Archive for Literacy

You can Haiku too!

Spring has sprung, and every spring we write poetry in 4th grade! We always start out small with Haikus. I love the simplicity or Hiaku poems, with other types of poetry sometimes I feel like I don’t quite “get it”, but with Haikus I always fee like I can be a poet!

We start out our unit with a little reading unit using Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho by Dawnine Spivak. Grass Sandals is a lovely story about the Japanese poet, Basho and the kids love it. There are Japanese characters and a Haiku on each page and the illustrations are just perfect.

Next we tried our hand at Spring Haikus with very good results! Check out our Spring Haikus:

Go ahead:

write a spring haiku
playing with words and  senses
you know you want to


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Writer’s Roundtable

This year was my first year doing Writers Workshop, and it has gone pretty well. My kids have improved by leaps and bounds as writers, and they seem to like to write–although a week away from our state standardized writing test they are DONE with “prompted” writing practice! I certainly have not done Writers Workshop perfectly, and I will do it far better next year–I already have my list of ideas and things that I will try and do differently, but overall I think I found a good balance.

One of the things that I invented…or at least I don’t think I stole this idea from anyone else…is called the Writer’s Roundtable. As I started with Writer’s Workshop, I realized that I never had enough time for the sharing side of writing, and my kids LOVED to share their writing! Enter: Writer’s Roundtable. I designate one Friday afternoon ever few weeks for Writer’s Roundtable and this is how it works:

  • All the kids choose a piece of published writing, or a writing they really like, and put it on their desk.
  • I give everyone a piece of fun, colorful paper for comments to put next to their writing.
  • Everyone gets up and finds another persons desk. They read the story there and make specific, positive comment. (I did a mini-lesson about this!)
  • When they are finished with one, they choose another…
  • This goes on until the time is up!
This was a HUGE hit in my classroom! And I have never had a more quiet, energy filled 35 minutes. All students were diligently on task, and the only sounds that pierced the silence was a quiet giggle or “wow” as they admired their classmate’s compositions. Oh, and an occasional, “You have to come read this one!”

When the students went back to their own desk at the end to read their comments they were so excited and affirmed in their writing skills! Take 30 minutes out of a Friday and build your kids up, try the Writer’s Roundtable.

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Delicious Descriptions

Who else thinks it’s weird that Valentines Day falls on a Monday? Mondays are the worst day for having a party, but a Valentines Day party we must have! But because of the craze snow week that we had 2 weeks ago, I simply cannot afford to loose an afternoon of instruction, so today we did my favorite kind of instruction, tricking them into learning! Wahahahaha!

This is a fun little writing project that the kids enjoy and actually will learn from..and it goes perfectly with Valentines Day! (But I have taught it at all different times of year!)

To begin with you will need to have some materials:

  • A Hershey Kiss for every student (plus some extra for you!)
  • Tin foil (I get the precut sheets, everyone has the same size and none of those scary serrated edges!)
  • Hershey Kiss Template printed on cardstock
  • Delicious Descriptions activity sheet.

So here is the story that goes along with this lesson. “You are an alien who has landed here on earth on Valentines Day. You discover a strange object that you have never seen before. Now you must describe this object, but you cannot use its name, because you do not know it.” (Oh, even better, play some creepy, twilight zone music in the background while you tell them this!)

  1. Start handing every child a kiss–which we will call a UFO (Unidentified Foreign Object). The first step is that they must describe how it LOOKS. They may NOT touch it, they can only look at it.
  2. Now they can pick it up and touch it. They must describe how it FEELS.
  3. Next, make everyone become absolutely silent, and let them open the UFO. Describe how it SOUNDS.

    One of my students thought she was soo funny, Miss, I cant hear anything!

    One of my students thought she was soo funny, "Miss, I can't hear anything!"

  4. You really have the tension built now, they are itching to eat it…but first, they must take a deep whiff and describe how it SMELLS. Here is where it gets really tricky, they can’t use the word “chocolate” in any form. They have to try to describe it in other terms.
  5. Finally, tell them to eat the UFO and describe how it TASTES. (Again they can’t use the word chocolate!)

After the they have filled out their UFO Description sheet…now it’s time to make our Kiss model! I hand out the Kiss template and the kids cover it in tin foil.

I use tape to avoid the glue mess. Now they are to write their descriptions on their kiss–in the past I have had them go to the computer lab and type them up, but this year we just wrote them out on cards and they attached them to their kiss. Their name is written in blue on the Hershey flag, and wha-la! You have a cute Delicious Descriptions Bulletin Board, the kids got to eat a treat…and practice their sensory writing! Now it’s time to exchange Valentines!

You can see that I havent added the title to the bulletin board yet...but you get the idea!

You can see that I haven't added the title to the bulletin board yet...but you get the idea!

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Share it Forward: Fake Facebook

When I read this blog post by Free Technology for Teachers, I literally LOLed. My Fake Wall is a website that allows you to make a fake Facebook-like page. Why did I think that was funny? Because last year I did this with a fourth grade teacher for characters from a book! I duplicated a Facebook page in Publisher and the kids came in and manipulated it to look like that character’s Facebook. The kids loved it…and now someone has stolen my brilliant idea and made it into a wonderful website. Ay, yi, yi, if only I would capitalize on my wonderful ideas 🙂

So this is how it works:

You create an account (email required), and then click on “Create a Wall”.  Enter your person’s name, and then you can add pictures, information, friends and conversations to create their Fake Facebook wall! Cool. I tried it out and made a Fake Wall for “Jess Aarons” the main character in Bridge to Terabithia, the book we are reading right now. It was helpful that they made a movie about this book so I could find lots of pictures of the characters. Here is what I made in about 10 20 minutes:

Click on the picture to go to the full Jess Aarons' Fake Wall

Click on the picture to go to the full Jess Aarons' Fake Wall

I had so much fun doing this! I kept thinking of other character connections and events from the story I could add! As I added new events, I could drag and drop them into a different order! What a unique way to make a timeline of a story and show character interactions! I think I will use this with my class at the beginning of a novel unit and we will add characters and events as we read. I will create a class account and let the kids log in and add their own content…what a new collaborative tool

I also found this example FakeWall for the Greek god Hermes, hmmm, maybe I could add this as a project for my Greek Mythology Unit?

Go ahead…Share it Forward!

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It’s all Greek

We just finished our Greek Mythology unit in reading. This year my kids got so “into” it. I mean the kids usually  enjoy reading the Storynory version of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but my class this year has been consumed by everything Greek. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is the new most popular book in my library, and I have several boys who can’t get enough of the Greek basket in my library (this basket includes Greek Myths and nonfiction books about Ancient Greece). The other day at pickup, the sky was very ominous looking and it was blustery and drizzly. The student I was taking to the car shouted over the the howling wind, “We must have angered the gods!” Gotta love it!

I usually let my kids try hummus at the end of the Greek mythology unit, but last summer I got really into making my own hummus. Naturally, I decided to make hummus with them instead. This was one of the funniest experiences to date. The kids LOVED it. They wanted to taste and smell everything that I put in the food processor, and one of my girls repeated “This is the best day ever!” over and over again with every ingredient. Here is “Greek Hummus” in pictures:

Everyone wanted to try a garbanzo bean…

Put it all in the food processor

Little bit of lemon…

And we mash em’, we mash em’

A little math problem. We have 5 pitas, there are 18 students and 1 teacher in our class. How many pieces should we cut each pita into?

Eat it! Some kids loved it, some kids hated it, one kid said he liked it, then told me later that he “fake liked it”, whatever that means 🙂

Here is my recipe for Greek Hummus:

  • 1 can of garbanzo beans (chick peas)–drained, but reserve liquid
  • A few squirts of lemon juice (about a table spoon)
  • A good shake of salt (maybe a teaspoon or two)
  • A palm full of cumin (1-2 table spoons)
  • 1 heaping spoon full of Tahini
  • 2 cloves of garlic

Put everything together in your food processor and let ‘er whirl. Add some of the bean liquid until you have a smooth consistency. Serve with pita!

**Note: You know how much I love Picasa…here’s another reason! I used the editing program “Picnik” in Picasa online to pixelate my pictures for obvious privacy reasons. You don’t need to a fancy photo editor to make your student pictures Internet friendly!

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Basals are bad. Are basals bad? Bad basals are.

I’ve been feeling creatively dry lately! Being creative and coming up with new and interesting ways to teach used to be one of my favorite things about teaching. But lately I haven’t been able to do it. I’ve felt “blah” as I plan and work on my curriculum. And now I’ve put my finger on it.

Yesterday after school, I had one of my traditional Friday afternoon conversation with my co-teacher, Kirsten, (she is my lifeline and will be going on maternity leave in *gulp* three weeks!), I realized that a lot of my creative teaching frustration has stemmed from our new reading curriculum.  We just adopted a new reading curriculum with all the bells and whistles. There are mountains of new  materials (leveled readers, ESL resources, vocabulary cards, posters…) the materials have filled two book shelves! As you know, I had decided to go forward with Reading and Writing workshop, but as a team we realized that we might not be ready to make both leaps at the same time. So we are all working together to implement Writer’s Workshop, but we had decided to go ahead and try out the new reading curriculum.

Yesterday, I confessed to Kirsten, I just couldn’t do it. I was taught in college that Basals are Bad, and everything that I read and research about reading instruction tell me the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are good things in every reading curriculum, but they do not teach inspire kids to love reading. I love classic literature, but it did not come from my  Classic Literature text book I had to read in 9th grade. It came from late nights curled up under the covers consuming Jane Austen. There are many great stories in our crisp, new 4th grade anthology, but I know that reading a story each week and discussing “cause and effect”, “problem and solution” and “story elements” will not a hungry reader make!

Kirsten was very understanding, and while she is going to stick to the basal for the sake of her maternity sub (she’s right with me as far as inspiring kids to love reading), I am going to forge ahead on my own. I don’t think I’m going to run full steam ahead into Readers Workshop. I was a little idealistic to think I could jump back into teaching with an entire new teaching philosophy and not fall flat on my face, but I will use my beloved novels, independent reading time, and reading conferences, a sort of blend of literacy instruction styles. We’ll see how it goes! I have my work cut out for me this weekend to come up with a completely new realistic plan. Hmmm, I think I feel some creativity seeping back into this nerdy teacher’s veins.

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Random Notes from my Penny Kittle Workshop

Here is what I usually do: I get back from a workshop very excited and on fire about whatever I learned. I stick my notes on a pile with very good intentions to review them later. A few months go by. I find the notes, and try to read them and can make absolutely NO sense of them. To break the cycle, I want to share a few notes I took from the Penny Kittle workshop I went to on Wednesday.


My friend and co-teacher, Kirsten, and I sat side by side and listened as Penny Kittle described a writing classroom we dream about. Both of us had been victims of the dreaded “Teach to the Test” teaching method when it came to writing (and reading). It was the only way we knew to get our kids ready for the standardized test that required them to write a composition over a vague topic. I can’t count the number of times we looked at each other knowingly as Penny described an ineffective writing classroom that sounded a lot like ours, or wrote notes furiously to each other as we were given hope for a better way. At lunch we talked a mile a minute about all that we want to do in our classrooms this year, and I was encouraged as I realized a very important thing:  I wouldn’t be alone as I revolutionized my Language Arts classroom.

Random Notes and Thoughts:

  • Penny started out the workshop by asking us how many pages/week high school students should be reading in order to be prepared for college. The answer? 300+pgs/week. Huh.
  • “The fingerprints of our teaching are all over the work our students produce.” Lucy Calkins
  • Conditions that Create Writers:
    • Readers
    • Illustrators/pictures
    • Mentors: Colaboration/talking
    • Sharing
    • Technology
    • Room to be creative: music, videos, non traditional publication
  • Create “Interest Notebooks” where different kids can write about a certain topic (ie: Superheroes, Religion, Sports, Favorite Books ect…)
    • She even talked about sharing these notebooks between grade levels and with the public (Told the story of a teacher who would leave theirs at a local coffee shop and community members could write in them)
  • When we’re writing everyday, kids start thinking like writers. They start seeing topics all over their lives.
  • Quick Write (QW) Three rules:
    • Write quickly
    • Write the entire time (build stamina)
    • Break the rules
  • Mentor texts: 1 writer: Several Texts. Several writers: 1 genre
  • Thoughts on Organizers:
    • Formulas create dependent Thinkers.
    • Don’t focus on product–>Focus on writers
    • Completing vs. Creating.
  • Final Thoughts:
    • Kids need to read what matters to THEM.
    • Give kids writing experiences that matter to them
    • Get kids to share their thinking as well as their writing
    • The power of ONE YEAR. One year with you as their teacher can make all the difference.

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