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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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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