Texas Teaching Fanatic

A look inside a 4th grade classroom

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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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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Peek At My Week

Last week was an awesome week!  If you’ve been following along, you know that my students just really learned a lot last week.  Those light bulbs were going off and my students were actually THINKING!  Ya gotta love that! 🙂

Peek at My Week

My week this coming week is going to be another great week!  Here’s what we have on the agenda:

In Writing:  Monday we will write letters to veterans, thanking them for their service and time spent away from friends and family.  After that, it’s back to the grind with a new expository piece.  We are writing about our most prized possessions this time around.  We have already planned it out and written our kernel essays, so the next steps are putting it into a flipbook, choosing icons, and then drafting our piece.  Oh, and at the end of the week we will be discussing schesis onomaton (a big fancy word for renaming).  Come back to see some final copies!  (I’ll be posting some expository pieces from our first attempt pretty soon)

In Math: This week is a time to put our skills to the test with related data sets (aka: tables).  Since we have our first district benchmark next week, the end of this week will succumb to review of all that the students have learned this year, with a focus on multiplication and division with word problems.  Another week requiring loads of thinking!

In Social Studies: We will be discussing the impacts of Stephen F. Austin and Martin DeLeon on the settlement of Texas.

It’s another jam-packed week, and I’m praying that we have time to squish it all in!  I’m excited for what this week has in store for us!

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Lightbulb Moments

Today was one of those days where everything went right.  I don’t have many of them, but today was exceptional.  I love those days!

In writing, we once again used Gretchen Bernabei’s resources to look at a mentor text, and light bulbs started going off across my room.  The students were really connecting to the text and noticing many patterns and the craft of the writer.  Brilliant!  I plan on devoting a post to this activity soon to share what we did and how incredibly powerful it was…so stay tuned!

photo 1(24)In math, I ran only small groups today.  Since there isphoto 4(14) one of me and about four groups that need different skills, I chose to have students run the other groups.  Wow!  They did an amazing job!  While I worked with students on subtraction, other students led the rest of the small groups and shared their knowledge of the skill that the others needed.  This not only allowed me some time to work with the students who really needed my help, but it also extended the knowledge of my student helpers.   Most importantly: ALL students were learning at an appropriate level.

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What’s that saying?  Students learn better from their peers than they do from adults?  I definitely think that’s true…most of the time, anyway.  Today was a fine example of that.

I’m so glad that I am surrounded by such awesome students.  Do they drive me nuts some days?  Of course.  But I love each and every one of them for who they are.  Their willingness to learn and the smiles on their faces are what I look forward to every day.  They are the reason I do what I do.

Today was awesome.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!  🙂

 

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Student Writing Samples & More…Coming Soon!

Just a quick post to let you all know that I am working on getting some student writing samples posted. I’m hoping to get this done over the weekend. My students have now published their first Expository writing pieces, and they had already published 2 Narratives from our first several weeks of school.

My husband and I just bought our first home and finally moved in last Wednesday, so it has been extremely hectic around here, to say the least!

I WILL get back to blogging more regularly and fulfill some promises I’ve made about posting some new anchor charts, student writing, steps we took to get to where we are now, and even some new pics of my classroom–now that my walls aren’t bare anymore!

Thanks to all of you who are followers and to those of you visiting every now and then. Come back again soon!! 😉

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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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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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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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