As readers of this blog know, I teach 6th grade language arts using a workshop method. It’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! Is there anything you are wondering about how I handle reading and writing workshop in my classroom? If so, comment here and I promise to answer any questions!
Today I presented my classes with a challenge/contest. I told them that I was so proud of their efforts during the Slice of Life Challenge that I wanted to give them another opportunity to show off their writing. On a voluntary basis a few of them will be meeting with me and drafting personal essays for NPR’s This I Believe program.
What is This I Believe?
This I Believe is an international project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values that guide their daily lives. These short statements of belief, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here and featured on public radio in the United States, as well as in regular broadcasts on NPR. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.
NPR has some great curriculum resources on their site and examples of various essays. I can’t wait to get started with my kids after break!
My classes began revising their memoirs today while I did my best to conference with each of them. As I read memoir after memoir, I was stunned by the way my students were baring their souls in their pieces. I read about blankies that taught them about growing up, sons who watched their fathers recover from illnesses all the time growing closer to them, and granddaughters who are afraid of of losing their grandfathers to cancer. It took all I had to fight back tears as I read them.
This is the first year I have taught memoir, because I never really felt comfortable with it. It’s not as “scripted” as personal narrative or personal essay. That tends to intimidate my kids, who have never had workshop before. I usually have to do a lot of hand-holding and memoir doesn’t lend itself to that. It’s a lot more free-form and requires the writer to open up and expose themselves more that a personal narrative does. But the rewards have been wonderful and we are only in the revision stage!
Over the next week we will finish our memoirs. We will mount them on scrapbook paper, organize them, and bind them together into a book. The book will be shared with their parents during conferences in the middle of March. I can’t wait to share these awesome, soul-searching pieces with the parents.
Are you looking for a cool way to integrate more writing into your classroom this coming month? If so, be sure to check out Two Writing Teachers! Stacey just posted a short guide on how to get ready to host a Slice of Life Challenge in your classroom. I hosted a challenge with my class last year and it was a ton of fun. I am looking forward to doing so again.
This week I plan to come up with an easier tracking system, because I was overwhelmed with my 50 students last year. Whatever I decide to use, I will blow up on the poster machine. And I need to figure out what I will give out as a reward to those who complete the challenge.
This past week my class has been mining their writer’s notebooks for possible memoir ideas. Memoir is a hard concept for my kids to wrap their heads around, because it’s so different from the genres we have studied thus far this year. But as we finish reading The Giver and talking about the importance of memories, it seemed apropos.
I’ve been working on my own examples to share with them, too. We’ve read examples of memoirs from Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, Knots in My Yo-Yo String (Jerry Spinelli), and When I Was Your Age, Volume Two: Original Stories About Growing Up (various memoirs by children’s authors), but my own examples always seem to ring truer for them. So this weekend I will be writing a few of my own memoirs to share this week when they choose their seed ideas!
I spent a lot of time over the last few weeks analyzing how my students were using their writer’s notebooks. While they completed the HW I assigned in writing workshop, I wasn’t seeing a lot of enthusiasm for writing and they definitely weren’t carrying their notebooks with them outside of my classroom. After hearing about My Quick Writes: For INSIDE WRITING by Donald Graves and Penny Kittle, I decided to give quick writes a try in my classroom.
I began by introducing the idea to my students. I told them that I would be projecting some ideas for writing, but they did not have to use them. They could write about anything they wanted, as long as they wrote for ten minutes, without stopping! To my surprise, they were actually very excited. I think that a lot of my students struggle with what to write, as they have very little experience with writing workshop. They still have the feeling that writing must be about something big and important and that their lives are neither big nor important. The moment I gave them suggestions, I saw a light bulb go off in their heads.
That first day, we all wrote for 10 minutes, with the lights off (at their request). We then shared. The enthusiasm in the room grew by leaps and bounds as each child decided to share their writing. About half of the students took the ideas I gave them and used them as a starting place. The rest had their own ideas. Regardless of what they used to get started, their writing was great! I was so proud of them and they were just as proud of themselves.
The next day, they asked if we could do quick writes again. I agreed, and the results were just as enthusiastic. It seems that due to their lack of experience with a workshop setting, quick writes really help them feel comfortable with writing. Needless to say, I decided to take this idea and run with it!
I remembered that Stacey at Two Writing Teachers had mentioned giving one of her students some quick writes when they struggled with writing Slices of Life. After a quick search, I found her post and was inspired. Knowing that winter break was coming up and wanting to keep my students writing, I decided to assign a few notebook entries over break. As much as I hate assigning entries as “work”, I have to come to terms with the fact that I am teaching my students how to function in a workshop. I can not teach as if they have had years of experience with writing workshop! So, I typed up a quick packet. And using prompts from Graves and Kittles book and very other sources, I put together what I hope will inspire my 35 students to keep writing over break,
As most of my students will be celebrating with friends and family for the holidays, I figure that quick writes are simple enough to complete during the odd moment of downtime. While they groaned at first (homework? over break?), most were satisfied when I pointed out that I would not allow them to spend more than 10 minutes on any quick write! They are to complete at least four entries over break, and can use the suggestions/prompts as needed. I know that some students won’t need the prompts and ideas at all, while others will be very grateful for the guidance and inspiration they provide.
Come January 5th, I am very interested to see the results of this. It’s the first time I have assigned writing homework over an extended break like this and I am hopeful that it will be a success!
My students are working on persuasive letters right now in writing workshop. In the past, I always focused the unit on letters to the editor and letters to our school principal regarding issues in our school. This year, after reading Stacey’s posts and Writing to Persuade: Minilessons to Help Students Plan, Draft, and Revise, Grades 3-8, I decided to have my students write to various companies of their choice. I shared Ruth’s post about Stacey’s awesome student and told my students that we would be writing to companies that they felt could help our school.
WOW! My students are doing an amazing job so far. They are engaged, enthusiastic, and begging to write everyday. Their letters are awesome so far. They are asking for donations of books for our school and classroom library, improvements to our school bathroom, and so much more. I promise to share some of their letters once they are completed, but I am just in awe so far. Writing to Persuade: Minilessons to Help Students Plan, Draft, and Revise, Grades 3-8 has been a great addition to my arsenal of professional resources and I am using a lot of mini-lessons and ideas to shape the unit. I highly recommend reading it!
According to a recent study by the National Survey of Student Engagement, when students are engaged in a variety of writing assignments, they are more likely to synthesize, analyze, and perform a variety of other higher level thinking. While the study focused on college undergraduates, I can’t help but think that this must be true for younger students, too. I see the results of increased writing in my own classes. My students are more engaged, more knowledgeable, and more passionate when they write.
So keep writing!
This year I have a lot Twilight fans in my class. Always one to try and rope the kids into a lesson by using something they are interested in, today I gave a mini-lesson on point-of-view using Twilight and Midnight Sun.
For the past few days my class has been immersed in an exploration of persuasive texts. We have read a variety of persuasive texts and learned about propaganda techniques, learning to debate and hold conversations about the texts we read, and annotating nonfiction texts. While trying to figure out the best way to present point-of-view and bias to them, I remembered an idea I had a few months ago. Seeing as the Twilight movie was released just last week, this seemed like the perfect occasion to try out a new mini-lesson. Below you will find an abbreviated version of the lesson.
Teaching Point: Writers apply their knowledge and understanding of point of view by writing a story from the perspective of the main characters.
Connection: Over the last few days, we have been exploring various types of persuasive writing. We have read about a lot of controversial topics and we have defended out positions using evidence from the text. However, something we haven’t talked about is point-of view.
Have you ever gotten into a fight with your brother or sister? I bet your mom or dad broke it up and then asked what happened. You probably blamed your sister and she probably blamed you. And your mom ended up hearing two completely different stories about the same event! Today I want to teach about point-of-view and how it influences an author’s writing, just like it influences the explanation you give your mom.
Teaching: When you read a text, you always need to remember that the author is writing from their point-of-view, or with their own bias. This should always be in the back of your mind while you read any text. Even fiction is told from the point-of-view of the character telling the story!
I am going to share with you one of my favorite examples of point-of-view. I’m sure most of you have heard about Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, the main characters of “Twilight”. What you may not know is that Stephenie Meyer is working on a new book, called “Midnight Sun”, which will tell the same story as “Twilight”, but from Edward’s perspective. Together, we are going to read one scene from Bella’s perspective, as she spends her first lunch in the cafeteria at her new school. Then we will read the same scene from Edward’s point-of-view.
(Read scenes with class)
Did you notice how the story was completely different, even though both characters were in the same place and experiencing the same situation? That is the difference that perspective can give!
Link: So readers and writers, today and everyday, you should remember that every story and text is written from a specific point-of-view. That perspective can be biased and you need to remember this!
To practice, tonight I want to you imagine that you are one of the characters in “Little Red Riding Hood”. You will choose three of the characters (Little Red Riding Hood, woodcutter, Grandma, the wolf) and write one scene from each of their perspectives. Put yourself in their shoes and write in their voice, from their viewpoint. How would the wolf see the scene when Little Red Riding Hood first knocks on Grandma’s door? How would Little Red Riding Hood see it? Have fun, and tomorrow we will share!
-This lesson was inspired by Twisting Arms: Teaching Students How to Write to Persuade