 3, and then 2 minutes for the final paragraph.  The truism they were expected to write about was: Pets are an important part of a family.

Considering this was their first attempt, I thought it went extremely well.  Were they perfect?  No.  Will they EVER be?  No.  But this was an eye-opener for them (and for me, too)!  When they were finished, I told them that they had just written an expository essay in 9 minutes.  The looks on their faces was priceless!  They were so darn proud of themselves, beaming from ear to ear!

Curious about how they did?   Click here to see a sample of what they wrote.  😉

This has been an amazing week in writing.  Here’s to hoping it continues!!

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Expository Writing: Gretchen Bernabei Style

My class has officially started their expository writing pieces. This is very new to them, so we are taking it slowly. Thank goodness for Gretchen Bernabei! She makes it so much more fun, interesting, and easier for these little people to understand!

We began by brainstorming people we admire. I told my students that this person could be a friend, family member, singer, entertainer, sports star, or anyone they like or look up to. They had to understand that admire doesn’t mean that you like them in a romantic way because they automatically think of a secret admirer. Haha.

Then I gave them a planning sheet from Gretchen’s resources. Hers was just drawn out on paper, but my OCD wanted needed it to be typed up, so I spent about 45 minutes perfecting it (to my standards) on the computer. I handed them out, and we filled in our topic and text structure. Before I knew about this amazing woman, my explanation if expository writing was pretty lame…and the students’ writing showed it. That’s not to say it was bad, but it definitely was NOT to the level it is now. The text structures she has developed has raised the level of their writing tremendously!

After that, we came up with our kernel essay about our peeps. When you see the text structure we used, you’ll see that it wasn’t easy, but it made them really think! And that’s what we’re going for, right? 😉

From that kernel essay, I told them to find at least three people who would listen to them read their kernel essay. The listeners were required to ask two questions about their kernel essay. They wrote the questions down in the box, and tomorrow they will use sticky notes to answer those questions. These sticky notes will go in the flip books they have created. This will help them fill out their paragraphs with valuable information that readers want to know.

When we finished the questions, we thought about where that information should appear within the writing. We put paragraph numbers beside each question to be sure the information arrives at the correct destination. Again–extending their thinking.

This is as far as we have gotten. I’m looking forward to reading what they write. I have a training tomorrow, but I know they will be in good hands with my student teacher. I can’t wait to read them on Wednesday!

Below you will find pictures of two planning pages and two kernel essays written on their flip books.

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I have uploaded the planning page to the Writer’s Workshop page here on my blog. It’s the last resource listed under Gretchen’s resources.

What do you do to help your students understand expository writing?

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Word Clouds: They Aren’t Just For Fun!

Word Cloud of my blog by Tagxedo

Word Cloud of my blog by Tagxedo

I hate to admit it, but I’ve only used word clouds with some of my students.  I wasn’t really sure how to use word clouds when I first heard about them, so I only selected a few individuals that I thought would benefit from using it.  Mostly to help them in their writing.  You see, when the idea of word clouds was presented, I was only showed a website and was allowed about 3-5 minutes to “explore” it.  The more I read, the more I found out how helpful they can be.

So what types of things can you do with word clouds?  I know I won’t even begin to touch on everything, but here are a few ideas on how they can be used with your students.

1. When students have finished a piece of writing and they need to check for redundant words, put them on Wordle.net.  The best part about Wordle is that it counts the number of times the words are used and makes the highest count the biggest in the cloud.  That way, students see how many times they have used words like then, I, me, and so on.  This is how I used them in my classroom, and it really makes the students aware of the overused words.

2. At the beginning of the year, allow students time to write an “About Me” paragraph and then type it into a word cloud creator such as Tagxedo.  This is another word cloud site that easily downloads the image you create and has an assortment of shapes for your words.

3. After students read a passage or discuss content in class, allow students to write down the words they feel are most important to the lesson and put it into a word cloud.six flags

4. Use a word cloud for vocabulary words.  This can be used in any subject!

5. Use math vocabulary words in a word cloud and ask students to come up with a mathematical story using the words.  Great way to combine some writing and math!

6. In Social Studies, create a word cloud using character traits of various leaders or important historical figures.

7. For a Mother’s or Father’s Day project (or anytime, really), allow students to make a word cloud as a gift.  This could be with characteristics of the

person, a thank you letter, a poem…you name it!

8. Students could actually draw their own word clouds as an activity to “fill time” when they get finished early.  They will probably end up doing this on their own, anyway.  It’s sort of addicting.

9. Use Wordle to create a word cloud with units of measurement.  I say use Wordle because you can decide how big or small you make the words.  This way students would get an accurate picture of which units of measurement are bigger than others.

Word Cloud by ABCya

Word Cloud by ABCya

10. Use word clouds at the end of the lesson or day to see what the students remember.  The teacher can either assign a certain amount of words, or the students can write as many important words as they can at the end of your time together.  This could be a neat twist to exit tickets!

Now that I’ve written about all of this, I will have to do some of these before school starts.  I’m excited to begin another new year!  I will post some of my results!

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Anchor Charts

I finally uploaded some of my anchor charts that I used with my kiddos last year. Head over to my Anchor Charts page and check ’em out! 😉

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Individual Word Walls

 

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Materials I used

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My finished Word Wall

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The pages inside

 

Individual Word Walls have helped my students get through their writing so much easier.  And as an added benefit, I don’t spend as much time spelling words over and over again to the same students.  When a student asks me to spell a word, I will not spell it for them until they have their WW opened up to the correct page to write it down.  These little books have come in very handy!

All you need is a small memo book, some colored paper, scissors, glue, and some stickers or anything you want for decorating.  I actually found the memo books on sale at Walgreens 6/$1, so these didn’t cost me much!  The other supplies I had laying around the house.

1. Trace the cover of the memo book  on the colored paper, an then cut it out.

2. Decorate the colored paper with the design of your choice.

3. Glue the cover onto the memo book.

4. Count out the pages and divide them so that each letter gets an appropriate amount of space.

There you have it.  Individual word walls within 15 minutes–or 5 for most boys!!  😉

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