Thursday, October 31, 2013

Guest Post Artistry of Education: Integrating Poetry with Content, Reading and Writing

I enjoy reading and writing poetry and I share this love with my upper elementary students.  I find that even reluctant writers are willing to try these short pieces.  Also, I can teach all sorts of language lessons: personification, metaphors, similes, parts of speech, syllabication, and using dictionaries.

For most of my twenty plus years in the classroom, I have taught poetry units in four ways:
  • At the beginning of the year to teach writer's workshop expectations and routines
  • As stand alone mini-lessons in between longer writing projects
  • During the month of April which is National Write Poetry Month
  • At the end of the year where we create a memory eBook to share on our class website
In the last year or so, I have been exploring forms of poetry that fit with my science and social studies units.  Students get all the benefits of poetry I mentioned, plus they have a different way of expressing what they have learned.

A free example unit where I incorporated science content with poetry is Arctic Word Sort.  Students sort vocabulary words by part of speech and syllable.  Then they create poetry that shares facts about what they learned about this environment.

Another form of poetry that works well with content reading and writing is the clerihew.  A clerihew is a humorous four line poem about a famous person.  The end of the first line contains the name of the person.  The second line rhymes with the first.  The third and fourth lines rhyme and tell more about the person.  Here is an example:

A team named Lewis and Clark
Decided they'd make their mark
They journeyed across the land
And returned later than they planned.
If you would like to contact me about integrating poetry into your lessons or other writing lessons I have created, you can find me at my blog Artistry of Education
Hope to see you there,
Mary Bauer

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Solution to Messy Desks

Does helping your fourth grader learn organizational skills ever feel like a losing battle?  For years I have felt that way.  I have color coded folders, notebooks, Catch Up folders and a list of "items you may keep in your desk."  I have a dedicated whiteboard that details what paper belongs in which colored folder at any given time. 

And yet when I tell students, "Put this paper in your yellow writing folder," there is always a handful that decide to use the transition time to chit chat and pop the paper in their desk instead of making the effort to take out their yellow writing folder. Which the next day results in, "I can't find my paper; can I get another one (not to mention the implied, "Can I also have another half hour to catch up")?  What's a teacher to do?

In the past I've been able to help those kids who need extra time to clear out a desk they did not organize with the rest of the class; I just stayed in the room with them during recess time.  However with changing duty schedules, I no longer have that luxury.  Therefore I had to develop a system to scaffold this organizational process.  My solution to this problem was to create a mini instructional manual:  "How to Clean Your Desk."

The instruction manual includes step by step directions for how to clean out a desk that needs some work (dump all your stuff all over the floor is not one of those steps) as well as a photograph of what a neat desk looks like.  I double sided this resource when I printed them off so that the result looks like a card (I also edged it all in Washi tape to make it look more attractive and less like a punishment).

I printed 4 of these instruction manuals, (they come 2 per page) and before I go home each afternoon I check a single group of desks.  If a student has any loose papers, I leave one on their desk.  Then when they come in the next morning, they need to clean their desk out.  It might be worth missing Morning Work some days, other days they will need to miss Morning Meeting (which includes a game, so of course they are motivated to get organized more quickly).  The result is every group gets checked once per week, so no one ends up with a "black hole" by the time midterm rolls around.

If you are interested in this resource I'm making it available for free for a limited time!  You can download my How to Clean Your Desk Instruction Manual here.  It's a great little companion to my Organizational Tools Bundle. 

The instruction manual has been a hit in my room this year.  How do you help keep your students on track? 

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest Post: Revision Tips from Ladybug's Lounge

Hello, I am Rebecca from over at Ladybug's Lounge.  I teach 4th grade and am so excited to be a guest poster here today!  I teach at a school with a low-income population and a lot of ESL students.  It can be a challenge to help my students write stories and essays that are free of errors and full of their best ideas, especially if they still struggle with even speaking in English.  Over my past 6 years of teaching, though, I see better and better results every year.  I wanted to share a few of my top tips for getting impressive results from your little authors.

Tip #1: Create a "Writer's Toolbox" anchor chart for students to refer to.

As I teach my students more and more strategies for writing quality personal narratives, such as Show, Don't Tell; Use Your Magic Camera; Interesting Leads; Use Transition Words; etc, it becomes harder and harder for my students to remember everything they know how to do!  So I create an anchor chart called "Writer's Toolbox" with all of the strategies we have learned good authors use.  When it is time for students to revise, I encourage them to go to the chart and look for one or two things they want to focus on improving in their rough draft.  This really helps them understand what "revision" means.

Tip #2: Add symbols to the Writer's Toolbox chart.

I add little symbols for each skill, such as a thought bubble for "Add a thoughtshot" and a camera for "Add a Snapshot."  These symbols help my students remember the skills, especially my ESL students.  I encourage students to actually use the symbols in their rough draft to show what strategies they worked on improving.  Then, when they have their final copy conferences with me, I can see exactly what they were trying to work on.

Tip #3: Let your students guide their own revisions.

When I first started teaching writing, I used to read over my students' papers and TELL them what I thought would improve their writing.  After attending a weeklong Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop training in NYC, I realized that my strategy only helped students improve that current paper.  It didn't help improve the actual writer.  So now, when I have conferences with my students, I always begin by asking them, "What have you done in this story that you are proud of as a writer?"  Then I ask, "What is something you still want to work on improving on as a writer?"  If they are struggling to think of ideas, we walk together over to the Writer's Toolbox anchor chart.  That always helps them think of one or two goals.  Of course, I do still need to guide their writing a little bit, especially because in TX my students are tested in Writing.  So I will always write one or two positives I notice in their stories with a + sign, and one goal I have for them with a little triangle symbol.  I find that this structure for conferences really helps students grow the most as authors by the end of the year.

Tip #4: Let students get revision ideas from their classmates.

At least 3 times a week, my students either meet with their writing partners or get a chance to share something they're proud of in our Author's Chair.  If meeting in partners, I teach students how to discuss their writing, ask for help, and offer suggestions for revision.  If students are sharing in the Author's Chair, I ask students to notice what the writer did well.  I also give them a chance to offer suggestions.  For example, one student had written that his fish tasted "good."  Several students offered suggestions for improvement, such as the fish was "juicy," "salty," or "bursting with buttery goodness." The author went right back to his seat to revise his story.  What's better than a live revision taking place right there in front of everyone!

I hope these tips will help give you some ideas for teaching your students how to revise.  I find that it is the hardest skill to teach in writing, but with these tips, I have students doing 2, 3, even 4 drafts of a paper before they move on to their final copy!  They are really understanding the writing process this year.  For more upper grades ideas, please come visit me at my blog Ladybug's Lounge.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

FALLing into a Giveaway!

Happy weekend! The bloggers at All Things Upper Elementary are FALLing into a Giveaway just for you!

Some of us have come together and hidden a "Secret Fall Phrase" in our blog posts to share with you what we love most about Fall.

Here is what YOU need to do to enter. 

1. Click on the links below to visit each blogger's blog. Read through their post and look for this phrase, "The part I like best about Fall is _________." 

2. Keep a list of each of the 11 words. Come back and enter them in the first entry of the rafflecopter like this: leaves, weather, etc. Then complete as many of the other entries as you can to get an even higher chance of winning the prize!

So, what is the prize? We will be drawing for TWO $25 gift certificates to spend on TeachersPayTeachers. So 2 of our fabulous readers will have a chance to get some extra resources for their classroom! What are you waiting for? Start clicking and reading! Just click on the blog name below and find the word!

Heather at 2 Brainy Apples

Jamie at MissMathDork

Jennifer S. at 4mulafun 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Have you tried Readers' Theaters in your Upper Elementary Classroom?

Hi there!  Deb from Crafting Connections is back today...

A number of upper elementary teachers have told me that they have not used Readers' Theaters in their classrooms.  I must say, that surprises me!  I've experienced nothing but great success using these resources with my students.

I see several WINS for students when we do Readers' Theaters:
  • In my district, students are placed in guided reading groups through fifth grade.  With that, they almost always read with the same small group of students who read at the same level they do.  However, during those weeks where we take a break from Guided Reading for Readers' Theaters, students are very excited to be placed in different groups and enjoy getting to work with different classmates that week.  Along with that, I nearly always see students working together, helping one another with expression or a difficult word.
  • Struggling readers get the opportunity to listen to strong models reading.
  • If I instruct a student to reread a chapter from a book, they often see it as a chore or a punishment.  Readers' Theaters, on the other hand, are fun to reread again and again!  With each rereading, students' fluency improves.  My experience has been that their voice expression improves with each rereading, too.  As students become more comfortable with the words and plot, they begin to experiment more with their character's lines, adding more expression.
  • They provide a good opportunity for students to practice oral speaking skills (speaking loudly and clearly, lowering their script to belly-button level rather than having it right in front of their face).
  • Many students love to perform (often including those I would least expect)!  With that, students often appear more invested in a Readers' Theater activity, knowing that they will eventually be performing it for others, and they want to be prepared so they entertain their audience.
  • They provide a good opportunity to practice listening skills.  In fact, on the day of the performance, we usually begin by discussing characteristics of a good speaker/reader, AND the characteristics of a good audience member.
Are you interested in giving a Readers' Theater a spin with your students?  I've got two timely resources available for you to check out!  (Just click on the image to be directed to the resource at my TpT store.)

Also, hop on over to my blog for more detail on the Halloween Readers' Theaters BUNDLE - and an opportunity to win it!

I'm also offering a special deal on my Readers' Theater BUNDLEToday only, I am making it half-price!  For $11, you can have 14 original scripts (that's less than $1 per script!).

One more thing before I sign off:  Be sure to come back tomorrow to see how ATUE celebrates fall!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How are you Building Mathematicians of Tomorrow?

Wow, seems like forever since I have written here at ATUE since I have gone down to only writing once a month due to my schedule of training and consulting with teachers throughout the United States. As I have been traveling, I have been also talking to other educators not only getting to know them and their schools but also about their wants, needs and concerns about education.

When I was at my most recent Interactive Notebook workshop (for 6th-12th grade math teachers) I participated in a conversation at lunch about some of the concerns of students in middle school and high school when it comes to being prepared for the standards required and I was amazed that some of the many things that I was thinking about when I was in the classroom were shared by others.

While we were eating we started making a list of what we perceived to be some of the overall problems our students were having and how it affected their problem solving abilities in secondary math.

1. While in Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade, all subjects are typically taught by the same teacher who is in charge of not only making time to get all of the subjects in as required but also differentiate, modify, give benchmark testing multiple times per year and in multiple subjects all while juggling the needs of 20-30 students.

I know that when I was an elementary teacher (2nd and 5th) that there were days I never knew if I was going to get it all in much less to the depth and complexity that was needed so that students would not only understand what they were doing but also retain it for future years. Time was a BIG ISSUE.

2. Not all teachers are created the same. Different teachers have different strengths in their teaching and that shows in their students by what areas are typically more in depth and innovative because it is comfortable for the teacher. We also see a HUGE push for literacy in the younger grades which leads to help building mathematical comprehension eventually but also takes some of that precious time from building the foundation skills as those brains are forming  in the younger grades.

Secondary teachers, for the most part, are teaching a particular subject because that subject is their passion. I will be the first to tell you that Math has ALWAYS been a passion of mine and I have always gravitated toward it in my classroom because I love seeing that light in the eyes of a student when they grab onto something. I've also heard the woes of many teachers time and time again that they "just don't get" math beyond a certain point because they don't use it regularly and therefore what they teach they know because they teach it but not necessarily how it will affect them in further grades. Which leads me too....

3. It takes time to master the standards of the grade level(s) that we teach. It is not important to just know what our students need to master in our classroom this year but also how it will affect them in the following years. Math has so many foundation skills that if students don't master they will literally have gaps in their foundation that take years to fill in. 

Think about it... can you build a house on a foundation that isn't solid? Well, you probably could but over time it would grow weak and crumple under pressure. Wow, I will tell you that is an exact metaphor for what happens to so many students. They are not building a solid foundation in skills that are necessary to move on to further skills.

And now that I feel like I have shared a dissertation with you, I will share with you a quote of a book that I am reading right now...

"Students should be able to put mathematics to a functional use. They should have the ability to analyze, reason and communicate ideas effectively as they pose, formulate, solve and interpret solutions of mathematical problems in a variety of solutions."

To me this resounds so clearly with what our discussion was and how important it is that we help students build a connection between what we are teaching and the real-world so that it will click through visualization and allow them recall later.

Thank you so much for getting to this point of the blog post as I know it has been SUPER long. I would love to hear what you are doing in your classroom to help build future mathematicians.

Have a great day and make a new connection with someone today!

So, until next time...

Mathematically Yours,

Jennifer Smith-Sloane
aka 4mulaFun
4mulaFun on Facebook
4mulaFun on Pinterest

P.S. The Interactive Notebook Linky returns on October 28th over on my blog! Get your posts ready!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Estimating on Number Lines

I have found that estimating on a number line was a big shift for my class.  At first, they looked like EXPERT estimators; I was ready to hug their third grade teachers.  But then problems kept cropping up.  Why were they suddenly struggling?  Everyone knew that 48,053 rounds to 50,000 and everyone knew 21,923 rounds to 20,000. 

It was pretty clear that when I asked them to round 34,356 to the nearest hundred and suddenly they looked like deer in the headlights that place value was the issue.  Oh, they all whizzed through chapter 1 and knew their word form and expanded form and lined up numbers in columns like pros.  And we've practiced regrouping on a daily basis in our Every Day Counts routine.  But they are still not able to put it all together to really conceptualize how numbers differ.

To fix this I designed two activities.  The first was "Pin the Number on the Number line."  I started out with a single sticky note with the number 35,421 on it.  Then I created four number lines on sentence strips based on that number.  Each number line represented a different place value:
Ten thousands:  10,000  20,000  30,000  40,000 and so on.
Thousands:  30,000  31,000  32,000  33,000  34,000   35,000  36,000 and so on.

And so on for the hundreds and tens...notice that the original number will fit on both of the number lines.  All the number lines were designed to have a space where the given number would fit into. 

Next I wrote 7 more sticky notes that could all fit somewhere on the tens number line, since of course that line would have the most limited choice.

For the activity, I put a number line at each table and had students rotate through, working with a partner to determine where to place the sticky note would go each time, and record it onto their sheets.  As they finished they switched sticky notes with others to get more practice. 

This activity was simple enough for all students, yet it gave them the practice they needed to start looking at a number more than one way.  They had to switch the focus of the place value at each spot.  Since they already had the concept of the 5 determining if a rounded number is larger or smaller than the original, I didn't even focus on that in this lesson.  It was all about find the place value and determining what the higher or lower value was.  In fact, when they sat down and looked at their recording sheets with the higher and lower value their number fell between, they automatically made the connection to circle which of the two the number rounded to.

I had an extension activity that I cycled students through, which I wrote about on my other blog.  This estimating activity was also hands on, but instead of using number lines as a tool I used money to help us estimate!  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Guided Reading Organization

Hi guys! It's Jennifer from Teaching to Inspire in 5th. One of my favorite parts of the year is getting my guided reading notebook organized. I change some parts of it every year and keep some the same.

Let's take a quick peek inside my guided reading binder for this year.

My main goal when I get it set up is: Keep it Simple! I try to get it to the essentials that I need to maintain my records for each group. Here is what I include:

1. My first section contains my whole group data information such as guided reading levels, spelling levels, and any other whole group data that pertains to reading.

 2. The next section has a numbered tab for each student in my class. This is where I keep my running record data. I have a spreadsheet graph that I complete each time I do a running record and then I place the running record underneath the graph.

Under each tab you will find a graph of each running record and then the actual running record forms.

3. The next tabs are were I keep my group records and information. Each group tab contains four items: the current week's lesson plans, the list of books we have read as a group, my guided reading groups note page where I keep anecdotal notes on the group's progress and needs, and the independent reading conference forms for the students in that group. (I keep the independent reading conferences in this section because I complete those conferences once a week while they are back with me in their group.)

4. And finally I have a section in the back for blank forms.

And that is it! I keep it simple but organized.

What are some must haves that you include in your Guided Reading notebook or binder?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Solving problems or problem solving?

This week I attended a four day training  (YES--4 days of sub plans!!!!) that was geared toward developing our understanding of how children learn mathematics and how to troubleshoot when they are struggling.  The content was fantastic.  The instructor was amazing.  Now my brain is absolutely churning.  Are you like that after professional development?  You wish there was one more day tacked on so you could actually PROCESS the information so you could be more ready to apply it?

The course actually took me way back to my college days where I was very involved with the university and the people working with CGI (Cognitively Guided Instruction).  If you are unfamiliar with the work of Thomas Carpenter, I highly recommend you do some reading!  In fact, a big part of the mathematical understanding elements in the CCSS are based on his research.

The piece of information wiggling around in my brain is a quotation that I wrote down from our presenter.  I'm not sure if they are HER words or the words of someone else, but they are powerful and relate to the idea that we are teaching children traditional algorithms in math WAY too soon.  I've been following a little discussion about this on Facebook, and all of these pieces have me thinking a LOT about what I believe to be true.  Ready for the quotation?  Read it a few times.  I needed to.

"A written algorithm is meant to SHOW how you think, not to TEACH you how to think."

As I sat their thinking, my light bulb went on BIG time.  I have always introduced multiple ways for students to solve problems.  I love to hear how they think about math...but when it gets right down to it, at some point I do TELL them how to do it.  There are some fantastic articles and books written about how much damage can be done when we interrupt children's thinking and "sense making" to fit their learning into what the adults feel is the right way.  How many times have you seen a student do something goofy with an algorithm that makes no sense?  Or when you ask them how they solved it they reply, "I crossed out the 1 and made it a 0."  Or they shrug and can't even START to tell you!  We really need to stop and think as we push ourselves to do more and more with students that we don't forget that how they learn is more important than getting through the workbook!  Check out a few of these problems that have been eye openers for me over the last year.  How do students need to APPLY math understanding rather than simply solve a math problem?  Sometimes I feel we are "training" them to solve problems on the paper instead of coaching them to figure things out on their own.
Hardly any students in my class could solve this problem accurately last spring.  Guess what they put on the blue line?  2,500.  It's halfway, right?

How about this one?  You should have SEEN the ideas my students put on their sticky notes!  What a "red flag" for me!
Or this one?  I simply asked students to "Use your ruler to divide your paper exactly in half."  Wow.

Or this one!  My students had been DRILLED with the idea that fractions are equal parts.  Where did we go wrong?

So . . . I know this is a lot of rambling, but I would love to hear your thoughts!  Do you think we are conditioning children to try to just solve the problems on the page instead of being problem solvers?  As we move into the next generation of career opportunities, don't we want students with amazing number sense and problem solving--not just students who can solve it the way we (or the book!) teach it?  This is where I absolutely LOVE the Standards for Mathematical Practice--the content should be taught through the lens of mathematical thinking. that I have gone on and on and possibly not made much sense, what do you think?  I have worked hard to incorporate more constructivist work in my classroom, but I sure have a long way to go!

The fraction examples above are actually a part of a full month-long unit I wrote when I discovered how much my students really struggled with constructing meaning about fractions.  They could solve the problems on the paper, but I quickly learned that their understanding was marginal!  Check it out if you are's full of activities to help students develop their own number sense about fractions.  I've also included one of my freebies of questioning prompts that can help YOU help THEM to help THEMSELVES!   Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Language Arts...Fitting It All In!

Greetings Friends!
Mr. Hughes here of Created by MrHughes. I love my monthly slot here on ATUE! It is fun to share with you and learn from you. Today, I am going to address how I attempt to fulfill all the language arts requirements that are put on 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students.

Each year I get the opportunity to work with at least 60 students and open their eyes to the wonderful world of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and all the goodies that go with it. I LOVE teaching this subject. The students enjoy writing (well...okay, not at first, but by the end of the first week they are begging to share!) and learning.

So, if I could just let them write all day, I would totally have it made. But, dang it, I have to fit in that study of pronouns somewhere... or wait, what about correct tense verbs, or... oh yeah, expository formatting! I thought I was a total ninja at teaching this "stuff" and had no fear of my students testing. Yeah... THAT didn't pan out.

I knew when I saw my students test scores last year that something had to change, that I couldn't keep teaching the way I was teaching. I truly had felt that my kiddos were going to rock the test. After all, we had studied, written, studied, practiced, and more. But, then I saw the format for last year's test and realized, that while my kiddos KNEW A LOT ABOUT WRITING AND THE NEEDED SKILLS TO BE GOOD WRITER'S, I had failed them in the test application department. You know, the super nitty-gritty items. (We never get to see the test unless we peer over our students shoulders and try to see what is on them!)

This really bothered me. I pondered and thought, sketched, and stressed. What came about the realization that I needed to focus on 8 key components each day AND do my regular writing. I set to work and ended up with my Language Arts Daily Dose. I am only making a 6th grade set right now. (Side note: Even though they say 6th grade, they are perfect for 5th and 7th grades as well!) Even though they are crazy to make, I am seeing growth in my students! They are remembering more of the basics and what they mean- such as adverbs and test taking tips.

The eight key components that I work on Monday-Thursday with my 6th graders are:
1- Spelling
2- Punctuation/ Sentence Correction
3- Literary Terms
4- Quick Write
5- Cursive Reading and Writing
6- Parts of Speech
7- Testing Tip
8- Media Awareness/ Reference Materials Use
Fab Vocab: One new word per day. (These words cover Reading, Science, Math, and Affixes. This cross curricular connection makes this an even more valuable resource.) 

Here is an example page:

On Friday, I work on reviewing the skills of webbing, reading for meaning, supporting answers with text, and/or rough drafting.

It has been eyeopening to see how little my students know about media use and vocabulary words I would have guessed they had mastered! I am thrilled at how well they can talk about how to tell if a website is trust-worthy and about print and digital resources that are available to them.

I won't lie and say these only take 10 minutes. These take up to 15-20 minutes for the students to complete and then another 10 or so minutes to correct. Because I was running out of time each day, I switched how I was using them.

Now, I correct the previous day and assign the current day. So I correct Monday's on Tuesday and then assign Tuesday which we will correct on Wednesday. I let them work for 10 minutes in class on the current day. This lets them ask questions on problems that are confusing, etc. Then, what is not done, is assigned as homework. This has cut the time needed from 35-40 minutes to 15-20 minutes, and I can totally "sacrifice" 15 minutes to cover so many topics with my students.

So, now I don't worry as much about if I am getting it all in. I still teach grammar mini-lessons to really go indepth on some topics or to cover a topic that didn't seem to be as well received on the Daily Dose pages. I also have the pages in a spiral review so that they can't just learn it for the day and forget it.

So... what about YOU? How do YOU fit in all your language arts topics?
-Mr. Hughes

AND, as a bonus for being a loyal follower of All Things Upper Elementary, I am giving away ONE COPY OF EACH OF THE FIRST THREE SETS to ONE LUCKY WINNER! WAHOO! Go ahead and enter the raffle copter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tips for Writers in the Classroom

We've all had those students who are given a writing assignment and within five minutes tell you they're done.  As  you call them over to check their work, you notice errors in spelling, missing periods, and sloppy handwriting.  You're lucky if they even wrote about the topic you assigned!  After seeing the one incredibly long run-on thought  three to five sentences they have produced, you send them back to their seats to, "Do a better job.  Write more.  Add details."  Not surprisingly, at the end of the class it appears that the student has done nothing but stare at the paper for the entire forty-five minutes.  This situation can be frustrating and it happens all too often in upper elementary classrooms.  So what can be done to resolve this problem? 
If you click on the picture below, you can get my "Tips for Writing" poster for FREE!

This poster outlines some tips that will help your writers reflect and improve upon what they have written.  The first tip allows students to gauge the complexity of the sentences they have written.  Fifth graders, for example, should not be composing a paragraph completely of five-word sentences.  The second tip is often overlooked but easily accessible resource:  a thesaurus.  Students in the upper grades ADORE finding new words to use in their writing.  Caution:  At first, you may need to review the synonyms they have chosen to use.  Some do not flow or make sense in the context of what the student is writing.  Tip number three can be done quietly and with little disruption to the class.  Usually, after one minute of chatting with me, my students are ready to write and rarely come back for additional pointers.  Finally, students need to learn that feedback in writing is a good thing.  Authentic writers join with other writers to share and receive feedback.  Most of the time, fellow students are a tougher audience than I am!
Sometimes, you will have a few students who have completed their writing assignment and who have done an excellent job.  You don't want them sitting around waiting for the rest of the students to finish, so what do you do?  I usually assign a creative twist to the assignment that will take students the remainder of our time together to complete.  Just recently, I had some students finish writing about the thirteen colonies in social studies.  Quickly, I told them to compile their writing into a creative brochure.  The students got to work creating a cover and used their notes to divide their writing into sections/topics.  Some of them actually asked to work on their brochures for homework.  Of course, I said, "YES!"  Here is an example of what they did:

Our school recently purchased a series of guides for the classroom that have been a tremendous help for writing.  As many of you know, I am a fan of Lucy Calkins and these units of study are AMAZING!  I explain to my fifth graders who Lucy Calkins is and how she is going to speak to us through her writing.  As I read to the students in the mini-lesson, they are in awe.  Usually, you can hear a pin drop in my classroom because it is so silent.  As the exemplars are shown, they ask to move forward to view them a little more closely on the ELMO screen.  They are then able to return to their seats and write with a clear vision of where they are headed with their writing piece.  Here is a picture of the Units of Study for the upper grades.
  This resource, coupled with helpful posters/checklists and a chance to discuss writing with classmates equals a productive writing experience for students.  I hope you can use some of these ideas to help your students with writing.  No longer will you have them coming up to you after five minutes!  They may ask you for more time instead!  Happy Writing!

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