Memoir Writing

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!

Quick Writes

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!

Persuasive Letter Writing

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!

Writing Leads to Deeper Learning

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!

Point-of-View Twilight Lesson

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.

Materials: Copies of the cafeteria scene from Ch. 1 of Twilight and copies of the same scene from Midnight Sun., writing notebooks, assignment sheet

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 


Personal Essay Publishing Party

This week we celebrated publishing our personal essays.  I am so proud of the work my students did!  Enjoy some pictures of our celebration.  :)

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Personal Essay Unit of Study

Right now, we are working on personal essays in writing.  I am using the UOS Personal Essay (Calkins) book as my basic skeleton, tweaking where needed.  Today, my kids began drafting their thesis statements.  I am so impressed with the work they were doing!  Some of their ideas were just phenomenal!

Some of the ideas so far:

  • Many families today are complicated, but half-siblings, step-parents, and significant others are all real family to many kids.
  • The state should not be allowed to mandate the snacks permitted in school, especially for celebrations and birthdays.
  • Kids should be allowed to vote in the presidential election
  • School lunches should be healthier.
  • Older siblings are a pain in the butt.
  • Our school should offer movies at lunch time.
It was amazing to watch my students really push their thinking this week.  At first, they struggled with their daily entries, complaining that they were really hard.  But once we did a lesson on pushing our thinking with conversation prompts, it was like the floodgates opened!  The thinking has gotten deeper and the ideas have just been astonishing.  
Tomorrow we will take a break from our essays to work on some election ideas (thanks for the inspiration, Stacey!)  But I can’t want to get back into our essays next week and see where these first-draft theses lead!
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