Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

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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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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How Expectations Can Manipulate Success

no-fail

For those of you who don’t know, I’m teaching math again this year after taking on Reading and Writing for the past three years.  Teaching math is a little stressful intimidating when your passion is in language arts.  BUT–I’m putting on a smile and doing my best.

Last Friday, I gave an assessment on rounding.  My students have been doing so well that I just skipped that crucial piece of giving assessments: expectations.  Yep, I just gave out the test, reminded the students to put their name and date at the top and put it in the turn-in basket when they were finished.  The students put their name and date on it.  They took the test.  They turned it in.  They failed.

Or was it me who failed?

After stressing agonizing over the tremendous failure rate (to the tune of 17 out of a class of 22), I started to think.  Why did they fail?  Was it because I stink at teaching math?  Was it because they really didn’t know the material?  Was it because they were tired?  Why?

Then my brain turned on.  I didn’t see that they had shown their work.  I didn’t see that they had circled important information in the question.  They hadn’t labeled their numbers.  We did all of these things during our lessons and in their stations, but I didn’t see it on their tests.  Why?  Because I didn’t set up those expectations.

I’m all about giving my students a fair chance, so on Monday morning I spoke with several people about the problem and we came up with a simple solution.  Give the test again, but set up the expectations before allowing the students to begin.

So I did.  I told my students EXACTLY what I wanted to see on their assessment–all of the things mentioned above.  I told them that I expected nothing less.

Again, the students took the test.  They turned them in.  They succeeded!

First Round (Class #1): 2 100’s/17 60’s or below        First Round (Class #2): 2 100’s/16 60’s or below

Second Round (Class #2): 7 100’s/6 60’s or below     Second Round (Class #2): 9 100’s/6 60’s or below

A lesson on how expectations can manipulate success slapped me in the face.  Setting up expectations truly is VITAL to student success.  Students have to be reminded of what teachers expect out of them.  They have to know that it is not O.K. to settle for mediocrity.  We expect the best.  We expect them to try.  Most of all, we expect them to succeed.

**Oh, and this week, all but 4 (from both classes together) passed their end-of-week assessment.  🙂

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A New Spin on Exit Tickets in the Classroom

Exit tickets can be “gold” to teachers who really use them correctly.  I always tell my students that I want need them to ask me questions so that I know what they are thinking and what is confusing them, but you know how that goes.  They are too embarrassed to ask in front of their friends.  No matter how much I praise them or invite them to ask about what they aren’t understanding, it never fails…MAYBE one person will ask a question, but usually I hear crickets instead.

I just HAVE to have a way to know what they don’t understand on a daily basis, so I cooked up a plan to get them talking.  Rather than students asking me a question, I now ask them at least one question that relates to the lesson and ask them to write down their answer for me.  I tell them to answer it to the best of their ability so that I really know what they are using and confusing.

I’ve cut apart countless pieces of notebook paper to hand out Exit Slips, and it always seems to take up more time and waste so many trees.  (I’m not a “tree hugger,” but I don’t like wasting those valuable resources)  I wanted something that the kids would like enjoy doing, so I thought about using a paper version of Twitter to make it more interesting.

photo 1(15)photo 2(15)

I covered the inside of my door with black paper and glued some blue border around it.  Then my student teacher (Thank God for her!!) made me some little squares with the altered Twitter bird and the students’ names.  Each student has his/her own laminated card on which to write answers to the questions I ask.  We velcroed them onto the door, and then spiced it up with a bigger (altered version) Twitter bird and the saying, “#ExitTweets.”  I think it turned out great!

I can’t wait for my students to see it on Monday.  I know they will love it!  My plan is to have them find and take down their Exit Slip as they come into the room.  They will use their dry-erase markers to write their responses at the end of the lesson, and then put them back on the door as they leave.  Hopefully they can remember where they put them each day!!

This whole system is fun and all, but there is more to it.  This allows me to see their responses as a group, and pick out the ones who are not comprehending the lesson.  Rather than taking home numerous tiny pieces of paper (and worrying about them getting lost), I can quickly take a look at the door to see who needs extra help.  That way I can pull them in small groups during our intervention time the following day.

What system do you use to collect data on a daily basis?  Any suggestions are welcomed!

Wish us luck!!

Monday Made ItFor more ideas, visit 4th Grade Frolics!

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9 interactive tech tools that can help your child in the classroom

Thought this might be helpful… 🙂

NBC Latino

As the school year begins across the country, it’s time for parents like you to start thinking about how you can support your child’s learning over the next 10 months. Make this year a great one by getting involved, and keep track of which concepts or subjects are giving your child more trouble. Taking the time to talk with your child’s teacher twice a month will help you monitor your child’s progress so that you can jump in and help when they hit a stumbling block.

Let’s face it: Schools don’t always present materials in a fun and engaging manner. Really. So sometimes it’s up to us parents to find resources that do. One way to do so is with technology.

In our high-tech world, kids are learning through a variety of media, including digital technology. So consider these resources when you are looking for ways to help your child…

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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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Back To School Forms: Getting To Know You (Student Survey)

Getting to know youNext up is a student survey.  I like to get to know my students on a deeper level than some, so I created a student survey for the students to fill out during the first week of school.  The survey also serves as a conversation piece when it comes to writing.  I get so tired of students telling me that they have nothing to write about, so this is another way to conjure some ideas out of them!  To download the file, click here –> Getting to Know You.

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The Safe Place

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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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