Saturday, February 25, 2017

Seuss DIY: Big Truffula Trees!

It's COMING! Read Across America is next week, so I thought I'd share a very easy DIY that I put together to decorate our hallways! 
I've seen these adorable truffula trees all over pinterest, from adorable pictures of peoples' classrooms and photos from blogs. 
To celebrate Read Across America, I thought I'd make a few to put outside our library! 

It was much easier than I thought it'd be. Here's what you need:
  • Pool noodles (I cut them down to make trunks of different lengths)
  • Masking tape (I used black and blue)
  • tissue paper sheets (the larger, the better)
  • floral wire
  • floral wire cutters
  • scissors



First, I took the masking tape and wrapped it around the pool noodles at a regular interval to make the little stripes you see on the truffula tree trunks.


Then, I followed the directions from this post from Martha Stewart to make the poofs on top of the truffula trees. It was surprisingly easy! For the first tree I made, I used a rounded edge, which made the petals on the poof look round on the ends, but for the others, I cut it into a pointy triangle, so it could look a bit more truffula-ish.

One of the steps in making the poofs is to wrap the floral wire around the middle of a stack of tissue paper. I left the ends of the wire very long, so I could use it to punch through the pool noodle and attach the poof to the top. I also only fluffed out the petals into one side, making a  180 degree flower, rather than a 360 degree flower, so I could lay the flowers flat against the wall.

I made six truffula trees of different colors in about an hour (maybe an hour and a half). Easy peasy!

We used our truffula trees to decorate the doorway outside the library. We covered the wall with a bright blue background, and layered on grass, little Seuss-like hills, and clouds to make a cute truffula scene.

What do you do to decorate for Read Across America? I know a lot of teachers decorate their doors. I'd love to see your photos!
Looking for more ideas? Check out my posts from the last few years!
 
http://buzzingwithmsb.blogspot.com/2015/03/all-things-seuss-19-ideas-for-dr-seuss.htmlhttp://buzzingwithmsb.blogspot.com/2016/02/19-more-ideas-for-celebrating-read.html
 
 
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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Writing Better Beginnings for Personal Narratives

Not too long ago, I had to write a script for our holiday program at school. 

"Me?" I asked. "You want ME to direct the Christmas play?"
Yes, they said. Because we don't want to anymore.
Hee-hee. That's how we get suckered, right?
Anyway, the point is that, before I wrote my play, I took a look at a few others. I asked the person who wrote last year's play if I could take a look at it and make sure I was on the right track. I thought about how the play had worked before, what went well, and how I could ensure that would happen again.
Basically, I looked to the experts.
That's what we want our kids to do when they write, too.  We want them to look to the experts to figure out what they did and how they did it, so they can use that inspiration in their own writing. It's called "Reading like a writer" and it's an important focus of our campus writing approach.
It starts with getting your mindset ready to read like a writer. We built this little anchor chart with kids - what do you think about when you're reading like a reader, and what do you think about when you're reading like a writer?
This requires a lot of modeling at first. Kids really need to think carefully about this mind shift! It's tricky to move from simply understanding and connecting to analyzing and thinking about, "What did the author do here? Why did they do it? How did they do it?"

We used this approach recently as we helped kids understand how authors begin their narratives. Starting with a few experts (Kevin Henkes, Jane Yolen, and Patricia Polacco), we analyzed the beginnings of their stories. 
Using this chart, we looked for the kind of beginning (Character description, setting description, and dialogue), what kind of details the author included in the beginning (usually who, when, where, and sometimes what is happening), and we critically analyzed to figure out why the author used that type of beginning.
This is the most difficulty part - understanding why an author would choose to write in the way he or she did. What is the impact on the reader? What are they trying to help us feel or see?

In their notebooks, kids had a typed-up copy of the beginning so they could annotate it as well and color-code it for "who", "when", "where", and sometimes "what".

And then we tried it! We decided to try out a setting description and brainstormed the kinds of details we could use our five senses to discover on a soccer field. We spent some time generating the language so we could use it to collaboratively write our beginning.



















And then we tried it out! Not my best work, honestly, (I mean, who likes to start with "one summer evening?!") but, as I always tell the kids, I can go back and revise when I've had some time to think of a more interesting idea. We start by getting it on paper, and we can - and should - always improve it. 



Then kids tried their own in their notebooks.



 What are your favorite mentor texts for narrative writing? Read more about our school's mentor text baskets here!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Scaffolding expository writing for struggling writers

Do you have kids who are trying to write well but struggle with keeping their writing focused and
organized? They start out writing about their favorite sport, baseball, and end up writing about how their hamster got stuck under the sink? Or their sentences are out of order, creating a disorganized mess?

I've worked with these students every year of my career - I think all of us have! I'd like to share with you the approach that's working for my kids.

For these students, I tried a differentiated approach to writing expository pieces. It's highly structured (you might say formulaic) approach. To be clear: I don't like to teach students a formula for writing! It's not real; they can do so much better with consistent instruction.

But to support those students who were significantly behind and struggled with simple sentence structure, organization, and coherence of their writing, I wanted to provide them with a very guided structure so their writing would make sense.

Because that's really what it is - when writing doesn't make sense to the reader, it's frustrating to the writer and they really don't know how to revise it. It's better to start with a scaffold before your writers get so frustrated. It's meeting their instructional needs through differentiation! (I wouldn't recommend doing this with all your kids! That's limiting your stronger writers.)

Setting a purpose for writing

First, we read the prompt. I have kids flip the prompt to write a topic statement that their whole piece will be about. We leave a blank so they can generate ideas to write about and fill it in later. I start with the topic statement so we stay focused! Example: My favorite season is _______________.

Generating ideas

Then, kids write a quicklist of all the ideas they can think of to write about. It's important to stretch their thinking - if they only think of one possible idea, they're stuck writing about that. Also, we're not doing much to grow their writing abilities if they write one idea and we accept it. We have to push for fluency of ideas! My quicklist included the four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall/autumn.

After that, we choose the one they'd like to write about (one they have the most to say about) and put it in the blank. That's the completed topic statement. My favorite season is spring! (I say that now, because I'm done with winter and ready for spring. Two months into spring, I'll be thinking, "When will it be summer already?!" And thirty seconds into summer, I'll be ready for fall. In the fall, I'll say, "Winter is my FAVORITE season!" I'm always excited for the start of the next season!

Kids put their topic in the middle of a donut map. Around the edges, they brainstorm any details they can think of related to that topic! Then, they use colored pencils (or in a testing situation, we use symbols) to bundle the ideas into like groups. For example, in my brainstorming donut, I came up with "gardening," "rain," "sun," "shorts," etc. Then, I bundled them into two main reasons: "I can garden in the sun," and "I can wear my favorite outfits." Brilliant, I know. It's not my most riveting piece, ok?

Students choose their strongest two reasons to move on to the planning stage.

Getting organized

After we have 2 main reasons (I keep it focused on a couple. I'd rather kids develop 2 reasons well rather than stringing along 5 ideas they don't have the time or energy to develop), we start our expository organizer. They build the 4-square organizer, including the sentence starters for each piece to help them stay focused and organized. This is what it looks like:

We fill in the 2 main reasons we came up with in the "Reasons" column. Then we go back to the introduction.

The introduction is a question. It can start with question words such as, "Do you-," "Can you think of-," or "Is there-." Then we plug the topic statement into the line under the question line. After they master this simple introduction, you can jazz it up by reading about the ideas here.

After that, students add in the details: why the reason is important to them, and an example for each reason.

At the end, students fill in the blank conclusion line by flipping the topic statement: In conclusion, spring is my favorite season.

Here's another sample where I wrote about my favorite place:



And this is how a student applied it to her own prewriting & planning:






















After we plan, we turn our plan into a four-paragraph draft. It's a start to a basic piece for students who are struggling with writing simple expository pieces. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

To guide students to deeper revision of their writing, check out my Expository Revision Guides on TPT, or watch this handy dandy video to learn about how to support kids in revising their writing!


https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Expository-Writing-Revision-Guides-2374129

 
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