Friday, August 30, 2013

September: It's Chicken Month and Other Fun Journal Prompts!

For all of my teaching career, whether I was teaching high school seniors or elementary students, I have used a writing journal in my classroom.  As a child, my personal journal, or diary as I called it, was a place where I not only recorded my deepest emotions, but also where I would draft poems and stories.

I view a writing journal as a place where students can safely take risks, experiment with new vocabulary, sight words, spelling words, grammar skills, and writing techniques.  It is not my journal, but the student's and becomes more of a writer's notebook as the year progresses.  I do not grade journals, but I do monitor them, walking around the room as my littles are writing and will have students bring the journal to Guided Writing or Writer's Workshop conferences.  I want students to have an invested interest and complete ownership of the journal.  If I provide too much structure and hover over their every writing move, I will not accomplish this goal.

The journal, without me formally grading the entries, provides an effective assessment tool.  When I conference with a student or when I casually glance at entries, I can discern strengths and weaknesses.  For example, if I give students a prompt, I may also ask students to use a word or words from our word wall, a few spelling words, or for older kids a metaphor. This is better than any test!  For, if my goal in teaching students spelling words is for students to use the word correctly and spell it accurately in their writing (applying the skill), the journal provides a much more authentic assessment tool.

Making the journal fun is a must!  I like to give my students fun, motivating prompts and also allow for free writes.  When I taught the intermediate and middle grades, I always had a "Free Write Friday", which was wildly popular with students because they had complete choice in what they would write about that day.  These free write days also allowed me to see which students struggled with choosing a topic to write about and allowed me to address this in Guided Writing groups or in Writer's Workshop.

With all of this in mind, I created my August and September writing prompts packets for students in grades kindergarten to second.


 This set has you covered for one prompt a day plus extras for the whole month of September, which just happens to be Chicken Month!  In the packet, you will find (24) writing prompts with various writing formats such as writing words in a thought bubble, informative writing, making a list, labeling a picture, how to writing ("This is how I make a cheeseburger" for National Cheeseburger Day!), narrative writing, and opinion/persuasive writing.  All prompts in this packet are in black and white to save you ink and to allow students to color.

In addition, you will find a free write/ free choice page that you can use as many times as you want. You also find stationery sheets done in color for your own writing prompts or to use if you have students take one of the writing prompts to final copy.

 

I have a FREEBIE for you!  Click here to download a sample page from my packet.  It is an opinion prompt for Chicken Month that I think you and your students will love!

How do you use writing journals in your classroom?  Leave a comment and share your ideas!
 

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

First Week of School and I am Home

School started this week and I am at home.  This is the first time in eight years that I haven't started the school year.  It is also only the second time in 25 years that I haven't started the school year!  Some of you may know that I resigned from my teaching position last spring due to health and personal reasons. Although it was by far not an easy decision to make, I felt called to be home with my family and to devote all of my time and energy to them.  It is a decision that I in no way regret and I am already seeing such positive effects with my boys.  But, it still makes me a little sad and truth be told, I really miss working with my sweet little ones each day!

However, I have been busy, as you can imagine a mother to three boys is!  I also have created and updated some of my resources and want to share that with you.

First up, I added a few more pages to my Lunch Box Love Notes that I created last year.

My two youngest boys are in first and second grades.  I made these cute little fish tags (as seen on Pinterest!) and stapled them to a little bag of Goldfish for the first day of school.  It was a BIG hit with the boys!


Today I slipped in a little KitKat bar into their lunch box for dessert and taped the "sweet day" note (see above) onto the bar.  I have (19) pages of notes for all seasons. My seven year old will often write me a short note and return it to me at the end of the day!  Click here to download the newly revised file~ it's a FREEBIE!!  In addition, many of these can also be used by teachers to give a little, encouraging "happy note" to their students.

Although my boys love to learn and to read, I often have to take a round-about and rather sneaky approach to get them to work on their math facts or complete their nightly reading.  Here's what I often do:  I will randomly place an activity packet or book on the kitchen table, their desk, or the coffee table.  Their curiosity will take over and they will ask about it.  I guess it is a control thing, but they are more willing to play an educational game or read if it is their idea and they initiate it.

Take Shuna P's Gangnam Math Facts activity/game.  My boys have been obsessed with "Gangnam Style" for what seems like all their young lives.  This game was SO MUCH fun to play with my second grader!  I SO wanted to video him dancing, but he would not let me.  He was very engaged and even wanted to solve my math facts cards.  If you haven't checked this out, click the link above.  It's a hoot!




Silly dancing!


Another thing I will do is place books on a plate stand and place on the coffee table- right beside the remote control where they are sure to see it!  At least one of the books is sure to grab their attention and they will most likely start reading or ask me to read to them!




One such book that my boys LOVED was Jack Prelutsky's My Parents Think I'm Sleeping.  A book of bedtime poems, once again this beloved Poet Laureate shows us that he still remembers what it is like to be a kid!  With titles like "Chocolate Cake" and "When I'm Very Nearly Sleeping", my children loved reading aloud with me and giggled themselves to sleep!  If you want to check it out, click the link below!




It's been a productive week so far, and my boys are adjusting to living in a new town, a new home, and attending public school for the first time.  Silliness prevails in our house!




Have a blessed day... you're half way through the week!

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Read to Self: Why I Don't Micromanage Book Selection

Frame:  Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts
Independent reading. D.E.A.R.  Read to self. S.S.R.  No matter what you label it, there is no arguing that giving students quality time to read is not only important, but is critical to reading development and to fostering an authentic love of learning in our students. This summer I read Donalyn Miller's wildly popular The Book Whisperer and have blogged about it numerous times. Two major points from her book that resonated with me are~

  •  Miller cites researcher Stephen Krashen who identified fifty-one studies that “…prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program” (p .3).


  •  An effective literacy program focuses on engaging students, not writing “pretty” novel units. Students’ goal: read for pleasure, not to complete endless activities.  Let me (Lauren) clarify:  this does not mean that students never respond to their reading, complete vocabulary tasks, or are not held accountable for their reading, comprehension, and learning.  However, students are not bombarded with endless activities that diminish the pleasure one gets from reading.


For years, I have not only promoted and allowed for a large chunk of time of uninterrupted reading time in my classroom, but have also been a strong advocate of reading at home as well.  Whether students are reading in class or at home, the number one motivator is student choice.  Allow students to choose books that interest them and there is a very, very strong likelihood that they will actually complete the reading.  I do not hover over my students micromanaging their book choices, much as Miller stated in her book. Whether I am teaching a reading/language arts class or instructing an intervention group, they know that they are expected to read at home.  They also know that I trust them to make good decisions. Of course, this is after modeling and supporting them with how to choose an appropriate text that interests them and is a "good fit".  And I am talking about kids from ages four to eighteen.

With elementary students (and the preschool enrichment students I have worked with), I guide their choices, keeping in mind their reading level and interests, but I always, always allow them to choose a book that they want to read, even if it appears to be too easy or too difficult.  If they are reading at a Guided Reading level of  "F" and they want to take home a chapter book, I allow them to do so. If they are begging me to reread an easy picture book, I allow them.  But why?
  • Because I feel that motivation to read/learn is paramount.  Students may choose a chapter book even though it is beyond their instructional or easy level, because they feel proud to have a chapter book and view themselves as a reader. Maybe they want to be accepted by their peers and fit in with their classmates who are already reading these more challenging books. If students do not view themselves as a reader and are not motivated to read, they will not choose a chapter book, something that is much longer and intimidating than a book that is on their easy level. My first goal with any student is for them to view themselves as a reader, no matter what their reading level and to be interested in selecting books to take home to read.
  • Because they must see reading as enjoyable if they select a book and beg me to allow them to take it home or read in class. There is no way that I will squelch that enthusiasm.
  • Because I know that by rereading books, reading books that are too easy, and choosing to read books that interest them, they are building fluency, and may for the first time actually find reading to be pleasurable.
Parents sometimes are concerned that the books their child is reading is too easy.  My response:  "But they are reading, enjoying it, and are identifying themselves as a reader.  Isn't this what it is all about?"  Miller states:  "They [students] must choose and read many books for themselves in order to catch the reading bug". (p.77)

 Now, this does not mean that I allow students to choose easy books or reread books all year long.  Not at all. Once the student is "hooked", I can then nudge them toward books that are on their reading level and provide more of a challenge.  But if I don't have their buy-in, if they don't sincerely develop an interest in reading, then I can dictate their reading choices all I want or limit them to books at their exact level, and they may or may not read and they most likely will not enjoy the experience. Usually, we will compromise.  They will select a book they want to read and I will urge them or require them to take home a book that I want them to read (because it is on their easy level, allows them to practice/apply a skill or strategy we have been learning in class, etc.).

To communicate with parents and to not cause confusion, I place little notes inside the front cover of the books the students take home.  This allows the parents to know if the book is too hard and they need to read it aloud to their child, if they may need just a little help, or if they can read the book independently.

The notes I use look like this~

Frame:Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts; Graphics:  Scrappin' Doodles





As students are selecting books to take home, I simply place one of the notes inside the front cover as in the above picture.  Eventually, even the little ones can do this independently.

Click here to download a copy of the notes from Google Drive.  You can print them on card stock and laminate for durability.  They should also print out nicely in black and white or gray scale.

How do you manage take-home reading?  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks!
 
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Labor Day Informational Reading and a FREEBIE!



I have a new resource that I just finished that is part of my "Curious Kids" series.  These products are nonfiction/informational reading literacy packets that include an original printable book/text and activitiesDesigned for first and second grades, they can also be used as a read-aloud with kindergarten students and for reading intervention with older students.  Although these texts are written specifically for small group instruction, they are flexible enough to use with your whole class, for 1-1 instruction, and in literacy centers.

My newest item is just for Labor Day!  It includes a simple, brief history of this holiday and a little about community helpers.




The text is written in booklet form~ just print and staple together for a large booklet, or cut-apart and staple for a smaller booklet.  It is available in both color and black and white.


Included are activities for before, during, and after reading such as vocabulary, a graphic organizer to assess prior knowledge, and task cards for completion after reading.



In case you want to see more, click the picture below to see the listing at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.




Finally, I have a FREEBIE for you!  Click here to download a community helper poster!

Graphics by Scrappin' Doodles.  Fonts by Kimberly Geswein (KG) Fonts

Wishing you a marvelous Monday!

Enjoy!

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