Category Archives: writing

Reading Poster Unit

One of my mantras as a teacher is, “If the students can do/make/think it, they should.” So when we realized our schools’ walls could use some spiffing up, we decided to turn over the decor transformation to the students! Since this is “The Year of the Reader,” what could be better than some inspirational reading quote posters?!

Together with the librarian, I’ve created a short unit plan that could be done at any time of the year.

Day 1

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Illustrator Source: unknown
Text Source: Neil Gaiman for The Guardian

The first day of the unit will be used to inspire students and give them a chance to explore and pick an inspirational quote about reading. We’ll kick off by showcasing some inspirational quotes found online and in quote books for kids.Some questions to discuss: Why do people like inspirational quotes? How can inspirational quotes be important?With this being “The Year of the Reader,” we’ll veer towards quotes focused on reading:

Students will record quote contenders on their Reading Quote Poster Planning Sheet.

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By the end of the lesson, they will circle or star the reading quote that they want to use for their poster!

Day 2

To help students realize the impact of good graphic design, we’ll share simple fundamentals of graphic design and analyze inspirational quote examples to discuss what we notice about the designs, such as fonts, layout, spacing, alignment, flourishes, and more. They’ll jot or sketch ideas on their Reading Quote Poster Planning Sheet that they may incorporate into their drafts the following day.

Day 3

This will be production day! First, they’ll sketch out their ideas on 8.5×11″ paper in pencil. Once they’re happy with their designs, they’ll go over the design in black ink. Finally, they’ll erase any of their pencil marks to end up with their final draft!

Day 4 – Optional

The final session will be a day of celebration! It’ll begin with a silent gallery walk of students’ designs. They’ll observe each design and leave a compliment on a sheet underneath for the designer to keep. All of the designs can be bound in a simple book, put on display, and catalogued in the library. If desired, students can also use this time to vote for their favorite designs. The top three designs from each class can be enlarged and posted throughout the school. During the very final portion of the lesson, students should complete a reflection about the whole process.

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Possible Extensions or Adaptations

  • Book talk and/or read aloud picture books about imagination or art.
  • Create bookmarks instead of posters.
  • Instead of having students choose a quote about reading, they can find a particularly meaningful quote from a favorite book that they read during the year. They can use some of the same graphic design elements in their designs, but they can also print it on a page FROM a book:

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Any of these quote projects would be SUCH a great keepsake to celebrate the Year of the Reader!

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5th Grade WIN – Padlet

Click here to find the Padlet for our WIN group.

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I’ve posted before about Padlet, the digital interactive bulletin board, but I haven’t had the opportunity to use it authentically until now. For the next several weeks, I’m meeting with fifth graders to work on reading responses during WIN. In addition to using critical thinking skills, collaborating with other writers, and writing clear ideas, I also want students to use the computer for this work. Padlet seems like the perfect platform to accomplish these goals! I’ll provide an update after we’ve tinkered around a bit more!

Class Books: Let Them Read What They Write

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It’s possible that my love for class books originated from the one I received from the class that I student taught on my very last day of teaching them. It was a simple production: letters on notebook paper, crayon/colored pencil/marker drawings, and their school pictures. The fanciest thing about it was the laminated pages and plastic binding. Of course, the simplicity of it is part of what makes it so precious to me. Their sincere letters and drawings alongside their school photos still touch my heart. Since then, it has been in my classroom library in my “Student-authored Books” bin. For years, I was surprised by how the students I’ve had since then have been drawn to it even though they didn’t know my first students at all. In fact, every year, nearly all of my students read the Thank you, Ms. Vigna book at some point during the year; sometimes revisiting it more than once. Without even knowing my very first students, my later students couldn’t resist reading the book they made!

A purposeful, authentic audience motivates writers. Fortunately, our classrooms have built in audiences: students! There is no shortage of content for class books: With the volume of writing students are producing in our classrooms, you could easily stock a classroom library shelf with student-authored books. In Writers’ Workshop alone, it’s possible that students have penned several pieces already.

It’s just a matter of putting the book together: Print out or copy all of their personal narratives, create a simple cover, and bind their work into a class book! Nothing elaborate–no need to ship them off to Blurb or Shutterfly. Just fold an 11×18 piece of construction paper in half and staple it down the side to bind it. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add some decorative duct or Washi tape to cover the staples.

Class books can be made outside of Writers’ Workshop, too. A Math Workshop station could have students write their own word problem for the concept being studied and a separate explanation of the answer. I’m imagining a class book made out of envelopes: the problem written on the envelope and the answer and explanation on an index card  inside the envelope. In science, students can create an alphabet book for the current topic or a timeline of a historical events for each time period studied in social studies.

Teaching students how to make books on their own would be empowering and motivating also. Look to Katie Wood Ray and her protege, Lisa Cleaveland, for inspiration, especially for our youngest writers in the primary grades.

Class books motivate students to READ! I have found that students love rereading their work and the work of their classmates in these class books so much that I often have to “discard” the totally worn out original copy and replace it with a “Second Edition” OR I end up making copies of especially powerful class books to GIVE to my students to keep. My authors have even gone around the room collecting each other’s autographs and asking for inscriptions like we would at a professional book signing.

Regardless of its form, class books are powerful and useful reading and writing tools. They are treasure-filled memories for all of the stakeholders and promote reading and writing in our youngest readers and writers.

A Sea of Talk

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I have seen firsthand how turning and talking to a reader or writer next to you can energize students. Sometimes I’ll ask a class a question, and wait for a couple timid hands to slowly raise themselves. I’ll quickly follow-up with, “Turn and talk to the reader next to you about…” After a minute or so of discussion with a partner, the number of hands shoots up, often with nearly every student’s hand in the air! The benefits of giving students a chance to talk out their thinking are noticeable and necessary. When students talk before sharing out with the whole class, they get a chance to:

  • reassure themselves that they’re on the right track
  • rehearse verbalizing their thinking
  • deepen their understandings
  • take a risk with an audience of one rather than the whole class
  • have a peer explain in a kid-friendly terms
  • be heard
  • consider other perspectives
  • gain enough confidence to share out

Additionally, reading and writing are sometimes passive activities. How do we know what reading thinking is taking place if students only read silently? Discussing their reading and writing thinking energizes the learning and informs instruction. Engaging readers in a conversation about their predictions, confusions, wonderings, connections, or visualizations gives us a glimpse of what they’re doing well and where they can still grow as readers. A classroom of readers and writers hums with partners quietly sharing their thinking and responding to each other. In a classroom where rigorous conversation is expected and valued, readers and writers will do more than float on a sea of talk; they will soar.

Giant Literacy Word Wall

Man, I love a word wall. I always thought I did a good job with word walls because they easily covered close to half of my classroom wall space. Then I saw this image from an article in an issue of Science and Children called, “Interactive Word Walls” by Julie Jackson and Rose Narvaez:

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The word wall of my dreams! My brain exploded with both envy and inspiration! However, the closest I thought I could get to creating a realia-filled word wall of my own was showing it to as many teachers as possible and convincing one to do it in their rooms.

Thinking about my new office though, I realized I had PLENTY of wall space to create this masterpiece! So over the next several weeks, I’ll be brainstorming and gathering realia associated with literacy for my very own interactive word wall, complete with QR codes and student work.

What literacy words do you associate with each letter of the alphabet? Comment! I’m low on J, K, O, Q, X, Y, and Z, especially.

Musical Punctuation

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In the past ten years of my teaching career, I’ve avoided doing worksheets of punctuation practice because I haven’t seen students’ writing improve. Instead I’ve seen students work on them, seem to be proficient at using punctuation marks because all of the fill in the blanks are correct or the sentences have been edited appropriately, and then submit drafts without a lick of proper punctuation! Although *I* could fill a book the size of Oxford’s Dictionary with all of the conventions and grammar worksheets *I* did as a student, I don’t believe this single method made me proficient at using correct punctuation. Since this approach hasn’t shown me evidence of its effectiveness, and with time already weighing heavily on my daily routine, I tried to find a more beneficial use of classroom instruction for my students.

So for years, I attended to conventions instruction in one-on-one conferences and small group strategy lessons during writers’ workshop or in my thirty- minute blocks of language study. I would meet with students and do mini-lessons on the proper use of quotation marks in their narratives or making words possessive before asking them to edit their own drafts. Although this process was more fruitful than the wasteful worksheets I had used early in my career, I still felt students deserved something better, more meaningful.

When I saw a session at Literacy for All 2015 titled, “Practical Punctuation: Teaching Mechanics In The Writing Workshop (Grades 3–8),” I signed up. I was not expecting to be thrilled by punctuation instruction possibilities. I mean, how exciting can punctuation be?

practical punctuation

Turns out, this session was by far my favorite at Literacy for All 2015! The presenter, Dan Feigelson, shared his inquiry-based approach to punctuation during his session by asking, “How can we make students thoughtful punctuation decision-makers?” His thesis really struck me: punctuation is as much of an author’s choice as word choice. For instance, we’ve all read a piece of student’s writing that spans a page or more with no periods. Yet, no one would argue with Charlotte Bronte’s status as an eminent author for composing a sentence such as this in Jane Eyre:

Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. (page 123)

Mr. Feigelson’s constructivist methods allow students to explore the nuances of our language and make sense of the musical-like markings. This way, students come to see punctuation as purposeful rather than rules that have to be followed.

The general procedure for a punctuation inquiry mini-unit follows this framework:

  • allow students to explore a collection of mentor texts with the focus of noticing the author’s use of a certain punctuation mark, like commas or quotation marks
  • students collect sample sentences from mentor texts and classify them by common traits; this could be part of their daily independent reading (at school and/or home)
  • students create their OWN names and definitions for these traits
  • students experiment with this new punctuation on drafts they’ve already written
  • celebrate the revisions using a document camera; show the before and after drafts and have the author describe his/her punctuating choices

With this approach, the amount of ownership and creation makes punctuation seem less like rules imposed from a higher, unknown being and more like a useful tool for self-expression.

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After the mini-unit, there are many extension possibilities:

  • have students copy one of their own sentences and then justify every punctuation choice
  • after an interactive read aloud, pull interestingly punctuated sentences from the text to examine and discuss the author’s choices
  • choose a model sentence from a mentor text, and have students revise one of their own sentences in the manner of the mentor author
  • create a classroom how-to punctuation manual

Mr. Feigelson’s balance of inquiry and direct instruction strikes the perfect balance between teaching skills and purposeful, meaningful writing composition.

Heinemann has a sample of Dan Feigelson’s book, Practical Punctuation, to whet your punctuating appetite, or you can borrow my copy of the book from my office! If you’re a MPS elementary teacher, let me know if you’re interested in coplanning a mini-unit on punctuation inquiry! I also drafted a punctuation mini-unit that you can roll out and tweak.

Happy composing!

Quote Creators

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I love finding inspiring quotes in the books I’m reading! In fact, my students have a whole section of their reading notebooks devoted to quote collecting. It’s impactful work because it encourages:

  • “reading like a writer.” Being aware of how words are composed influences and excites us as writers. I want my writing to have the same kind of impact!
  • vocabulary acquisition. Often, my favorite quotes have some unusual, inspiring word choice. The conversations we’ve had in class while dissecting the nuanced meaning of words in quotes have been some of my most powerful teaching moments.
  • reading an author’s body of work. I know that Sharon Creech will always have some stimulating nuggets. She has such a gift with words!

Three FREE websites I’ve found and used to turn quotes from students’ readings into something you’d find on Etsy are Recite.comQuotescover.com, and Quozio.com. You can choose different styles, colors, and fonts! Have fun playing around, and happy reading!