Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Illustrations that Enhance Our Writing

Our latest Unit of Study has been focused on the question: What smart illustration decisions do author/illustrators make in their books? This study was inspired by Katie Wood Ray’s latest book, In Pictures and In Words: Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing Through Illustration Study. The children have been wonderful at looking at books and noticing the smart things being done in the illustrations to communicate information, feelings, character, storyline, mood, point of view, passage of time, and more. I have recorded a lot of their “noticings” on a chart. We are also using the chart to note when one of us tries something we’ve seen in the books. We keep the books we are using for the study in a basket where students can refer to them as needed. After Thanksgiving break, students will be asked to choose books they have written to publish. Each choice should be a book that can go into the basket with our study books, because of interesting illustration choices.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Celebrating Our Writing Work

We have wrapped up our Unit of Study on Where do writers get ideas? Each student chose one of the books he/she had been working on to publish. The students read over their choices carefully, checking to be sure they had not left out any words and that Word Wall words had the Word Wall spelling. Then each read the book to a classmate to be sure it was "reader friendly." Last week we had a celebration. Each student showed the published book and either read a selection or told about it. Each also told where he/she got the idea for the book and why he/she wrote it. We “toasted” our efforts with apple slices to finish up our celebration.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Just Right Books

I most often use this blog to write about our work in Writing Workshop. We also do a lot of reading work in our group. Just as in Writing Workshop, I do mini-lessons that focus on different aspects of reading. One of the first lessons I do is on choosing “Just Right” books, the kinds of books that will help the students’ development as readers the most. A Just Right book is one in which a student is interested. It is also a book that the student can read almost all of easily, figuring out the few words that he/she does not already know. And it is one that the student can understand. It doesn’t leave the child wondering what it was about.

This doesn’t mean that it isn’t helpful at times for children to read, and re-read, and easy book. Easy books support the child’s ability to read smoothly and with expression. Re-reading also allows a child to notice details that may have been missed the first time through. And, of course, children will often be attracted to hard books, especially if the topic is one that is compelling or of particular interest. Those are great books to read with a parent, teacher, or partner to help.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Word Study

Word Study is work that we do to support both our writing and our reading. One focus in word study is finding the patterns in words. We can identify "chunks" or rimes that a group of words have in common. For example, the chunk -an is in many simple consonant-vowel-consonant words. The word "can" is on our Word Wall and knowing it can help students recognize others words, such as man and van.

We have been adding 5 words a week to our Word Wall. These are all frequently used words or popcorn words, as some call them, because they pop up a lot. The goal is that these words become part of the children's reading and writing vocabularies, part of the words that the children can read and write without having to break them down.

For practicing our Word Wall words I use an activity from About the Author: Writing Workshop with our Youngest Writers by Katie Ray Wood with Lisa B. Cleaveland. Every Monday I give each student a sheet that has five of our word wall words plus a checklist of ways to practice those words. Students get to choose which 5 ways to practice the assigned words. Choosing how to practice the words adds to the students' investment. The list includes everything from rainbow words (writing the words using different colors) to making the words with manipulatives such as letter stamps, Wikki Sticks, or Unifix letter cubes to using a pointer to find the words on the Word Wall. The students enjoy exploring the different ways, and each is developing favorites. They are becoming more comfortable with the 5 Ways routine, so that we are using this time more efficiently.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Study

In our writing workshop mini-lesson time, we have been busy reading books and then studying them. Since we have been focusing on where writers get ideas, the first question I ask after I read a book to the group is "Where do you think the writer got the idea for this book?" After we discuss that, I ask what they noticed the writer doing in the book and what they especially liked that the writer did. We talk familiarly about what Bob (Graham) does or what we like about what Ruth (Horowitz) does in her book. I record student's observations on a chart that we can refer to later.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Abuzz with Writing

Today was an exciting day in writing workshop. Every student was absorbed in working on a book, busy illustrating and writing. Voices were quiet as students helped each other and shared their writing with each other.

We began with a mini-lesson that focused on the book "Let's Get a Pup! said Kate" by Bob Graham. I chose this book for us to study for several reasons. First Ellie had written a book on a similar topic last week, and I thought that would be a neat connection to make. Also several students have begun using dialog in their writing, and this book has a good amount of dialog, including in the title. And finally in the About the Author section of the book, Bob Graham speaks clearly about where he got the idea for his book. Now that we have covered a lot of the basic procedures of writing workshop, we are now moving into a focus on where writers get ideas (inspired by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland in About the Authors.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fred and Lee Slideshow

Toward the end of the school year we did a digital storytelling project in my language group. I asked the children to think of what adventures our frog stuffie, Fred, and our Lemur stuffie, Lee, might have on our playground. The children had been taking Fred and Lee home for months and writing in a journal about what they did together there.

Each child planned out a picture of Fred and Lee at some spot on the playground. After taking the pictures, each child looked it over and wrote about what Fred and Lee were doing. Then we looked at the pictures and writing together. A couple of the children suggested we should make the pieces more connected so it seemed like one story. One suggested we use the picture of Fred and Lee on the playground "car" to link the individual pictures. We worked together to smooth out the story. Someone suggested they come back to the class and tell the other stuffies what they did, and I took a picture to go with that. Here's the final product (minus the music- I'm still trying to figure that out!):

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Summer Reading, Shared Reading

Summer is a chance for all sorts of reading. I have several different piles of books to work on. Some are related to my teaching (a couple on writing workshop, a couple on teaching math, one on teaching reading, one on science and wonder, a few journals to catch up on.)

Other books are for pleasure, exploration, and sharing. Sharing books makes them special. Some are books I share with my granddaughters. When I go to visit, I like to stick one or two books for them in my suitcase. The picture shows the three of us sharing a book by Oliver Dunrea that I took to them in April. I discovered his Gossie book series several years ago when looking through the children's section of my favorite independent bookstore, The Regulator Bookshop, in Durham. Rachel was a toddler at the time, and we both enjoyed reading these book together. My daughter-in-law Liz told me last winter that Rachel's younger sister, Isabel, had discovered them and was carrying them around the house, asking others to read them to her. So I was excited to discover one I had not given them yet.

I also enjoy reading books that others have recommended. One of the books I am currently reading, The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman, is one I got from a cousin when we gathered with a group of cousins at the beach in May. Another, The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, was recommended by a cousin-in-law that was part of the same group. So many books, so little time! It's great to have family and friends who can help one find some of the gems out there.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Spine Poems

I subscribe to quite a few education related blogs. One of my favorites is A Year of Reading: Two Teachers Who Read. A Lot. This blog is by Mary Lee and Franki. A post there recently features a new idea for me: a book spine poem. You can check out the poem to see what inspired me. This idea has captured my fancy.

The kids aren't here today as it is a teacher workday. Between getting the tasks done that I had planned for today, I have been playing around with this type of poem. Not surprisingly (partly because I love math and partly because I have a shelf of math books close to my desk) math is the theme here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Word Choice in Poetry

In our recent poetry mini-lessons, we have worked on how our word choices and our endings for our poems affect the way our readers experience the poems. Recently we worked together to come up with words that describe and tell about spiders. Then we drew from those words in two different ways to make two different poems. The resulting poems showed us how important the word choice and the end of a poem are. We talked about how a good poem can leave us with a clear picture in our mind and often with clear feelings. Here are the two poems:

Quiet Spider
Quiet spider
Patient spider
Long, thin, silky threads
Making a silvery, soft
whirly, twirly web!

Creepy Spiders
Spiders, spiders, spiders!
Creepy, creepy spiders!
Smooth, shiny black widows
Hairy, bushy tarantulas
Crawling on their 8 legs
Crawling and sneaking
Up on me!

Monday, March 22, 2010

As Quiet as

Last week we read the book, Quick as a Cricket, by Audrey Wood. We have used her work to inspire us as we write poetry. A couple of days later we talked about what we are working toward when we center ourselves for our quiet settling in time at the beginning of the school day. We brainstormed comparisons for quiet as, peaceful as, and calm as. Looking at our list, I chose one, as peaceful as a lamb, to model how to stretch it out to make it a fuller image. Drawing ideas from the students, I added to our simple simile. "As peaceful as a lamb" became "as peaceful as a lamb sleeping on soft hay in a grassy field." Then each student worked with a partner to stretch out some of the other comparisons from our list. They came up with some lovely images, which we will make into a book and illustrate together.

As quiet as a cloud floating in the blue, blue sky.
As calm as a bird in a nest at the top of the tree at night.
As peaceful as a kitten sleeping in its soft, cozy bed.
As quiet as meditating on a cloud drifting along.
As calm as a butterfly drinking some nectar.
As peaceful as a sky kitten sleeping on a cloud in the sky.
As quiet as a little mouse snug in its warm, cozy home.
As calm as a dove flying over the ocean.
As peaceful as a swan swimming in a beautiful lake.
As quiet as a dark, empty room in an abandoned house.
As calm as a lotus flower bending gently on a windy day.
As quiet as bark on a tree resting in the breeze.
As calm as the ocean on a windless night.
As quiet as a rabbit nibbling on clover in the spring.

Writing Poetry

We have been reading and writing poetry the past few weeks. For my lessons I draw from resources such as Regie Routman's Kids' Poems: Teaching First Graders to Love Writing Poetry (I love her emphasis on reading and talking about poetry by children) and Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parson's Poetry: Powerful Thought in Tiny Packages, which is part of Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum. I also have lessons of my own that I have developed over the years.

It is an exciting time as we explore this very different way of looking at and writing about the world.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mystery Lemur

A little over a week ago a box appeared on the bench where we gather each day. On it was a velvet frog with a word balloon above it. The frog introduced himself as Fred and invited the children to submit yes/no questions about who was in the box. They excitedly wrote questions. The next day "Fred" had answered their questions, giving them clues. More questions, then answers followed. The students worked to think of good yes/no questions that would give them helpful information. After a week several of the students had solved the mystery of who was in the box. They wrote "Is it a lemur?" and they got the answer, "Yes!"

So we opened the box and met Lee the lemur. Now students will take turns taking Fred and Lee home for a night. Fred and Lee have a backpack that they "ride" in along with a journal for students to record their adventures with Fred and Lee.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Word Wall-Encouraging its active use

We have continued to add 5 frequently used words to our Word Wall each week. Every week each student gets 5 words from the Word Wall to practice in Word Study 5 Ways.

Recently I read a post at the Stenhouse Blog as part of their Quick Tip Tuesday that talked about ways to make the children more familiar with where words are on the Word Wall, so that they are more likely to use it as a resource as they write. It was thus interesting to me when not long after that one of my students, Leo, thought of a new way to practice his words. He said he could use the pointer and find each one on the Word Wall. His idea proved popular with the other students, so now I have added it to the list of Word Study 5 Ways list, calling it "Word Wall Find."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chunk Lists

As a language warm-up some days, I present the students with a "chunk," a frequently used cluster of letters (also known as a phoneme or rime.) They work to think up words that end in that chunk, and we make a list of them. We add each list to a growing "Chunk Wall" above the chalkboard. I often draw the chunk from the list of phonograms in the appendices of Word Matters: Teaching Phonics and Spelling in the Reading/Writing Classroom by Gay Su Pinnell and Irene C. Fountas. They helpfully identify the 37 most frequently used phonograms by putting asterisks by them.