Interactive learning quests, book reviews, lesson plans, teacher tools and technology tips for teachers.
Well, it’s almost September and time for back to school with a whole new bunch of young learners that will teach us as much as we teach them. If you’re like me, one of the toughest challenges we face each year is to find new ways to help our students improve their writing. It can be a daunting task, but like with anything, if we give our students the right tools for the job, then the path to success is made easier.
What? I can’t just give them a pencil and some writing topics and tell them to write everyday? Okay, Okay, I know you wouldn’t do that anyway, but I do have some tools and tips to share with you that I think will help as you coach young writers.
Once these decisions are made, it’s time to put a plan on paper. It took me a long time (years, in fact) to come up with a story planner and a non-fiction planner that I really like. My kiddos find them easy to follow and fill out. Because of this, they actually follow them as they are writing and that makes a huge difference to the creative process. These planners keep them focused. Yay! ( Don’t worry, I’m going to give you a free copy of these planners with this link and a link at the bottom of the post. Just click here to get it now.
2. Content – All good writing starts with a good idea. Teach your students to ask questions about their character or subject. What would they want to know about him/her/it as the reader? What about personality? Quirks? Habits? etc. Rich details make readers identify with the character and/or subject matter and add to the reading experience. Be careful, though, young authors must be taught to ‘sneak’ the details in context rather than just list them. Otherwise we end up with the dreaded ‘info dump.’ Not good. Modelling is the best teacher here. Show your kiddos how to put in the details without explicitly listing them. Use great examples from authors you love. Kenneth Oppel and Rick Riordan are masters of this.
3. Organization – Kids need to be explicitly taught organization. It doesn’t come naturally to most. Brainstorm ideas about a topic and write them down, then cut them apart and organize them into topics. You can set this up in centers and have students do the same. ‘Sticking to the topic’ is an essential skill in both fiction and non-fiction writing. It’s more obvious in non-fiction, but have you ever read a story that rambled with no clear focus? Teach your students to keep coming back to the plot line /problem so that every detail, every action and every event have something to do with that plot line/problem. If it has nothing to do with the plot, leave it out. Teach them to keep the beginning, middle and end related to the central problem.
4. Sentencing- Ooh this is a big one, grammar is tricky, but start simple by teaching them big ideas concepts like: Good authors never begin two sentences the same way in a paragraph. Then have them use colored crayons to underline their beginnings and read them back. Soon they will be able to spot repetitions and problem beginnings.
5. Word choice – Teach your kiddos that a thesaurus is a writers best friend! Show them how to use it, model using it as you write, and let the kids make a journal/lists of interesting words they’d like to use in their writing during their word work time. Because it’s words they want to use, they will be motivated to find and use those words. Choice is a powerful motivator!
6. Editing – Students need to have a useful rubric for self evaluating and self-editing their work. I always tell my students that ‘They mark it first’ and ‘I mark it second’. I created this rubric that helps them go through the process. I photocopy several and they take them as they finish up their stories and go through, mark, and fix their story before handing it in. It’s also wonderfully handy when addressing the next two goals.
7. Set goals to improve your skills- A student can’t focus on everything at once,but needs guidance to focus on just one area that s/he can improve their writing. During conferencing, I use the boxes in the above rubric/marking guide to set a goal each student. We only focus on one boxed skill area for improvement and set a goal to address that with their next writing project. This keeps students from being overwhelmed and helps them see their progress!
8. Feedback, feedback, feedback. I can’t stress enough how much students need consistent feedback about their writing. They need you to care, to listen, to appreciate what they tried to do, and finally, to model how they can improve it. Give them examples of more interesting ways they could ‘say the same thing.’
Writing is a love of mine, so you can see that I get excited about teaching young people to communicate their ideas more clearly with the written word. I hope these ideas help you in that endeavour, also. Now for your freebie as promised click on the word below:
Need a really cool class project idea for Father’s Day? Try this one on for size. I just made this ‘Dad’s Daily News’ template that you can use as a great gift for Dad, while encouraging your students to write a variety of different articles and entries that Dad will absolutely love! How about these ideas?
These are just a few of the ways that you can use this fun template. If you find it useful I accept thanks in cold, hard cash. Just kidding. You don’t owe me a thing, but I would appreciate if you would spread the word about Quest Teaching and sign up for futures freebies here : http://questteaching.com/wordpress/go/teacher-treasures-sign/ I’d also love to hear about how you used this in your classroom. Send pictures and add them to the comments below.
Last newsletter, I gave away a treasure box (drop box) full of my teaching resources for free! If you missed out on that, I’m sorry, but be sure to subscribe to the newsletter so you never miss out on more fabulous freebies. This week I wanted to take a few moments to explore some of those resources that I spent time putting together for teachers, and how I use them in the classroom.
First up? Let’s talk about a subject I’m passionate about; writing! For a long time, I’ve wanted a student self-evaluation tool in kid-friendly language to give my students more ownership and focus to improving their writing. I could never find a commercially made tool that I liked, so I decided to make one myself. Here it is:
I just run this off on both sides and have my students staple it to their story. Now when they say they are “finished” a piece of writing, I have them go through their story one “box” at a time. By the way, I love the boxes! It makes the evaluation process so flexible, yet target. Here are just a few ways that I use the boxes:
This is just one of the tools I’ll be highlighting from our treasure box over the next few weeks. Do you have ideas for other teacher resources you’d just love to have? Subscribe and shoot me an email about it. It just might become our next fabulous freebie and you’ll get it free! What could be better than that?
Until next keep teaching and “treasuring” our special young people.
If someone were to ask you, what would you say is the number one thing that makes you an effective teacher?
One word makes all the difference. Relationship.
Oh, I know, I need to be tough in the first half of the year so I will have control of my class, right? Wrong! I am not teaching robots. I am teaching children. They do not look the same, act the same, or have the same likes and dislikes. Some like pizza with pineapple, while others spit it out. There’s the class clown, the shy one who will never ask a question, and the one who constantly trips over his own feet. I love them all. It is not my job to control them so they will learn. It’s my job to watch each of them, get to know them and find out what makes them tick. With each, I need to develop the kind of relationship that builds a bridge of trust between us. They need to know I am here for them and I am always on their side. Then, they can take risks in my classroom. Then, they can learn.
“Wait a minute,” you say . “I thought this post was about technology. What does technology have to do with relationship?”
Stay tuned. In today’s world we need to use every available tool to inspire our students. Here are three tech tools that I love because they help me know my students better and communicate with them more effectively even outside to the classroom.
1. Email: even though I teach elementary school, writing emails back and forth with my students, not only teaches them a valuable technology skill. It also allows them to ask me questions they might be afraid to tell me in class. It gives them a voice to tell me about things that are troubling them. Perhaps they are getting bullied or are nervous about their grades. I’ve had students share these kinds of things with me via email and it provides me great insight so I can help them deal with the problem. The one-on-one nature of email lends itself to some privacy in conversation which allows students to feel they can share.
2. Evernote: As you can tell by my previous posts, I’m a bit of an Evernote FREAK! I love the way I can set up student notebooks and collect assessments to build a profile for their learning. In addition to assessment, Evernote also allows me to collect tidbits of information that I think will interest my students. For example, if I know that one of my students is interested in horses, I can easily capture and keep articles, photos, web games, etc. That I think will interest that child. Then I can show them quickly and easily. I can also share the notes by email with the student and their parents. Just another beam supporting the bridge of trust.
3. Kidblog: I love Kidblog! Kidblog gives kids a reason to write. Beyond class writing assignments, students can research and share their interests, just like real bloggers do! Kidblog allows you, the teacher, to have your kids give and receive feedback in a safe environment. You control who can and cannot comments as well as the privacy of the posts. Best of all, you can access their posts anywhere so you can interact with their posts at home on your laptop. I have learned so much about my students by reading their Kidblog posts. We’ve also had the chance to connect with other classes around the world, which provides even greater reason for Kids to write! I can’t say enough about the benefits of getting your class on Kidblog.
There you have it, three ways to connect with kids on a personal level, beyond the classroom. Of course with each of these tools there is the added benefit of teaching them about safe on-line practices and etiquette.
If you want to know more about any of these, I’m here and I’d love to help! Shoot me a message via Facebook, Twitter, email or in the comments below. Do you have any favourite tech tools that help you build stronger relationships with students? I’d love to hear about them.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to get more great teaching ideas and have access to exclusive free teaching materials each week please subscribe to our newsletter! Just enter your name in the sidebar or the pop-up to connect! I can’t wait to share with you!
Each September I begin by asking my students why we write? I want them to fully understand that the basic purpose of writing is to communicate our ideas. Grasping this concept is a step in the right direction to having them want to improve their skills. After all, if they work at developing good writing skills, it will be easier for them to get their message across.
This leads us to the spelling issue. In this day and age of spellcheckers and technology, do we really need to focus on spelling in school? The answer is yes. Poor spelling leads to miscommunication, so I use an example of poor spelling to get my point across. After seeing the difference that spelling makes to the clarity of a message, students are eager to improve their skills, but the traditional spelling list does little to actually help them achieve their goals. The trick is tailoring the spelling instruction to individual needs of students. This is a summary of how I differentiate to meet the spelling instruction needs of my students. I hope it will help you meet the needs of your students, too.
At the end of these lessons, you will be able to:
*identify and share the different purposes for writing
*identify improving spelling as a way to better communicate in writing
*identify and apply common spelling generalizations in own writing
Write this message to your students on the board or pop this picture up on your smart board. Turn and talk with an elbow partner:
Why was it difficult to read the message?
In a whole-group discussion, share the problems with the message: spelling, punctuation, printing.
What would you do to improve the message?
Give students a copy of the message and see if they can work with a partner to make it better.
Hand out new notebooks that the students will use to improve their spelling of the words they don’t know. Label the book with “My Spelling Words to Study”.
Explain to the students that we all have different spelling skills, just like we all wear different shoe sizes. That’s why we all need to work at learning to spell different words, but first we need to know which words we need to work on.
Follow up with a test of the top 300-500 (depending on grade level) high-frequency words. It may take several sessions to complete this diagnostic assessment. I usually give about 50 words at a time. Higher grades may want to use words 500+. I recommend using Rebecca Sitton’s Spelling Sourcebook
After each test, mark the student’s work and circle each misspelled word and write the correct spelling word beside the misspelled word.
Following the tests, have students transfer the first ten of the correct spelling of the words they need to know to their “Words to Study” list included in this package. We will repeat this each week from the 300 words. After that, I will give a new test of the next 100 high-frequency words and/or use the “problem words from their writing”. Students now have an individualized list of words that they need to work from during the year. Each week they will work on these words during their word work time using a variety of generic spelling games and study activities which have been taught.
For home practice, I give students a recording sheet to make their lists each week. This is how I set mine up:
Each week the students will refer to their “Words to Study” list to make their spelling list to study for that week. If you are teaching specific spelling patterns each week, you may have them choose five words from the list and five words from the spelling pattern you are currently studying. They make two copies of the list. One that goes home to study and one that stays at school for the peer test that students give each other later in the week. If students do not spell every word on their “Word Work/Spelling List Record Sheet” correctly, they must transfer the words they got incorrect, to next week’s list and continue to do so until they have mastered them. Each week that they master their list, they get a coin for their “Master Spellers” certificate. At the beginning of the year, I also send home the “25 Ideas” in two page protectors. Students can post these on their fridge for fun ways to practice their words at home.
Vital to student success and growth in spelling will be the provision of many goal-setting conferences to identify successes in improved spelling in their writing. The connection between good spelling skills and clarity of written messages needs to be continually reinforced during these teacher-student conversations. These conferences should go a long way towards helping students see that their efforts are resulting in progress toward their better spelling and communication goals.
On in my TPT store, I put together a complete package for you to help get you started. In it, I tried to include everything you’ll need for your word work program this year. Included in this package you’ll find:
* My Word to Study List
*Student Spelling List Record Sheets
* Student Spelling test sheets
* Word Work Activity Ideas
* “Master Speller” coin collector student sheet
I hope this is a valuable resource for you in providing a differentiated spelling program for the students in your classroom. The whole package is on sale this week to give you a chance to get it, and try it, for an introductory low price. Check it out here:
Questions? I’d love to hear from you. What do you do in your classroom to differentiate instruction for students?