Thursday, September 26, 2013

Writing and Scoot - what fun!

Before school started, I found a fun activity from Yearn to Learn called Swap the Squiggle Writing; it looked like fun and it was free.  I wasn't sure where or when I would use it, but boy, am I glad I tried it out.

Here's what we did.  I gave them each a different squiggle drawing and gave them one minute to start drawing.  Then, when the timer went off, they had to move one seat to their right.  We continued that until five different hands had been on the drawing.  The kids had fun seeing how their drawings changed from what they'd started out with, and they were giggling and laughing when they got back to their pictures.
I don't know if I would have come up with an animal's nose for this picture, but I thought this one was great! Of course, another student added fighter planes up in the left-hand corner, so that changed the way this story would have to unfold.

I told the students that this was the book jacket to their new book.  Now, they had to write the first paragraph of the book, the one that would really grab me and make me want to keep reading.  Since we'd already spent some time talking about choosing books, and what makes books appealing to them, most of them knew exactly what I was looking for.

The activity was so much fun that I asked them if they wanted to keep writing.  Most of them did, so they're going to continue writing and create the first chapter of their book.  The ones who weren't as thrilled about how their pictures turned out will be able to write about other things.  Through this, I'm planning to teach more about the writing process, about keeping the same tense in writing, elaborating on details when needed, good sentence construction, and anything else I think they need to focus on.

I am really tickled about how this random "Oh, this looks like fun" activity turned out!  There's nothing like a creative writing piece to get kids going, and it's not every day that I hear kids giggling and laughing to themselves as they try to match their stories to their pictures.

Does my heart good!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Start a fire in the classroom? Go for it!

Since it's already Saturday evening, I've decided to link up with Doodle Bugs Teaching for a late Five for Friday and Head Over Heels for Teaching for her Spark Student Motivation Saturday.  Maybe I'll get this posted before Sunday!

One of the things I love about teaching kids is their unbridled enthusiasm.  And nowhere is that apparent than when I have them working in groups to show me how they would survive if they crash-landed in a certain location.

They all have the same circumstances (four additional people, small amounts of food and water, a suitcase full of size 12 clothing, etc.)  The only thing that's different is where they are.  It's fun to see how they work together!


They're very quick to tell me that they're going to cook some of the food they have with them.  When I ask how they're going to do that, they always respond, "Oh.  Well, we'll start a fire."  And of course, I'm always curious about how they're going to do that since they haven't mentioned matches, kindling, or firewood.  And they don't have matches.  Hmmmm.....

"Well, we'll rub two sticks together!"  Really?  "Can you show me how?"  They're usually shocked and a little excited when I tell them that I have sticks, and to go ahead and try.  "Right here in the classroom?"  "Uh-huh."

Oh, do they want to be the first kid to make a fire in the room!  (Now, lest you think me crazy, in three or four years of doing this, the most I've ever seen is a warm stick.  We're not talking hot.  Just warm.)  Here they are, trying.

Then, one boy decided that you needed to rub a stick against a rock.  So he tried that.  Still no success.  By now other kids wanted to try.   After two days of working on posters and trying to build a fire, they realized how challenging it is!  Which is a great segue into the first excerpt we read in our anthology, the part of Hatchet where Brian is trying to start a fire.

This picture is a little blurry because he was rubbing the stick so rapidly.

In the writing workshop part of my class, earlier this week I asked my students to write down something from the book they were reading independently.  Then I asked them to circle the nouns and underline the verbs.  Oh. My. Word. They struggled mightily!  I was pretty freaked out that day, wondering how I was going to fit in basic grammar along with everything else we have to do.  These are sixth graders.  They should know this stuff.

But later in the week, after this group poster creating session, I asked them to write about a time when they had felt courageous.  And boy oh boy, they may not know their nouns from their verbs, but they do write well.  It was really sweet to read their stories, and I breathed a little more easily.

Outside of school, last weekend, my husband and I drove down to Delaware to kayak in a state park we'd heard about.  It has cypress trees (you southern people are very familiar with them, but those of us northerners don't usually see them) in the middle of the pond.  It was so cool - one minute you were out in the sunshine and the next, you were kayaking through a grove of trees so thick it felt like you were walking in the forest.  How cool is that?
And then we tried to take a picture of ourselves.  In separate kayaks.With a camera. We were laughing so hard we almost capsized!  But we finally got one!

Here's to fun times that feed your soul in the great outdoors!

And finally, a special shout-out to Erin at I'm Lovin' Lit who's come up with YET ANOTHER amazing interactive notebook product - this one for writing.  Way to go, girl!  Now, pick me to win a free copy :)

Here's hoping you have a great weekend, and another good week at school!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The value of reading surveys

For many years now, I have given my students a reading survey at the beginning of each year.  I am always amazed at how much I learn from them, and usually, a couple of them make me chuckle as a kid tries to express his/her interests.  I'm not a fan of lots of questions, but I want to get to the gist of the issue:  Do you like to read?  Why or why not?

This year, using lots of questions from old surveys, which means I stole ideas from my favorites - Nancy Atwell, Laura Robb, and Donalynn Miller - I came up with a survey that I was really pleased with.  And then today, I used a form that I think will really help me.  While my students were taking their first standardized tests of the year, I was reading their surveys and jotting down notes on my conference forms.  How interested are they in reading?  How well do they think they read?  What do they like to do?  What clues have they given me about genres and interests so that I can steer them toward certain books?

Just reading those surveys gave me tons of good information.  I felt like I was learning a lot about each child, but this time, I was actually doing something with the information that I'll be able to turn back to time and time again.  Why?  Because that information is at the top of my reading conferencing note page - one for each student.

I'm so pleased with myself!  Now,you may be slapping your forehead and saying, "Are you kidding?  I've been doing this for years, and she thinks she just invented something new!"  And the truth is, I've always collected the information, and jotted things down here and there.  But this is the new me.  The organized me.  The me who even has all this information in a binder.  A blue one!  Not decorated, like some of you amazingly crafty teachers out there, but in. a. binder.  Where I can see it.  And use it.  Whenever I want it.  Woo hoo!

It's for sale at my TpT store here, but that't really not why I'm posting this.  I'm just tickled pink at how useful it's going to be.  Oh, and I learned that one girl likes to listen to "chreschen music" and another likes dogs and wants to be a "pet grommer."

There will always be a need for teachers!  Have a great Thursday!

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's September - time for a new Currently

I love that Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade does this linky every month.  It's a great way to be reflective about past and present, and it connects TONS of teachers together.  Which is always cool.  So, here goes.

 Listening:  I guess I'm not really listening to my husband watching.  I'm listening to the ballgame.  We come from opposite end of the state, and he's a real Pittsburgh fan.  I like my Phillies, but don't get take much time to watch them on TV.

Loving:  After a first week back in school, I am LOOOVING having four days off.  I'd be happy if we had a four day weekend every month.  We don't get long breaks like some of you folks do.  Other than Christmas, everything else is pretty short.  I'd go a week longer for some days off in late winter!

Thinking:  I really have nothing to complain about.  Life is good.

Wanting:  to remember that.  All year long.  Even around state testing time.

Needing: truly nothing.  I have my faith, the love of my family, enough food to eat and "stuff" to make me happy.  And I like to share.  'nuff said.

My heart's desires:  keeping it all in perspective is really my goal for this year.  I can get pretty passionate agitated about what I'm doing and what still needs to be done at school.  I need to remember to keep breathing.  Every step forward is movement, no matter how big or small.

Exercising keeps me healthy.  And sane.  Keep doing it!

There's always SO much to be thankful for, even when things are stressful.  Keep giving thanks!

And that's all she wrote, folks!
For everyone going back to school tomorrow, best wishes!  And go to bed early.  It is truly amazing how exhausted you'll be!