Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sequencing the plot's events with The Sweetest Fig

So I'm sitting here in my house, drinking White Zinfandel (what else) and watching SVU. It's like a blast from the past. Because this is what I love to do when I blog. Except today, I am not completely doing what I love to do. Because there is a mosquito in this house. I HATE MOSQUITOES. They eat me up. I just got up from the computer to spray myself with Off! And I'm INSIDE my house! Arrgh!

Anyway...

The last two weeks have been a little hectic. One of our kindergarten sections was too small and had to close, and one our fourth grade sections were too large and we had to open a new one. That means - have you guessed it yet? - that our kindergarten teacher had to move to fourth grade. Three weeks after school started. WHAT?! I know. In her shoes, I would've cried. Daily. Like, every day all the time. She's been a trooper and so lovely to work with!

Anyway, to help her with the transition, and the kids too, I spent reading and writing in her classroom for about two weeks. And I LOVED it! Oh, I can't tell you how much I miss having a class of my own. 

So I had a blast. We were working on the idea of plot, which I connect very tightly to fiction structure. Fiction structure, as you've probably heard, can be very clearly represented with Freytag's Pyramid, which looks like this, basically:


The pyramid includes a few basic pieces.
Exposition: we are introduced to the main character, their trait, their motivation, and the setting.
At the end of the exposition, we find the problem. This is often the opposite of what the character wants. 

Then there's rising action. During this time, the problem grows or the character tries to solve it.
At the point of the climax, the problem has reached a peak point. Either it will be solved (often by a decision the character makes), or it will be impossible to solve by the character. Either way, there is a resolution to the problem.

Then there's falling action - we often find evidence for the character's change here. They usually learn some sort of lesson from the way the problem was resolved, and the outcome of the resolution can also be found here, at the end of the story.

To help students understand what to focus on, that is, what is important for summarizing the plot's events, we focus on five main elements:

Main Character
Goal/Motivation
Problem/Conflict
Solution/Resolution
Outcome & Lesson Learned

We color code it, just like above. And we chant it, and we sing it, and we dance it, and we gesture it, and we write it over and over to make sure they know what to look for in fiction! I connect these elements to Freytag's Pyramid like this:

The story that we used last week to discuss the plot's main events was The Sweetest fig by Chris Van Allsburg. I personally love Chris Van Allsburg and most of his books. They are so very teachable! 

And, best of all, it's available in English and Spanish!

Anyway, I started by making copies of the pictures from the story - not all the pictures; just some important ones I thought were necessary to retell the plot's main events. I showed students the cover of the book, and then I had students in groups sequence the events in the order they predicted they might happen in the book.

And then we read. Students re-sequenced the events based on the story. To help them connect to the pyramid, I took a set of the pictures that were sequenced and we discussed each one. I asked, "What purpose did this event serve in the story?" or "Why did the writer include this event in the story?" "Where does it belong on our fiction story map?" and we placed them on the map.

 By the end of day one, students had identified which events represented the main events of the story's plot: who the main character was, what his traits were and what he wanted (motivation). They identified the problem and noticed how it grew. They explained the solution to the problem, and realized that it wasn't pleasing to the main character! Then they described the outcome. 

Come back again in a few days to read about what we did to help students take these events and summarize their reading!

Happy Teaching!
 
 
Pin It

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bright Idea: Creative Writing Response for Any Book





It's another Bright Ideas Link-Up! I'm so excited to participate in one of the best link-ups I've seen. Teachers share great ideas from their classrooms, and not a product in sight. Just lots of super ideas for the classroom! 



My post today is a simple strategy to help students respond to any text, whether it's a poem, a story, or even informational text. We used it last year to respond to this book: A Perfect Season for Dreaming by Ben Saenz. 


The beauty of this strategy is how accessible it makes writing to kids with limited vocabularies. Here are the steps:

1. Set your purpose for reading: to notice and record interesting words. As you read the book aloud to the students, record the interesting words they enjoy on index cards. Each group of students can create their own set of index cards, if you'd like, or you can make a class set. 



2. Sort the words. To help students understand their new words and their usage, sort them into different groups. We sorted into different parts of speech: verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.



And then we sorted into different tone words: positive and negative. 


4. Use the words to create a poem. Students can use the words on the cards to create lines in their poem. They can also add words to help their poems make sense.


This was the poem that we made out of these cards:

Summer arrives, bursting into flame.
Colors escaping from every bloom.

The cloudless sky
is shot with yellow sun.

How easy is that?! And yet, the kids really took off and shared some beautiful writing! One of our third grade teachers had students use the words to write about a special relationship they shared with someone else, because the book, A Perfect Season for Dreaming, describes the relationship between the grandfather and the granddaughter. Through using these words, students were able to describe their relationships beautifully and with complex language. 

I hope you try it! If you do, I'd love to see pictures!
If you enjoyed this post, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or TPT!
For more bright ideas from more than 100 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a grade or topic that interests you! Thanks for visiting the Bright Ideas Link-Up!
Pin It

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Schoolwide Writing Contest: The Best Part of Me


Last year, we hosted our first school-wide writing contest. The prompt was something my principal found that could be accommodated to suit writers of all levels: The Best Part of Me. 
This prompt is general, yet personal. Students can share as much of their souls as they choose, so it made a beautiful end-of-year writing piece, but I could see it serving well at the beginning of the year, too, to help you "get to know" your kids, and to help them see each other as real people. And because you would model, model, model, they would get to know you, too!
I recommend reading at least two books to help activate language and ideas. A couple of the books I pulled out and put into a basket for our teachers were:
And this one, although I haven't read it, looks like it would serve really well!


As you read and activate language and ideas, chart them out! These are a couple sample charts.
This is a sample I provided my teachers with: During a class conversation, chart out the different body parts and the reason that part is the best part of you! 




One of my teachers built this chart with her kids to help them think of options. 





And if you're ever stuck for inspiration, PIN! These are some of the great pins that helped our teachers think about helping students write in response to this prompt:

Each teacher selected one piece to represent their class. I am not sure how they did this. I only had to choose between five or six for each grade level and it was excrutiating. How they chose between twenty or so kids is pretty impressive.

I mean, I know they used a rubric. I just think it's hard.

From there, we chose a grade level winner. This posed another challenge. I am working on it, but I am not yet a fluent Spanish speaker or reader, as many (over half) of our students are. Kids in grades K-4 wrote their pieces in Spanish if they were in a bilingual classroom setting. I had to call in for (bilingual) reinforcements to help me judge the pieces to make sure everybody had a fair shot!




Each grade level winner received a "First Place Winner" certificate and each class winner received a "Distinguished Writer Award". 

This piece, albeit short and simple, was especially moving. The student who wrote this piece is not used to winning much of anything, really, and his smile stretched from ear to ear when he went up to receive his certificate. 

Here's an adorable display that one of our teachers created out of their students' work!

Pin It