Saturday, November 28, 2015

Getting Merry With December Journal Prompts

Journal writing is how we start our day in homeschool.  Just like when I was in the classroom, I use journal writing as a brain warm-up for the ELA block. I have used journals in numerous forms over the last 20+ years.  You can read about how I use journals and the research behind journal writing here.

I finished my latest monthly set of writing prompts for journals a month or so ago.  These December prompts feature special days in December such as Read a New Book Month, Christmas Card Day, Violin Day, and National Brownie Day as well as Christmas and a prompt for students to write about what holiday they celebrate.  There are enough prompts for each school day in December!

These prompts are very versatile and can be used in many different ways.  In previous years, I have printed the cover pages and glued to the outside of a folder.  The December prompts have two covers pages from which to choose:  an elf and a snowman.

There is a color version as well!

Then, I printed all the prompts and placed in the folder.  Or, you can staple all the prompts together.  And just like that, you have a whole month of journal or writing center writing!

Some teachers like to use the prompts in a writing center or for Quick Writes. This prompt resource was created for more informal writing, as the student does not go through all the steps in the writing process.  I do not grade the writing, but I have students share their writing with the class. It is a "safe" place for students to take risks (e.g., using dialogue in a story), flex their creative writing muscles, and to enjoy responding to fun prompts.It is also used to help develop writing stamina which then transfers to Writing Workshop. 

 The way I use these prompts for journal writing is more relaxed than our Writer's Workshop block.  However, many times this year, my son has asked to work on a journal writing to take through the writing process to a final copy.  That is exactly what I was hoping for:  that the daily journal writing would spark interest and passion in writing and that the journal would be used as a tool for Writer's Workshop.

Something else that I do this year is to always give my son the choice of which prompt he wants to do as well as giving him a "freewrite" option where he gets to choose the day's topic.  When we started at the beginning of the year, we had a "Freewrite Friday".  As the year has progressed, he has become more confident with his writing, and asks to write more and more freewrites. Of course, this may not work in your classroom depending on how you use the prompts.  An idea is to have several prompts available and allow students to choose one when using in a writing center. Choice is such a powerful motivator!  Students will write with more passion when they can choose a topic that interests them!  At the beginning of the year, it was too overwhelming for my son to choose a topic. So, the journal prompts really helped to scaffold his writing.  I supplied the topic and he concentrated on writing a response to the prompt.

This year, I'm doing something different.  I printed the prompts at 85% and they are glued in the journal composition book.  They are just the right size!

On some of the prompts there is room to write and draw!  All the prompts are done in black and white to save ink and to have students color when/if they have time. Some times my son will start by coloring for a minute or so as he thinks about what he wants to write.  Of course, I had to help him with time management so he didn't spend the entire writing time coloring!

I also included (10) stationery sheets done in color. I use these for final copies that the students complete.

Something else that I forgot to mention above is that we have been working on writing stamina in both journal writing and in Writer's Workshop.  My son now writes for five minutes with the journal writing.  I set a timer and when the timer goes off, he shares his writing with me.  I also encourage him to reflect on what was easy, difficult, and whether he enjoyed the topic and we can work through any difficulties he had and brainstorm solutions.  The next day, he can decide if he is going to add more to the previous day's writing.

I can't say enough about how much the journal writing has helped my 3rd grader to blossom into a more confident writer that is now enjoying writing!  I saw the same thing when I was in the classroom. 

You can click here to see the listing of prompts if you are interested.

Do you use journals in your classroom or at home?  Please share in comments how you use a journal!

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nonfiction Book Report Alternative: Making a Flip Book

I have never been a fan of the traditional book reports from way back when I was in school. You know the ones: write an essay, write a paragraph, chapter summaries, write answers to questions, etc. They can be very dry and let's face it, boring.  Instead, I am very vigilant about hooking readers and helping to sustain and increase their love for reading. Even before I read Kelly Gallagher's book, Readicide, I was very much aware of how we as teachers can kill a love of reading by assigning a barrage of worksheets and assignments to complete during and after reading.  It's something that I am very passionate about and have been over the course of my 26 year career. 

 Now that I am a homeschool mom to a 3rd grader whose love for reading is precarious at best, I have to be careful not to kill his new-found affinity for reading. However, just as I stated in the picture at the top of this post, I still have to hold him accountable for his reading, including his independent reading, our instructional reading, and the read-alouds I do everyday.  Just like when I was in the classroom, I allow him to have choice (within reason) and alter the ways in which we interact with a book as well as allowing for different ways for him to demonstrate his understanding. 

I do not assign lengthy packets for him to complete at the end of each book he reads. What I don't want to do is to kill the reader with 50+ pages to complete analyzing and dissecting every part of the story/book. Nor will I assign a plethora of questions for every chapter. Instead, I have a focus, what used to be called "teaching points" for each text he reads- whether it is a chapter book, picture book, a short reading passage, a nonfiction book, a content-area reading, poem, etc.  My first priority is to make sure he can demonstrate a deep understanding of the text (not necessarily all of the text). Sometimes I can accomplish that with having him write a response or two.  I realize that I am in the minority here and that many of you may disagree or may have your hands tied as to what and how you teach. But, this is what has worked for my students in general over the last 20+ years and is working in homeschool.

For this blog post, I chose to focus on nonfiction because just like other boys his age, my son loves to read nonfiction that interests him.  So, for the last month or so, he has been reading a lot of nonfiction for independent reading.  He is enjoying the "Who Was..." series and just finished Who Was Milton Hershey? ( a perfect choice to conclude our chocolate unit!). I also chose to focus on "book report" options for independent reading in htis blog post because this is our focus in homeschool ELA for this 2nd marking period. 

Remember the teaching points I referenced earlier?  When determining what after reading activity I want my son to focus on, I think about two things.  First, I think about why I want him to complete an after reading activity.  Is it to showcase his learning?  Demonstrate his understanding of the reading?  Have him extend his reading and learning by interacting with the text at a deeper level?  Second, I think about what the natural teaching points of the text are.  What aspects of the text are just "begging to be explained, shared, or discussed?". And just like in the classroom, believe it or not, time is a factor too when homeschooling. How much time can I allot to this activity?

Based on the answers to the above questions, I present a menu of activities from which my son will choose one. I do not assign an activity for each book he reads independently.  Sometimes he reads just for the pure enjoyment of reading. At his current rate of reading (2) books a week, it would not be feasible for him to be completing activities for each book he reads. At other times, I determine the after reading activity. Sometimes, we have a brief, informal discussion and at other times, he completes a more involved project, which I can integrate with other content areas and most likely with "specials" such as art.

A few of the activities that my son enjoys...

Nonfiction Book Report Alternatives
  • Discussion of what was learned, new information vs information that was in his schema, interesting information, questions he still has, why he did or did not enjoy the book.
  • Completion of a graphic organizer- Click here for free organizers.  I especially like the 3-2-1 Strategy. Also, check out the organizers on the Florida Center for Reading Research site.
  • PowerPoint, Glog, or Prezi presentation
  • Art project related to the text
  • Completing a foldable or interactive notebook type activity that can be glued into his reader's notebook

I found this Make a Flip Book tool from the Read.Write.Think website. See here for an overview of this online tool and lesson plans that use the Flip Book. Students can type and print, or you can choose the template you want and print.  Then students can draw (or use clip art like I did since I am artistically challenged!). You can also choose how many tabs you want.  I chose (6) for my example, but my son is only doing (4) since we are crunched for time. This flip book is so easy to make!  Once you print, there are lines where you cut and lines for where to staple. It's so easy that even I could do it!

I created a sheet to complete (in the picture below) before using the online tool.  I used the book featured in the picture below as my model/example.  As a side note, this book makes such an interesting read-aloud for Thanksgiving!

Click the picture below if you want to use this 2 page form I created to be completed before using the online flip book tool.

Graphics by Graphics From the Pond and KG Fonts

The completed flip book....

Inside the book...  I glued and then later colored the clip art. At the top, I wrote the topic/main idea of the book I read.

Here is an example of how you can print a page and then write information on the page instead of typing.

My son loved the idea of creating this flip book because he could do some typing and drawing. He chose this activity and is still working on his product. I loved it because it allowed him to really think about his reading and learning, it was something he was interested in, it integrated art which really motivates him, and it is FREE!

What nonfiction book report alternatives have you used?  Have you tried out this Flip Book tool?  Leave a comment and tell me all about it!

I'm linking up with HoJo's Teaching Adventure.  Click the pic below to visit the linky for some fabulous ideas for your elementary classroom!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How to Implement a Mystery Reader Program!

When my youngest son was in kindergarten, he loved the Mystery Reader program that his teacher implemented. With the room mom coordinating this weekly event, there was very little work that the classroom teacher had to do.  Now, I have never hosted such an event in my classroom, but I was so impressed with this series that it got me thinking:  if I were to use this in my classroom, how would I go about organizing it?  Let me preface my plan with this:  I was one of the mystery readers and the excitement of the students was incredible!  Each week, my son would ask me if it was Thursday yet because he knew that was Mystery Reader Day! The kids loved, loved this activity!

What is a Mystery Reader Program?
A read-aloud activity where guest readers visit the classroom to share a favorite book.  The identity of the reader is kept a secret until the reader enters the classroom on the scheduled day. The reader can bring along props, a simple craft, or a snack that is related to the book.  Or, the guest reader can simply visit the classroom and read aloud.

Why Implement a Mystery Reader Program?
Because it is FUN for the kids, the classroom teacher, and the guest reader!  We all know the benefits of reading aloud to our students.  Changing things up a bit and inviting guest readers into the classroom adds variety, exposes students to other readers whose style will obviously be different than the classroom teacher, builds excitement for reading, as the kids do not know who the reader will be, and models for students that adults other than teachers read!

How Does It Work?
I am a firm believer in the K.I.S.S. principle:  Keep It Super Simple.  Here's how it worked in my son's classroom.  The room mom coordinated the program for the entire year.  She used Sign Up Genius to schedule guest readers for the school  year.  The classroom teacher dedicated each Thursday afternoon from 2:30-3:00 as Mystery Reader Day. An email was sent to all parents with a link to the Sign Up Genius site.  Parents could volunteer themselves or schedule a grandparent, family friend, older sibling, neighbor, etc. The benefit of using Sign Up Genius is that it is paperless, it is easy to see who has volunteered, it is FREE, and the volunteer receives an automatic email reminder about the day they are scheduled to be a mystery reader.  The only disadvantage of using this website to schedule your readers is that not all parents will have Internet access.

 No worries, for you can post a sign up sheet outside your classroom and/or send home a paper copy.  I would also add, that I would send an email to the school faculty and staff  inviting them to volunteer as well.  This would include inviting other teachers, the administration, secretaries, the guidance counselor, custodians, and even older students!  Click here for a FREE, sample letter you can send home to parents, post outside your classroom, or place in faculty/staff mailboxes.
** Graphics used in the letter:  My Cute Graphics, Kathy Law, Kevin and Amanda, A Cupcake for the Teacher

The only thing left for you or your room parent to do is to schedule the guest readers and to make sure that readers share a new book, so you do not have any repeats.

A few days before the mystery reader arrives, have students practice their inferencing skills by trying to guess the identity of the reader using the clues they provided.  Click the picture below to download an inferencing handout (I like to project the document onto my interactive white board) I created and a poster you can display on Mystery Reader Day.

  Afterwards, you could have students write a thank you letter to the mystery reader and discuss whether students' predictions were correct.

The sky is the limit with this fun activity that promotes reading for fun and provides good role models for kids!


Do you use a Mystery Reader program in your classroom? Share ideas as to what has been successful!

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sneaky Poetry

We just wrapped up our chocolate unit where we read several chapter books, nonfiction articles, and read some poetry about chocolate.  Such a yummy and engaging unit for all of us!  As I was wandering around the Internet, I found a "recipe" for Sneaky Poetry. This short poem makes use of a formula for writing a five line descriptive poem about any topic.  Each line of the poem gives clues that "sneak up" on the topic, which is disclosed at the end. I took the idea and added my own spin on it!

I had our topic be about chocolate- any type or kind.  I shared my poem that I wrote about a Snickers Bar.  After a review of adjectives, we brainstormed topics and took a closer look at the formula.

Each line describes the topic and the topic is written on the last line.  It is fun, creative, and an excellent activity for your reluctant writers since the writing process is heavily scaffolded and there is a formula to follow.  Plus, it is a short poem that won't overwhelm them.

My son wanted to type his final copy and was pretty pleased with the end result.  I was thrilled that he felt successful and proud of his writing!

There are so many variations of how you could use Sneaky Poetry.  Students could choose a book, a character, a holiday, or a content related topic from science or social studies.  Since this was such a success, I wanted to share this with you!  I have uploaded the direction sheet with my example, the formula, and brainstorming sheet as well as drafting and final copy papers.  Click here to download this FREEBIE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.


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