Monday, March 21, 2016

Fact and Opinion

Happy Spring Break! We are finally on spring break, and I get the chance to blog and catch up again! Right before we go on spring break, we get to have conferences with our families, which is amazing, but it definitely took some time to get ready to share great news with my families.

Before we headed off on break, we were getting ready to start a nonfiction reading and writing unit.  I love this time in 1st grade because the kids learn new things through reading, but also get to discover that they know things that they can share with others and become experts in!  It is exciting.  Before we get to this point, we have to do some talking about what is a fact and what is an opinion...which can be quiet the task in 1st grade.

We dove into this through our writing mini lesson, then in work with partners.  I started by modeling my thinking about facts and opinions while reading a national geographic book about Monkeys.  As I read, I would  make comments like, "The monkey has a tail" or "He is so cute and fluffy".  As I made my observations, we would take notes, sorting my observations into facts and opinions.
We spent a lot of time qualifying a fact and an opinion.  We decided that facts are things that are true, they can be observed or seen by other people, and we can prove them in some way.  Opinions are things that we might feel, or ideas we might have, but they might not be true, different people might feel different ways, and we cannot prove them.  We used lined paper, but you could also use this page:


After modeling with the kids, they set out with partners to create their own lists.  While the students were working, I monitored each group to check in and see how they were qualifying their facts and opinions.  I was able to monitor, and reteach with a few groups as they were working so that the first graders knew what a fact was, and what an opinion was.

At the end of the lesson, the students had to return to their seats and write down a fact on a blue sticky note and an opinion on the pink sticky note.  From there, we posted our sticky in the correct category at the end of writing.  A few students also shared their sticky before posting it to the board.  I loved this ending piece because I was able to see who understood a fact/opinion, who needed some reteaching, and if students could sort their facts and opinions.


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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Non-Fiction With Young Writers

Today we launched our non-fiction unit, which I love because kids are naturally so curious that they get so excited about this unit.  However, one of the biggest struggles that I have every time we start to work on non-fiction is that so many of the texts are not accessible to our young learners.  I do love some of the emergent readers and early readers that are offered by Scholastic and I LOVE the National Geographic Kids sets.  They are colorful, full of details, have beautiful pictures, and cover a variety of topics and levels.

Our first lesson for this unit is always spending time just looking at nonfiction texts and coming up with topics.  The kids have their own recording sheet or a sheet of paper, and then we also make a working list that hangs in our classroom.  I want the students to have an idea bank of topics that they are truly interested in, because that will fuel their desire to write quality nonfiction.

I always model how to read a book and gather ideas in my first mini lesson.  I model 4 different ways that students can use a mentor text to get ideas.
1. Taking the topic directly from the text
2. Finding a similar topic to a text
3. Using pictures to find a topics/ideas
4.  Passing on a topic (I want kids to know it is okay to look at a mentor text, decide that they don't know anything about that topic, and pass to the next book.  Quality non-fiction writing needs a "buy in", or a topic that kiddos are interested in writing about).

In my lesson today, I used 3 different books and quickly paged through the books to build my list of ideas and model my thinking as I found topics.  We used the Ladybug Life Cycle book to decide that we could write about the life cycles of other things, like butterflies and frogs.

Next, we used the Reducing Recycling book to notice that they were writing about ways to use things for crafts.  I then told the kids that I know how to make a bird feeder from other things and I could write to teach others how to do that too (indirectly introducing how to writing).


Finally, we looked at the Thunder and Lightning book.  While I was looking at this book, I told the students that I didn't really know anything about this topic, but maybe the pictures could give me an idea.  When I got to the swimming picture, I modeled that I know a lot about swimming and I could write about how to swim, or I could write a biography about a famous swimmer like Missy Franklin.  A few pages later, one student suggested that I could also write about rainstorms because those are different than thunder storms, but something I might be interested in.

Our mini lesson ended with this list of ideas from our picture walk with nonfiction that I modeled creating for the students.

Students then worked in partners and individually to create a list of ideas of their writing.  Here is what a few lists looked like.


I am excited to continue this work tomorrow with my students, as we continue to get really excited about writing non-fiction.  The keys to this lesson is really showing students how to read their nonfiction books like a writer, so that they can gather ideas to write about.  My hope is that by having a comprehensive list of ideas, it will be awhile until they say "I'm done..." or "I have nothing to write about..."

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mentor Texts...Using a Touchstone Text

At the beginning of a unit, I always create a mentor text basket. I have it out and available for students to read from during writing workshop and reading workshop, so that students can access the texts whenever they want.  One of the best things that I have ever done as a writing teacher was to select one touchstone text from my mentor text collection to use over and over in my mini lessons for each unit.  The touchstone text is the book that we are going to continuously go back to and read as a writer to look at strategies for that genre. I certainly will reference or go back to other texts too, but I alway begin a mini lesson by looking back at the touchstone text.


For my narrative unit, I like to use the touchstone text Thunder Cakes by Patricia Polacco.  I love this book for so many reasons.  First I love Patricia Polacco, so reading this book and referencing it multiple times opens up for a mini author study/exposure as well.  Second, I love the touching story of a little girl who overcomes her fear of thunder with her grandmother's help. I think this is a common fear with the littles, so they can totally relate to the story.  Third, it is a great story about traditions (which we study later in the year, and bring this story back out)  Finally, I can't get over the word choice in this book! It is amazing!!!

From this book alone, I can get the following mini lessons:

  1. What is a narrative
  2. Problem/solution in a narrative
  3. Small moments in a narrative
  4. Sharing your lesson in your narrative
  5. Word Choice
  6. Transition words
  7. Sound words (onamonapias)
  8. Emotion words
This is just one of many of the stories that ends up in our mentor texts basket for narrative writing.  Some others include:
  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolk
  • The Art Lesson by Tomie deploy
  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
  • Fire Flies by Julie Brinckloe
  • Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
  • When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
I would encourage you to look at the many ways that you can use these texts for more than one lesson, and find your own touchstone texts that work to your teaching style.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Mini Lessons Not Maxi Lessons

My writing block always begin with a mini lesson.  I commit to keeping this lesson to 15 minutes or less.  It takes a lot of work, diligent planning, and keeping an eye on the clock to make this happen! Getting to a point where I could feel comfortable in my mini lessons took two major shifts in my thinking, that I would love to share.

1. A mini lesson is for 1, maybe 2 skills at a time
This was hard for me when I first started teaching.  I felt like to get quality writing, I needed students to understand every skill needed to create a piece of writing.  The purpose of a mini lesson is not to teach every single skill that a child will need to write a narrative, or a how to.  It is so show, model, and expose students to one of the skills within a genre of study at a time.  All of the skills in a genre are necessary and important, but in order to provide time for practice and mastery, it is really best to introduce them 1 at a time.  Another benefit is that by teaching 1-2 skills at a time, you are always going back to writing you have previously done.  In a mini lesson about great beginning, I might start by looking at mentor texts and deciding what makes a great beginning.  Then I might  write a great beginning for the piece we wrote the day before.  To end the lesson, I would go back to a few different pieces and rewrite my beginning for those pieces.  By doing this, I am not only modeling the skill of great beginnings for students, but I am also modeling the natural, recursive process we want our writers engaged in.

2. Mini lessons are mini (not maxi)
When I first started teaching, I found that my lessons would linger on and on forever. This was mostly because I hadn't experienced paradigm shift # 1 (see above). I would try to cram every little detail into a writing lesson, mentor text, the entire gradual release model, practice, grammar, rewriting, and then final independent student writing..it was exhausting and left students with maybe 10 minutes to write on a good day.  When I decided to focus on shortening my mini lessons,  I decided I would set a timer, so that I knew just how long I had.  I would watch the timer, shift plans from day to day.  Gradually, as time went on, I feel like I got more comfortable with powerful teaching in such a short time limit.  Now, I dive into my mini lessons, zip through teaching, and jump out so that students have more time to write.  My mini lessons are usually either a I do modeling for the students, or a we do shared writing experience for the students. This shift has created noticeable difference in my writing block.

Mini lessons are powerful tools, if we are using them correctly. They can be a great place for students to see their teacher as a writer, to share ideas, and take risks together, and to turn to other authors for guidance and advice.  It takes practice to create strong mini lessons that are powerful, but the lasting impact of those lessons is worth the time and practice!
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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Welcome to Writing Workshop

Welcome to Writing Workshop

Before I started teaching, while I was going through my teacher prep program, I knew that I wanted to use writing workshop in my classroom. I loved the idea that kids were writing for the majority of the time, I loved the idea of conferencing with students, and students having choice. I still love these things about WW, but I found out quickly that it takes practice and planning to get a workshop effectively up and going.

The first place that I started as a teacher was to think about how did I want my students using our time in writing workshop? We have 60 minutes and I knew I wanted my children writing for most of that time, over 30 minutes. That's a high demand for your kids! The key to achieving this, was to provide them with an understanding of all the ways writers write (that post is coming soon) and time to write everyday!  I split my 60 minutes today this:
15 minute mini lesson
35-40 minutes to write
5-10 minutes to share


Then we build our stamina to write or work for 40 minutes, similar to daily 5.  It is key to keep my mini lesson under 15 minutes, so I write my writing plans in my writing notebook, not my plan book.  This allows me to know exactly what is happening during each block of writing. I love using this template to help me plan each day/week/month...
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Writing-Workshop-Plan-Sheet-2431580
Click Here for free printable
I find that having a reliable structure helps my students learn to maximize their time as a writer. In my next few posts, I am going to break down 
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