Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

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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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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Friday Freebie: Wrist Reminders

I’m linking up today with The Teaching Blog Addict for their first FREEBIE Friday of September!

Picture of Free Teacher Downloads at Teaching Blog Addict

Short post, but I wanted to share my wrist reminders with you.  Have you ever needed your kiddos to remember something important to tell their parents?  Have you ever wanted to have a tool to attach a note to your students until they get home?  Try some wrist reminders.

Wrist RemindersNope, they aren’t fancy, but they work.  These are helpful in those times when you need to get messages home with students, but don’t want need to waste lots of paper.  Just cut them apart, write your message, and cut it out.  I have these cut and in a drawer by my classroom door for easy access.  I put them in a drawer by my classroom door since I sometimes remember things last minute.  Surely I’m not the only one!!

To download a copy, click here –> Wrist Reminders.

For more FREEBIES, head over to The Teaching Blog Addict!  Lots of great links!

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2013 Classroom Reveal: Inside My 4th Grade Classroom!

I finally did it.  I cleaned up my room and snapped some quick pics before I left.  Warning: I make all of my anchor charts and rules and wall decor with my students, so the walls are very bare.  I’ve covered my bulletin boards, but there isn’t anything else on the walls.  You at least get the idea of what my “home away from home” looks like.  🙂

Here goes:

photo 1(8)This is a picture of the wall/bulletin board/shelf behind my desk.  I put pictures of my family at the top on the shelf, along with some keepsakes from past years.  I also put up all of my class pictures on the side of the bulletin board.  I have my own references and books on the shelves, and I figured you didn’t care about that stuff, so I cut it out of the pic.

photo 4(5)This is my whiteboard easel that holds the Writing Binders that my students will use to publish their writing, along with posters and chart paper.

photo 4(6)These are my classroom computers and my ELMO (document camera).  I have a Promethean board in my classroom and my projector is mounted in the ceiling.  You can see that from the whole classroom view.

photo 2(9)My mom made me some awesome curtains this year!  I love them very much!!  I used to have boring green ones, but luckily she was willing to help me give my room the facelift it needed.  This window is right by the door and looks out into the hallway.

photo 1(9)This is the sign-in area set up for Back to School Night and for parents to fill out on the first day of school (for those that missed B2SN).  I found that cute little whiteboard/chalkboard at Hobby Lobby for $5.99.  I just HAD to have it!!  🙂

photo 3(8)At the front of the room, underneath the Promethean board, I have just enough room to have a small shelf to hold materials that the students will be using on a regular basis.  I’m teaching math and writing this year, so it is a mixture of both.

photo 1(10)These are the table cubbies that I bought at Dollar Tree for $1.  Some of my students have already claimed their desks, so pardon the papers and names on them!

photo 4(7)Here is a closer look at my desk/teaching table.  I don’t have a “real” desk because all I do is junk it up!  😉  Instead, I just have a small table for my computer, a bucket of supplies underneath, and a small rolling cart with drawers to complete it.photo 1(12)A view from my teacher space.

photo 3(12)And last but not least, a look into my classroom from the door.

I’m super tired from my first week back.  The students come on MONDAY!  Where has the summer gone?  I’m signing off to enjoy my weekend.  If you are already back at school, hopefully all is going smoothly.  For those of you receiving students on Monday like me, good luck!  And for those of you who start even later, I’m only a little jealous…  🙂

Done for today!!

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Technology For Teachers

At our training today, we were given quite a few apps and websites that I’m going to try out this year. Hearing about so many in such a short amount of time was a little overwhelming, but I’m going to take it one step at a time and really get comfortable and knowledgeable about one or two at a time before moving in to the next one.

Here is a list of some of 5 of my favorites:

1. Teachnology – A website full of critical thinking activities and printable pages for students.

2. Storybirds – Short, visual stories that you make with family and friends to read, share, and print.

3. ZooBurst – A digital storytelling tool that lets anyone easily create his or her own 3D pop-up books.

4. Pics4Learning – A website with thousands of copyright-friendly photos to use in your lessons.

5. Moglue – Interactive eBooks for iOS and Android.

Hopefully you can use some of these in your classroom, too. I love incorporating technology whenever I can. I’m always looking for new websites and apps that will increase student engagement and performance.

What is your favorite new website? Please share!!

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Teacher Week 2013: 5 Tips & Tricks of Teaching

I’m linking up with Blog Hoppin’ again for the last linky party of the week.

Teacher Week

Today’s topic is tips and tricks that teachers use to help get us through those first few weeks of school.  Some of these things last all year, of course, but others are implemented at the beginning of the year for the most part.

photo 11. Social Contracts:  On the first day of school, I always create a social contract with each group of students.  I don’t like to give rules to my students.  Instead, I let them set the rules, and social contracts make this go much smoother.  I’ve found that the students are actually harder on themselves than I ever would be, and they always come up with the same rules that I would give them, but just worded in their own words.  For more information on how to manage this activity and some of the thinking behind it, click here –> Social Contracts.

2. Build the Climate: I like to have several class building and team building activities for the first few weeks.  Even though these students have been in school together for awhile, there are always new students that move in and others that are very shy and need help getting to know the other students in the room.  Kagan is a WONDERFUL resource for these activities.  My favorites are inside/outside circle, 4 corners, and think-pair-share.  I try to sprinkle these throughout the day.

3. Hand Shakes: Many teachers (and the school nurse) think I am absolutely crazy for shaking my students’ hands when they walk into my room every day, but I don’t care.  Teaching in a school with 78% of students coming from a low socioeconomic background means teaching things that aren’t on “the list.”  Shaking hands is a lifelong skill that these kids need to learn.  I think it also helps build that positive climate that we are all wanting.20130731-174532.jpg  For more information about this and the workshop where the idea was presented, click here –> Capturing Kids’ Hearts.

4. The Safe Place: In the back of my room is a special place where students can always go if they are angry, sad, or upset.  It’s nothing fancy, but a place for students to be away from all other students when they need it the most.  There are several ways to go about setting this up in your own classroom, and you just have to do what works for you.  I choose to put a bed pillow on the floor with a seat cushion and lots of stuffed animals to hug.  For more information on how to manage and implement your own “Safe Place,” click here –> The Safe Place.

5. Organization: One of the BEST ways to waste less time and get more bang for your buck is by staying organized.  This is where I have the most trouble.  I don’t have a problem starting the year organized, it’s keeping it that way!  I’m getting better and better at it, and this year I WILL stay organized all year.

Oh, and one more thing: KEEP SMILING!! The best medicine for any situation is a smile.  Breathe, relax, and remember: “This, too, shall pass!”  🙂

Do you have any additional thoughts?  I would love to hear from you!

I wish all of you the best of luck beginning a new school year!

teacherweek2Head over to Blog Hoppin‘ for additional tips and tricks!

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10 Fun Things About Me!

Today I’m linking up with Blog Hoppin’ for a fun linky party–10 Fun Things About Me!

BHmonday

1. I’ve just recently found my new addiction: blog hopping!  I think it’s fun to peek in on other teachers and “steal” ideas to make my own.  There are SO MANY great blogs out there, and I know I haven’t found them all yet.  That’s what is so fun about it.  Every day I find new information and new teachers to follow.

2. I teach in Texas in a town just south of Austin.  I absolutely love what I do.  When I was first hired, I was actually scared of 4th graders!  Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone!  After just a few minutes around them, I knew that my fears were unrealistic.  They are still sweet, love their teacher, and they don’t stink too badly!  😉20130807-194258.jpg

3. I have a wonderful husband and a son that just turned 2 last week.  This “terrible two’s” thing might just kill me!  Where, oh where do they get so much energy?  I’m young and all, but WOW!  I have to take a break every now and then to survive.  LOL  I had to share a picture of my little man so that you can see my inspiration for everything I do.  😉

4. We have one dog.  A mutt named Jimi.  He is an old dog, but still demands his attention when he is feeling neglected!

5. My favorite band is The Dave Matthews Band.  I’ve been to several of their concerts and enjoy listening to them in the car and even in my classroom.  Too bad I wasn’t the one who saw him stranded on his bicycle on the way to his show and gave him a lift!  Did you read about that?  He’s so awesome!

6. Purple is my favorite color….for now, anyway.  It changes from time to time.  Anyone else that way?  I’m decorating my room in blue, and I’ve picked up quite a few new blue pieces that are hanging in my closet, but I still love purple!

7. My favorite TV shows are Suits, Mike & Molly, Two Broke Girls, and The Big Bang Theory.  Out of those, BBT is my overall favorite!!!  I could go on and on about that show, but I’ll save that for another time!

8. I enjoy DIY projects.  I may have quite a few coming up in my near future…

9. I’m learning more and more about technology every day.  Blogging has forced me to learn about even those little things that make a big difference.  Also seeing so many neat ideas from other teachers about how to use and implement technology into the classroom is encouraging me to go full force this year!

10. I am also a FREE health coach to those seeking to lose weight or embark upon a healthy lifestyle.  I won’t go on a rant about that, but I’m here for you, too!

Well, that’s it from me.  I’m heading over to Blog Hoppin’ now to read up on others!!  Ta ta for now!

teacherweek2

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Mission Organization: Supply Labels

Supply Labels Preview

Supply Labels Preview

Short post today.  I’ve been working diligently on getting everything ready for the beginning of the year.  These are the supply labels that I created, thanks to The 3AM Teacher.  I downloaded her border file from Teachers Pay Teachers (FREE, by the way) and created my labels with them.  There are 3 sheets…for pretty much everything.  Print them out and use them for yourself if you think they will be useful to you, too!  If I missed an important one that you would like for me to customize for you, just leave me a comment and I can send it to you.  Happy organizing!!

To download the labels click here –> School Supply Labels.

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The Safe Place

20130731-174532.jpg
The Safe Place is just that…safe. Safe from people being bothersome. Safe from people talking. Safe from harm.

I have a special place in my classroom where students may go when they feel angry, sad, or upset. It’s a comfortable space in the back of the room that is still visible to me, but not in the line of sight of any other students.

Have you ever had that kid that always came into your room in a bad mood? Or the one who gets upset after recess? Or that other one that gets frustrated with everything his neighbor does or says? Yep, we all experience some sort of issue throughout the course of the year. Let me tell you, my friends, the Safe Place is a great way for students to get away from peers or other issues that are bothering them.

Here’s how it works. As a class, we talk about the Safe Place on the very first day of school. We talk about the rules of the Safe Place. 1. You may go there ONLY when you are angry, sad, or upset. It is not a place to relax and read or play with anything that belongs there. 2. You still have to pay attention and listen. I will not directly call on a student who is in the safe place, but work is still expected to be completed. 3. This is NOT a permanent seat, and the goal is to transition back to your desk within 10 minutes. (Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances)

Some teachers think that I’m crazy for having such a place in my room, but it has worked miracles for some kids!! And I always hear, “Oh, my kids would just always go there or would abuse it.” All I have to say to that is, if you set up the expectations early and stick to it, they won’t. In 6 years I’ve never has a student abuse it.

This, coupled with the Social Contract, is a great way to manage an effective classroom with a positive atmosphere.

Try it. What have you got to lose? 😉

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Back To School Forms: Make Up Work & Corrections

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time keeping up with students who have missed assignments and those that need to make corrections.  In order to remedy that, I have created some forms for both the students and the teacher.

Make Up and Corrections

The student forms will be cut apart, hole punched, and put onto a ring to keep track of them before handing them to students.  You could just file them away somewhere, but I think the hole punch idea works better for me.  Click here to download Student Copy: Make Up Work and Corrections.

Teacher Corrections

Here is the Teacher copy for keeping up with students who need to make corrections on assignments.  At our school, we are allowed to work with students to help them make corrections to raise their grade to a 70.  (That’s why I put a conference date on the student copy.)  I will put the date of the Correction Conference underneath the student name in that column.  Click here to download Teacher Corrections Sheet.

Teacher Make Up

Last but not least, the teacher copy for keeping up with students who have been absent.  I will put both of these forms with my grade book to make tracking these kiddos easier.   Click here to download Teacher Make Up Work Sheet.

Hopefully these will help you organize your classroom, too!  🙂

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