Thursday, September 27, 2012

Student Enthusiasm for Writing and Teaching Plot

This has been a really productive week for my students-I am thrilled to share.  Our interactive Reader's and Writer's Notebooks are filling up with learning, student writing is taking off, and learning targets seem to be sticking.  Two of my students informed me that due to the fact that there is not a movie to go along with the novel that we completed a few weeks back, they would like to write a play and turn it into a Reader's Theater for their 6th grade classmates to perform.  IT DOESN'T GET ANY BETTER, DOES IT???!!!  Having to remind students to eat their lunches and not spend their entire lunch writing is an argument I will take on any day!

While writing is thriving-it has been a week of chock full of lots of reading too.  Learning target: PLOT...While plot can seem to be an easy concept to teach, there are lots of components that can be tricky for some students to grasp and identify when it comes to tackling a text on their own and determining the problem, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Since we recently completed Crash, that was a perfect place to start with students identifying characters, setting, and the minor and major events of the novel.  We then moved onto our Reading Street text.  I had my students listen to Viva New Jersey and identify all of the elements of plot in their small table groups and then share their findings as a whole group.  Today was fun to watch...I pulled a variety of picture books, gave students the chance to work independently or with a peer, and they were off.  Each student/partnership read two books and identified the plot structure from each.  A favorite comment by a student was after he read The Toll Bridge Troll by Patricia Rae Wolff.  Kenny asked, "I love this book-can I put it in my book box?"  Again, it doesn't get any better.

Here are a few of the texts I pulled for teaching plot and the graphic organizer I utilize to teach plot structure from Reading Street:
The Toll-Bridge TrollStrega Nona (Aladdin Picture Books)The Paper Bag Princess (Classic Munsch)
 CorduroyFin M'coul: The Giant of Knockmany HillSix-Dinner SidAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayThe True Story of the Three Little PigsOfficer Buckle & Gloria (Caldecott Medal Book)Ruby The Copycat (Scholastic Bookshelf: Being Yourself)Ira Sleeps Over [Paperback]Chocolatina (with Stickers)Elbert's Bad WordAnt Bully (Scholastic Bookshelf)


Good luck as you embark on this skill with your students.  Please share any strategies or texts that you utilize for plot that help the concept stick with your students.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

One of THOSE weeks...

I am grateful to be a part of the blogging community because it was one of THOSE weeks...

I am not a pity-party-person.  I struggle with complainers, and I have a hard time with people that are unable to see the glass half-FULL!  Truly there is ALWAYS a bright side-sometimes the search is just a bit harder than finding the wrong, annoying, frustrating DARK side.

So luckily I came across my blogging friend, Megan's post on, you have no idea how much your words meant this week when things were a bit annoying, aggravating, maddening, and overwhelming.  Please check out her post, especially if you had one of THOSE weeks, too!

Rather than focus on the annoying, aggravating, maddening, and overwhelming, I thought countering with the best things about this week would be the most ideal way to feel rejuventated/reinvigorated for next school week.  Thanks to my students for this much more positive perspective...

Here goes:

#5: When students came in this week and were getting organized for the day, while the music was playing-I could here students singing along to Mat Kearney's Ships in the Night.  I had to stop straightening, organizing, and preparing just to watch them bobbing their heads, working, and singing.  I even had a 6th grade boy tell me that he had memorized all of the words to an Enya song-who would've thought...

#4: Since we finished our music video on Friday and I told students that it would be posted and ready to view over the weekend, those without internet access couldn't wait to see it and were begging to see it first thing Monday morning.  Thanks to my awesome 6th graders for taking such pride in a fun experience.  I am so glad you were as excited as I was to see the finished piece.

#3: These are a few of my 6th graders working on their end of book projects for the novel Crash.  Look at their diligent faces and the incredible "photographs" they created to go along with their thoughtful descriptions.  I LOVE when students are excited, engaged, and producing their best work.

 Cody taking time to produce his best illustration.
 Taylor adding colorful details.
 Sam working on her rough draft.
Dylan making sure his football players look just like he visualized.

#2: This parent comment: "The music video is very cute... They did a great job... The boys really got into it... This was our entertainment this morning at work." 

#1: Connor, one of my 6th grade students, couldn't wait until I was finished DRAing a student.  He was BEGGING to have me read his "Spend A Day" project.  When I finally had the opportunity to read his work, it made me so proud of him.  The words, "I haven't written this much in my whole life" were music to my ears.  It made me realize how essential these interactive writer's notebooks are for my students.  Glad I incorporated them into my instruction this year! 

While some weeks are filled to the brim with WONDERFUL and MAGICAL days, not every week can be rainbows and puppy dogs, as I always say.   So rather than waste energy on the craziness-choose those BEST things that are happening and take the time to focus on them.  Thanks again, Megan! 


Friday, September 14, 2012

My Favorite Maybe...a 6th grade music video about I-PICK books

If you want your students to remember something-put it to music!  I LOVE MUSIC!  I listen to it loudly in my car, my own kiddos LOVE to sing and dance, and each morning when I come into the classroom I log-on to my Rhapsody account and my classroom playlist begins.

I find music to be energizing and calming, and I try to share that energizing/calmness with my students.  While music has always been an essential in my life-I am not particularly musical.  I was not talented at the violin, flute, or the piano, but I have always loved to sing-despite my not so talented voice.

When my son, Brennan came along, I found that I turned EVERYTHING into song...I have a song for bathtime, bedtime, wake-up time, and every action in between.  Now both of my children sing these silly tunes.  This "song creating" has also impacted my teaching.  I often sing directions to my students, to their utter dismay.

This year I have a group of very musical students.  Boys and girls alike LOVE to sing.  I LOVE THIS FACT!  Before school even began, I was inspired by all of the reading I had done on implementing the Daily 5 into my classroom.  I laid in bed one night unable to sleep with the anticipation of the coming school year and the lyrics to a song came to me about I-Pick books to the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."  I have shared the song below, which I shared in a different blog post at the beginning of the school year...
I shared the song with my students during the first week of school.  I played it here and there and as they began to memorize the words focusing on "I-PICK" books, they began to add movement and a whole lot of enthusiasm for the song.  I enlisted the music teacher to practice at the end of music class this week and asked the students if they would like to STAR in their very own music video.  The response was overwhelming!

Take a look at my talented, enthusiastic, and MUSICAL 6th graders in "My Favorite Maybe"...

W ho would have thought 6th grade boys and girls would by jammin' about books?! I view these awesome 6th graders in a completely different light.  They are a hoot! If you are looking for students to remember concepts you teach and share, incorporate music into your classroom.  Write a song and get your kiddos to star in a music video! 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering 9/11...

I did not plan to do any special lesson for 9/11 until I became captivated by the various documentaries that I have been watching since Friday night.  I don't know if there is a small part of me that wants to forget the scariness of that particular day in history, or if I just felt compelled to stick to my lesson plans and keep my students on the track that I had intended last Wednesday when I was preparing them.

As a teacher, I tend to be diligent, structured, and possess a whole lot of "stick-to-itiveness!"  I make my plan and away I go.  Today, however, I veered off plan after feeling the need to share a part of our American history with my students who were born months before, after, or around September 11, 2001.

Eleven years ago, I was teaching my 6th grade students.  For whatever reason students were transitioning into the classroom from the gifted program.  One student said, "Did you see a plane hit the World Trade Center?"  In my mind I thought, "That is a terrible accident."  I turned on the classroom TV to see if there was some crazy story, and my students and I observed the second plane hitting the second tower.  BIZARRE.

From there, the day was a blur.  Many parents were racing to school to pick up their children as they heard of two additional crashes into the Pentagon and Flight 93 into the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  An announcement came over at school to call the office if anything was needed, and our district superintendent at the time, Mrs. Rider, came into each class to check on each teacher.

All afer school activities were cancelled and we were all shoveled home to watch the news for hours on end searching for clues and answers as to how something like this could happen.  Personally, I spent the day teaching, but very stressed that my mom, my sister, or my best friend Julie were on an airplane in the air somewhere as they all flew heavily for their jobs at the time-it was very STRESSFUL until e-mails and phone calls came of safety.

I was lucky to have not lost anyone!  I do remember the utter sadness of one of my 6th graders, as September 11, 2001, was his eleventh birthday.  I remember him saying how the day would always be ruined!  I do hope he has been able to have some happy birthdays since...

After watching all of the coverage from that day, I was determined to share some of what we witnessed as Americans with my students this year.  I found some fantastic resources that I felt were particularly appropriate and would help with their understanding of this horrific day that many have a hard time going back to re-live.

We first discussed what we KNOW about 9/11 using a T-Chart.  Students listed things like: planes were hijacked, the Twin Towers/World Trade Center feel down, many people died, etc.  After watching the video clip and reading the Reader's Theater we completed the LEARNED side of the organizer to share ideas we had learned today about 9/11.

I then showed this video: that focused on the World Trade Center and the people of New York.  It was hard to find footage that did not have profanity as the raw footage of that day was very emotional!

We then read this Reader's Theater passage that is told from the perspective of the Statue of Liberty, which was a particularly interesting point of view.

Here are some photos of my students participating in the Reader's Theater of Never, Never, Never, Forget 9/11.

 Connor as an Announcer
 Macy as Lady Liberty and Destiny as the President
 Dillon as Lady Liberty
 Faith as an Announcer
 Jovon as an Announcer
 The Chorus
 The Chorus
Olivia as the President
I am glad I changed my plans and took the time to Remember 9/11 with my students.  They walk away having a bit more of an understanding of that day!  Thank you military, firefighters, police officers, safety officials, and all those lost and impacted everywhere!  We will never forget you!


Sunday, September 9, 2012

A few of my favorite things...

Perfect thoughts, BOGGLE Boards, and highly-motivated, example-setting students...

A blog I follow is  If you haven't checked out this blog-you need to head there immediately...

Last week, Shannon published these really adorable FREE printables that fit perfectly into my classroom.  I LOVE quotes, especially cute, colorful, FREE ones that can be placed throughout my learning space as reminders to myself and my students.  While I am still in search of those "perfect spaces" around the room-take a look at how perfect they are....

I am sure you can find a use for them in your classroom!

Shannon also has available for download BOGGLE Board letters to match pretty much any classroom color scheme.  My BOGGLE Board has been a huge hit with my students this year!  I am GRATEFUL to whomever first posted it on Pinterest because I utilize it as an enrichment tool for Daily 3-"Word Work."

We are on week #3 and my students have L-O-V-E-D the challenge of finding as many words as possible within the letter grids.  The dictionaries are being utilized to determine if "what is believed to be a word really is a word," which is a most exciting thing to see as a language arts teacher.

This is a photo of week #1.  I have to admit I didn't know that "bole" was a word.  Upon sharing this, a few of my 6th graders quickly raced to grab a dictionary and whip them open to show me that in fact a bole is "a trunk or torso of a tree."  The old adage, "You learn something new everyday" holds true!

This Friday as I was collecting the students' BOGGLE Boards, a student turned her board in with a piece of lined notebook paper that was completely FULL of writing.   At first I thought it was just an extended list of words, which I thought to be exciting, but it was so much more than that...

This student, Ashley, found a number of different words within the letter grid that she wanted to make sure I knew were REAL words.  Therefore, each word she listed had a part of speech and dictionary definition to prove it was a word. 

I was so IMPRESSED by her efforts, I gave her 10 Bulldog Bucks and I am now off to send her mom an e-mail to let her know just how much I appreciate her initiative as a "word detective" and her enthusiasm for learning.

You made my week, Ms. Ashley!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Authentic Writing in Interactive Writer's Notebooks

Writer's Notebooks are a BIG addition to my language arts instruction this school year.  After reading the Daily 5-I realized just how little authentic writing my students have done over the last number of years.  Years back I implemented Writer's Workshop into my instruction, but with the pressures of our testing and making students the BEST READERS, writing was probably a once a quarter kind of thing, and it was VERY decisive on my end, sadly.

NOT THIS YEAR!!!  I am bound and determined to make my students writers this year! With all of my BLOG STALKING, researching, and personal enthusiasm for the writing process, I am armed and ready with what I believe to be strategies and practices that will enhance my students' writing and creativity.  So far-we are heading down the right path. 

Yesterday was a bit of a breakthrough day-we have done a bit of brainstorming, recorded and contributed to the creations of anchor charts, but yesterday was the day when I really saw some REAL authentic thinking and writing.

I saw on a science teacher's blog how he/she does a Photo of the Day prompt.  The photo is pulled from the National Geographic website  Each day students list observations and inferences about the picture and record them in their science journals.  I LOVED THIS IDEA and decided it was a great one to tweak!  My students HAVE to know the difference between observation and inference as readers and thinkers, so I just extended the task to also TELLING THE STORY OF THE PICTURE.  I decided this would be a perfect morning starter activity on Wednesdays.

Last Wednesday was a S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E.  Comments like, "I don't get this!"  "What do you want us to write about?"  "I don't know what the polar bears are thinking."  Oh dear, hang in there...I decided that I may have better luck with photos from the Travel photography section.

This Wednesday was one of those teaching moments where you want to shout out the classroom window, "THEY GOT IT, LISTEN TO THIS!"  While having each student read their clever stories over a megaphone!  I didn't, however, but they did do an author share at the end, and many wanted to share what they had written!  WOOHOO!

Here are some pics of our work...

 Photo of the Day prompt...
Photo: Jet flying low over a beach
I LOVE this picture! Boy did it invoke some awesome inferences and stories!

Markel was killed by the plane-in his story.
 Catlyn writing away!
Naomi's family escaped the plane crash and never went back to the beach.
 Faith was a passenger on the plane and had to jump out using a parachute to get to safety.
 Jovon listing observations and inferences.
 A student's writing...
Jon had the most clever story about mutant sharks flying the plane out of the ocean onto the beach in order to ultimately take over the earth!  AMAZING, JON!

There is more work to be done with my student writers, but our interactive notebooks are headed in the right direction.  While I know there will be additional creative road blocks, sometimes it just takes that one moment of success for students to realize they can do something!  Today, authentic writing it was!!!  Way to go 6th graders!

If you are looking for an all-in-one resource for writing CCSS, here is my latest creation...

Here is a sneak peek at next Wednesday's Photo of the Day prompt...
Photo: Gingerbread cookies