Sunday, December 30, 2012

VA 5th grade Writing SOL - planning to write a fiction/fantasy story

The VA Department of Education has released the 44 prompts. As I sort through them, I notice 3 KINDS: ones that require the writer to write an essay response; ones that require the writer to write a small moment, personal narrative; and ones that require the writer to write a STORY, often including fantasy elements.

Here is how a writer can PLAN to write a STORY. A story map can be used to plan it. Lots of details are included so the reader can see the story as if it is a movie in their mind.

Prompt: Imagine that one day you wake up and are invisible.
Write to describe where you go and what you do.

Story Map Plan:
Character:           Sally, who really wants to be a Tech Cub.
(pick character name and descide what the character wants.)

Setting:                She’s a 5th grader at school
(name WHERE this story will take place)

Problem:              She is shy and afraid to ask to be a Tech Cub because she doesn’t think she knows enough about technology to join the group.
(name the problem)

Events:     She wakes up one day invisible.
(name the events that occur)
She goes to the meeting of the tech cubs being invisible and listens in

Mrs. Burk says, “I want to remind everyone. You do NOT need any special skills to be in this club.
You just need to be responsible, show up when needed, and be able to ask when you are confused. I am here to answer your questions and I will ensure that you will be able to do all that is needed to perform any Tech Cub task”

Solution:  After school, Sally went to Mrs. Burk and asked if there was still time to sign up to be a Tech Cub. Yes,” she replied. “But tomorrow is the deadline. You’ve missed just one meeting and I can catch you up on what you missed.
(name how the story is resolved)

Possible Opening Sentence to the story:
 Seeing the Wanted:Tech Cubs sign hanging outside of the Computer office, 5th grader Sally wondered if she was smart enough to join this group. “Probably not,” she thought to herself. However, she loved computers. How cool to be in a Computer Club.

Possible Concluding Sentence: 
Sally rushed home with the permission slip. “Boy, am I lucky to have spent a day being invisible,” she thought. I might have chickened out and not signed up to be in this great club. 

VA 5th grade Writing SOL - planning a Small Moment Personal Narrative

The VA Department of Education has released the 44 prompts. As I sort through them, I notice 3 KINDS: ones that require the writer to write an essay response; ones that require the writer to write a small moment, personal narrative; and ones that require the writer to write a STORY, often including fantasy elements.

Here is how a writer can PLAN to write a SMALL MOMENT PERSONAL NARRATIVE:  a TIMELINE of the scene can be used and l
ots of details are included so the reader can see what you saw and feel what you felt.

Prompt:  Think about a special event you experienced.
Write to explain the event and why it was so important to you.

Special Event:          winning 3rd place in ALL Stars

Topic Sentence:
I have had loads of special events in my life. However, one stands out.
It is the time I got 3rd place swimming 50 butterfly in the All Star Meet.

1st: being VERY nervous just before the start of the race
o   too nervous to sit down and bounced back on forth on my feet. I must have looked like I needed to go to the bathroom!
2nd: Race begins     
o   The starter shouted, “On your marks, get set.” And then the electronic “BEEP” was heard. I immediately dove into the water, kicking and swimming the butterfly
3rd: Swim, swim, swim,
o   really fast turn
o    barely taking any time to lift my head to breath
4th: Slamming my two faces into the wall at the end
o   My timer saying, “great swim…your time is 36.6. I got 3rd
5th:A BIG smile appearing on my face.

Concluding Sentence:
Special events  happen  in my life. However, the time I got 3rd place
swimming 50 butterfly in the All Star Meet is very special to me.
 I got rewarded for being a talented swimmer and I will never forget it!

VA 5th grade Writing SOL - planning for an ESSAY PROMPT

The VA Department of Education has released the 44 prompts. As I sort through them, I notice 3 KINDS: ones that require the writer to write an essay response; ones that require the writer to write a small moment, personal narrative; and ones that require the writer to write a STORY, often including fantasy elements.

Here is how a writer can PLAN to write to a ESSAY PROMPT:  A Boxes and Bullet planning sheet can be used.
Prompt: There are many different kinds of entertainment, such as music, games, books, or movies. Explain your favorite type of entertainment and why you like it.

A BIG IDEA to place in the BOX is: 
Reading is my favorite kind of entertainment.
  • Because when I read, it takes me to excited places
    • Harry Potter – a world with magic and castles and wands
    • Frindle – takes place in a school, always an exciting setting
  • Because when I read, I learn about other time periods
    • Number the Stars - taught me about the time during WWII
    • Ruth and the Green Book – taught me about the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement
  • Because when I read, I laugh and sometimes even cry.
    • All of Mo Willems’ books make me laugh out loud. His characters are so funny!
    • Great novels, like Fig Pudding, help me to feel the sadness that the characters feel and I sometimes cry. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Essay Writing Unit with 5th graders

I am so proud of the 5th graders at my school! Using Book 3 in Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5 by Lucy Calkins, my students DID grow some BIG IDEAS!!

Here's how my lessons went day-by-day:
1. To immerse the students into reading this genre, I had them read essays, some from the Washington Post, some that other students wrote in years past, and a few that my daughter wrote to get into college.
(Search "essay mentor text" on this blog to find some possible kid-friendly essays). While reading, they needed to figure out the BIG IDEA ("box") and supporting details ("bullets") and I also had them name what KIND of detail was included (story, statistic, quote, observation, list) to get the idea across to the reader.

2. To help students generate ideas, I used Lucy's idea of looking closely at the small parts of our lives. I looked into my wallet that I carry with me always. Looking closely, I saw ALL these cards:

Then I tried to let what I saw spark an idea. In my notebook I wrote:
1. reading books is important (inspired by the library cards and Barnes and Noble teacher card)
2. saving money is important (inspired by the grocery store discount card and the Staples discount card)
3. using mass transit is helpful (inspired by the Amtrak card and Metro card)

3. Another generating idea shared was to think about the issues in our world. Here's an anchor chart of 4th grade issues that hangs in a classroom at PS41 in Greenwich Village:

Once you pick an issue, we jotted down thoughts in our notebook about that issue.

4. My collegued shared one more generating lesson: Think about a subject and your ideas about it. She read-aloud a persuasive writing piece about the importance of zoos and listed all the advantages that zoos provide. Then the students could pick a subject of their choice and jot down ideas about it. Our anchor chart while we were generating ideas looked like this:

5. Then it was time to PICK an idea and write your thesis statement, your claim. Here is the anchor chart we used to help them with this step:
Once an idea was picked, we intoduced the organizing structure of BOXES AND BULLETS.
The BIG IDEA goes in the BOX and the reasons that support this idea are the BULLETS.

We also tried out a few ways to get our BIG IDEA across.
My BIG IDEA became:

Then I brainstormed MANY ways to get this idea across:

Reasons: because FICTION, NONFICTION, ESSAYS help them live better


PLACES: at school, at home, in free time

PLACES: using libraries, using bookstores, using newspapers

PARTS: brain, emotions, physical body

In the end, I chose the REASONS and to help me stay organized, I placed my BIG IDEA on a BLUE paper folded like an hamburger and one reason each on a PINK paper folder like a hot dog.

6. At this point, my collegaue and I checked BIG IDEAS and ensured that each of the 3 bullet points were different ideas related to the BIG IDEA. Once we approved it, students could get their blue and pink paper to come out of their notebooks and start to draft their essay, point by point.

7. Drafting lessons included us modeling how I can write a story to support the bullet idea. I can also gather statistics, a list, or a quote. As I gathered writing to support the point, I placed it in the corresponding pink folder.

8. Once each pink folder had a piece of writing or several pieces of writing, I showed how the bullet point on the front of the pink folder can become the TOPIC SENTENCE and how then I can decide how to include the story, list, quote, or stat that I collected. I literally taped pieces of writing together or used arrows to show what to read first, next, etc. I included a lesson on using words such as FOR EXAMPLE, ANOTHER REASON, ALSO, IN ADDITON to have smooth transition to get the point across.

9. Then I taught lessons on how to START and END an essay, emphasizing certain sentence stems they could use as shared by Lucy.
Ways to Start My Essay
1.       Tell a story about one person needing the information in the essay:
My daughter came home from school annoyed that she had to read an assigned book. I tell her, instead, to be grateful for this assignment because reading that book will help her live a better life.
2.       Many people think reading books is just a fun thing to do. However, I have come to realize that reading is so much more than just entertainment.  I now realize that people live better when they read.

3.       Have you ever wondered why schools continue to teach reading, even after kids have learned to read by 3rd grade? I now realize that the skill of reading is so much more than just decoding the words. By reading, people live better.

4.       Why must students read for 30 minutes a night as homework, after reading that long or longer in school? Read on to find out why reading is so important.
Ways to End My Essay
1.       People live better when they read is true. Because of this novels, travel books, and the Washington Post editorial page will continue to be stacked on my night stand and read! How about you?

2.       I realize that when I finish a great work of fiction, I add to my strategy list of how to deal with others. Additional useful knowledge is always gained from reading nonfiction and essays. Because I want to live a great life, novels, travel books, and the editorial page of the Washington Post will continue to be on my nightstand. I recommend you read, too, so you can live a better life!

3.       I realize that Thomas Jefferson, who said, “I cannot live without books,” also understood that by being a reader, he lived a better life. I realize that novels, informational texts, and editorials must always be a part of my life. With them, I live a better life. I suggest you do the same!

All had an essay to share at our Essay Writing Celebration. Some had time to type it up. Others had it hand-written. Some had it in order, in still in their blue and pink paper-folders, and followed their arrows to know what to read next. Before starting to share our writing, we discussed the role of the listener and brainstormed words we might use as we comment on the essays we listen to. Here is our list:

One brave student agreed to read his essay aloud - All people should stop war. Then, as a whole class, we gave comments using the sentence stems listed. Next, we got in triads, spread out through the room and shared our essays aloud and listeners shared comments.

Some of the BIG IDEAS shared included:
People should play soccer safely.
People should have pets.
Bullying is bad.
School supplies should be free in poor countries.
Motorcycles is not the best kind of transportation.
Bolivia is a great county.
6th, 7th, and 8th grades should be in Middle School.
Parents should always pay attention to their children.
Taxes are unfair.
People should not waste paper.
Sea Turtles should be saved.

Friday, December 21, 2012

TCRWP free resources!!

This was just posted on facebook by my favorite educators!
EXCITING NEWS! From the TCRWP to you--news and free resources!
 Have, use, share! Read more in this letter from Lucy to Friends of the Project.
Read Lucy's letter where she states:
Our second announcement is that we have compiled almost 40 video clips of Common Core aligned teaching and learning and want you to know this is a resource you can have, use, share. To ensure that Pathways to the Common Core: Videos from Inside Classrooms
can be helpful to as many people as possible, we’ve put the videos online in Vimeo albums. This is the link to the website on which you can watch all of the clips:
As a teacher in VA, the Common Core is not part of my world yet. But I LOVE learning GREAT teaching from those connected to TCRWP so over Winter Break I plan to watch and learn from the best teachers I know!
Thank you, TCRWP!!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fantasy Mentor Text

It has just come to our attention in Virginia that the 5th graders have a chance of getting a prompt to respond to on their Writing SOL assessment that will ask them to compose a story and that story may also have fantasy elements in it.

Here's an example of one of the 14 prompts that ask for a story to be composed, with fantasy elements included:   Imagine a fish popped its head out of the water and said something. What would you do? Write a story about what happened. Be sure to include details.

To help prepare the students at my school, I am planning to teach them explicitly how to write a story by following the superb lessons in Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5. In Book 4 called Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions students are encouraged to live like fiction writers; to collect story ideas by observing their own lives; to create characters with wants and struggles; and to use story arcs to create rising action.

While teaching this unit, I plan to immerse students in fiction reading so they will have mentor texts to learn from. But since most of the prompts for the 5th grade writing SOL also have a fantasy element involved, my school librarian found the following fiction picture books, all with some fantasy elements included.

VA 2013 Writing SOL in 5th grade

The VA Department of Education is administering the 5th grade (and 8th and HS) Writing SOL this year as an online assessment. It is a two-part assessment. One part has students answer multiple choice questions related to reading draft writing and answering questions related to planning and researching, better written expression, and correct writing mechanics. The second part has students read a writing prompt and compose a written response online.

The VDOE released 44 Prompts and a 5th grader in the state of VA will get one of these prompts.

When I looked closely at each prompt and thought about what kind of writing I would do to respond to the prompt in writing, I saw three different kinds of writing.
  • 10 prompts ask for a small moment personal narrative response
    •  EX: Think of a time when someone did something special for you. Perhaps the person sent a card, helped with homework, or cooked a food you liked. Write about this time and include details.
  • 20 prompts ask for an essay response
    •  EX: Think of your favorite place to eat. The location could be at home, school, a park, a restaurant, or another place. Write to explain why this is your favorite place to eat.
  • 14 prompts asking for a story response, with most suggesting fantasy elements be included.
    • EX: Imagine your friend has a car that talks and flies. The car can do other amazing things. Your friend takes you on a ride.Write to tell what happened when your friend took for a ride in the car.
 As we help the 5th graders at my school prepare for their March Writing SOL assessment, we plan to review with them how to plan, draft, and publish a small moment personal narrative and an essay. Both of these writing genres we taught in the fall and also were taught in 4th grade.

However, we have not taught fiction writing yet and it was not something taught explicitly in 4th grade. (We'll have to remedy that!) So we are planning to teach the students in January how to write a fiction story.

We plan to follow the excellent lessons in Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5.  Book 4 entitled Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions encourages students to live like fiction writers; to collect story ideas by observing their own lives; to create characters with wants and struggles; and to use story arcs to create rising action.

It is only December. I feel confident that by March 12th and 14th (the days we are administering the Writing SOL at our school), we will be ready!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

TCRWP October 27th Saturday Reunion

I awoke to catch the 4:45am Friday train to NYC so I could be part of a school visit to PS41 in Greenwich Village starting at 9am. I arrived in time and spent the day observing grades K-5 doing reading and writing workshop. Here are some of the clear and purposeful anchor charts I saw hung at PS41:

In 1st grade:


Writing: Generating Ideas Charts in a 3rd grade classroom:

Writing Realistic Fiction Anchor charts in a 4th grade classroom:

 Jotting in a 2nd grade classroom:


When Students read book we don’t know   by Alex Marron

Teachers can’t read everything our kids are reading. Instead of trying to, try to do this:
1.Read the first book in several popular series.
2.Read a variety of genres so you are familiar with HOW that genre goes and see if kids understand the way the genre goes when you conference with them.
3.Go to your strongest readers and ask them for recommendations. They know!
4.Get kids excited about the series YOU are reading by buzzing about these books. Then they will be reading books you know!
5.KNOW how books go at each level. Then see if they are doing the kind of thinking required at this level.
KNOW How Books GO at each level:
KLM books have:
General, predictable characters
Character that always wants something and in the end they get something
but it might be different than what they first wanted (EX: In Those Shoes, Jeremy wants shoes but gets a friend)
Multi-syllabic words (are they being problem-solvers of tricky words?)
More domain specific words (can they understand these words in context?)
Character will not change but their FEELINGS will.
We can help these readers to  identify the feeling of the character, track his feeling across the book, and state how the feeling changes

NOPQ books have:
Characters that change and learn a lesson
We can help them track character in beg, note changes by the end
Multiple plot lines
Are students aware of this? Also pay attention to what is happening both internally and externally
Lots of figurative language
Do they “get it”? Teach them how to attack understanding of idioms using the context
EX: Ramona, Amber Brown

RST books have:
Setting becomes important and is like a character
Especially in HF and Fantasy. Do they have a sense of place? Are they reading the long descriptions and visualizing?
Character Traits are not explicitly stated
Characters are more than one way
Push them by asking “And what else? Are they different in different situations?
Underlying plot lines
The plot may start somewhere in the storyline (not always at the very beginning) and the reader needs to suspend comprehension, hold onto what is happening and ask LOTS of questions. Soon it will all make sense.
EX: Great Gilly Hopkins
UVW books have:
Characters are VERY complex and nuanced
It may not be until the very end that we understand the character because the book is more of a journey; The character has multiple traits and internal factors also influence who they are externally
Big shifts occur in time
flashbacks / flashforwards / structure may be diff perspectives told by chapter
Something stands for more. What does it really stand for? Are their things repeated?
What is it really about?
Variety of Language structures
Knowing characteristics of bands of books can help us anticipate the hurdles are students may have. We can teach into the skills they need to read and understand the books they are reading.
General questions to ask when you don’t know the book:
1.What seems important so far?
2.What themes, issues, lessons are you noticing?
3.What have you learned about the character so far? Show me a part in the book that told you that.
NOTE: if they seem to only retell, you know they are reading for plot. So teach into the other strategies (character traits, setting, themes, symbolism

Great New Books – Suggested by Rob Ross
Two great historical fiction books set in the time of the Civil Rights Movement.

NONFICTION BOOKS by Nicola Davies, Molly, Bang and Gail Gibbons:

Lucy shared highlights of the NEW Units for teaching Writing that can be purchased through Heinemann come April. The Unit sets are GRADE SPECIFIC.
NEXT Reunion Saturday - March 9th and Katherine Paterson will be the Keynote Speaker!