Monday, October 13, 2014

Haunted House Writing...Beautiful Beginnings/Hooks {Part 2}

If you didn't get to see or read Part HERE.  

Now that my students have finished their 5-senses circle plans, we got to tackle one of the best parts of these stories...the beginning!  Since they are writing for 8th graders, their creative juices flow like mad because they want to reel in the attention of teenagers.  We all know...and they will attest to this since so many of them have teenage siblings and hard it is to keep teenagers entertained.  Ha!  

So, bring on the Beautiful Beginnings mini-lesson (thank you to my fellow teacher and pal, Ella Maya!) and anchor chart!!  

We actually already did our main lesson on this last month when they were writing their Superhero narratives.  But I like to use this opportunity to rewrite a whole new set of Beautiful Beginnings just to show them how much more they can do besides their typical (and I am not kidding you when I say typical)...hence why we have the Banned Beginnings side of our anchor chart in our classroom.

Let's just take a look at that Banned Beginnings side for a hot minute.  All of those came from writing my students have actually done.  After looking at their district benchmark testing and initial writing samples...these are the beginnings they over use...over and over again.  Sigh.  We've already had many many students trying to start their story with, "One spooky Halloween night..."  Gah!  Hence, this repeated mini-lesson on how to use those Beautiful Beginnings or hooks.  

I found my version of this chart from last year on my iPhone and I think those beginnings were waaaaaaaaay better!  But after modeling this, my students were already back at it getting rid of that boring, "One night..." lead.  Ick!  

Bring on the adjectives list!  Since they would be starting on their drafts, I wanted to make sure we interacted with the Adjectives list I include in the unit on Teachers Pay Teachers HERE.  

I ask my students to individually read through the list and mark 5-6 adjectives they have never seen or heard before.  Then, we do a sort of poll by raising our hands for each word.  The words the majority of the class are curious about are those that I highlight.  We bust out the dictionaries, just to get some extra reference source practice in.  I don't have them look up every single word because that would just waste a ridiculous amount of I do like to use context clues and funny or scary scenarios to help them get the gist.  From there they definitely start attaching themselves to certain words they really want to use in their own writing.

And then from there I set them free to let those creative juices flow through their arms on to their paper.  And just like their planning stage...their heads stay down and pencils rapidly scratch across the paper the entire writing period.  I can't get enough out of walking around to stop and read their beginnings and seeing their ideas on paper!

Many students like to wait and use the adjectives until they revise or edit.  But I did have a large handful who wanted to tackle them as they were drafting.  Either way, I love not seeing the word "spooky" or "scary" overused.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Haunted House Writing...We are Obsessed! {Part 1}

We are knee-deep into our drafts and so I wanted to get this little ol' blog post together...finally!  I love this time of year in my classroom!  Even though I am a major Christmas time fan, there is just something about celebrating all things October in 5th grade.  At this grade level I can still get away with the scare factor without kids thinking it's cheesy.  Not only do I love students become obsessed too!

One of the best parts of October though, is when I get to break out and introduce my Haunted House Expressive (Narrative) Writing Unit.  This was one of the first things I put together for Teachers Pay Teachers and it's for sale HERE.

Sure, I'm selling a product I've made and have used in my classroom for the last 6 years...but I really love sharing it here because students fall in love with it.  Year after year, I have seen a HUGE change in my students' voracity and enthusiasm with writing because they suddenly realize they can enjoy writing rather than deal with it.  So, I guess you could say this project is at the heart of why I enjoy this time of the year so much!  The best part is, it covers several of the Common Core Writing standards for narratives in grades 3-6.  Score!!

I like to introduce this assignment to my students in the most persuasive way possible...and that is by using a Promethean flipchart I found on Promethean Planet many years ago (I can't remember the source at all, so hopefully someone knows who I can thank).  This flipchart has great sound effects and some imagery that gets my students excited and feeling inspired.  It really does help it take off!

I feel like I'm going to be saying, "I just love it when...," in this blog post a ton!  But it's because I constantly look up or out at my class and get all giddy because of how much I see them wanting to delve in to something I provide for them.  Sooooooo...when I start going through the flipchart, it makes my heart skip a beat as I see smiles come across their face and I can almost see the wheels turning in their heads.  Sometimes I have to tell them to pump on the brakes because they want to start writing before I'm even done introducing the rest of the unit to them.  Around this time, I also tell them their audience will be 8th graders (this is the benefit of working at a K-8 school).  They get super nervous until I tell them about how much the 8th graders the year before truly enjoyed my previous class' writing pieces.

I've since inserted my own pages into the old flipchart I downloaded years and years ago so that it includes the paragraph plans you can grab up in the TPT product.

In fact, here is the paragraph (5-senses plan) I modeled in front of my class this year...

I should really preface this by saying I am perfectly open to my students getting gross and graphic (at a 5th grade level) as long as they stay within age-appropriate parameters.  The thing is, whether I like it or not, my students (in an at-risk urban area of Phoenix) watch rated R scary movies constantly. I've tried in my earlier years of teaching to put a stop to it, but it happens at home, and there's just nothing I can do to stop it.  So, because they have that background and it is just part of their life, I allow them to take it and run with it.  And...I have never had a student overstep boundaries because they know there are ground rules.  It is completely up to you, your student population, and your comfortability level.  For those who do not want to go scary, I let them know it is perfectly fine and just as much fun to write a funny story or even a combo of funny and scary.  I've had several kids write some hilarious haunted house stories that have made me laugh out loud.

Once we set everything up and I have modeled a paragraph plan or two, my students go for it.  By go for it...I mean GO FOR IT!  They are chomping at the bit and bubbling over with excitement to get to writing for the 8th graders.

I can't stop there though...I have to play Halloween music via my Spotify album I've been adding to the last 3 years.  I'm including it below so you can grab it up and use it in your classroom as well. My kids get all kinds of giddy when they hear the scary sound songs since it gives them inspiration for their 5-senses plans.  The looks on their faces when they hear their favorite scary movie song come on always cracks me up too (think Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween).  Let me know if you decide to use it...I'd love to find out it's being played across classrooms.  :-)


My students usually need up to 2 days to work on their five paragraphs/plans.  This year, I noticed more of my students really wanted to utilize the space to sketch a visual in order to help them form those ideas.  Talk about ownership!   

This year, I have two students whose families do not celebrate Halloween, so they are writing mysteries that take place inside of a house instead.  I really want to put together an extension to add to the original I'll work on that soon.  I don't want any kids to feel left out. Definitely keep an eye out for that!

What do you think?  I hope this blog post helps those who have grabbed up my little unit.  Part 2 coming up tomorrow...stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What Can You Infer? {Carousel Style}

We only have 3 more days till our fall break and I couldn't be happier...seeing as how I'm on that downward slope of the teacher curve.  I am so looking forward to being able to sleep in a little, head to the gym for those morning classes I miss from my summer off, reading, and cleaning house...okay, maybe not the cleaning part.

So I just finished grading and checking my students inferencing (AKA RL.1)  post assessment today and my students did so much better than they've done in the past.  I wanted to share one of the activities I do, which I got from THIS free resource on TPT from The Teacher Treasury.

RL.5.1:  Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

These are meant for a Carousel type activity...and it has to be silent!  This is the coolest part of the whole thing.  Once you paste up all 15 pictures around your room and students have at it, you won't believe the intensity in their thinking and how silent they can stay.  The idea is, you don't want them sharing their opinion with others.

But let me back up...first (as our warm up or lead-in) we watch this awesome 3-minute animated YouTube video, The Defective Detective, I discovered via Pinterest last year. We watch it once to start forming inferences and students can jot down key words, phrases, and anything else they notice in the video from the sounds and sights. They discuss it together and compare inferences.  Then we watch it again to try and catch clues they may have missed.

For our "I Do" we take a look at this Promethean/ActivBoard flipchart I found many years ago on Promethean Planet.  If someone knows of the source, please let me know here! We use some TPR motions for each part of this little "math equation" and use those TPR motions consistently throughout our work with inferencing.  You can see we used a sentence frame in order to practice using evidence as we form those inferences.

You can see our day's goal here...

I do love to have students use either Rally Robin, Round Robin, or even Timed Pair Share afterwards to get them chatting about their inferences and why they came up with what they did.  My students did a really nice job of citing their evidence and on several occasions one student changed another's mind about their inference because they missed a piece of information in the picture.

At the end of this lesson, I introduce a quick and simple paragraph and ask my students to complete an exit ticket.  I wrote a paragraph about a boy who wakes up late and rushes to get ready for school. He gets annoyed his mom didn't wake him up, but then as he is walking to school he hears church bells, an empty school parking lot...and then he suddenly realizes...So, this gives me a chance to see how they do with inferring from text after practicing with the sentence frame, hand motions, and picture discussions.

What do you think?  Have you tried something like this in your classroom for inferencing?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Vocaroo {A New and Simple Way to Record Audio in your Classroom}

I am so sorry I haven't posted in almost a month!  This school year is going well, but with all the new requirements being rolled out with Common Core and our school's mandates (which I'm actually enjoying and fully supportive of) life has become quite overwhelming.  It's tiring to keep up with it all.  But this is how I roll...I like to take a new idea, strategy, or mandate and try to implement it immediately and as best as I can.  Is anyone else like this, even though it tires you out?

Speaking of Common Core and trying to get better at something, this brings me to our new RI.5.5 (Informational Text) standard, which is all about text structure.  This one was quite tricky for our team because our adopted curriculum doesn't have enough material for it.  So, we consulted BetterLesson.  Have you heard of this site or have you used it?  We found a seriously nice set of lessons from one of their master teachers here.

Through this find, I was able to read up on a new Web 2.0 tool...or maybe it isn't new except to me. Please tell me I am not the last one on the planet to find out about Vocaroo!

Any who, the master teacher mentioned using this website for workstations.  She had her students read a Reader's Theater script about text structure and record their reading for a fluency check.  I decided to give it a try since we have 3 iMac desktops in our classroom.  My students were all about being able to use technology and didn't mind having to read to a computer at all!  Anything to get them excited about something that might not be all that exciting right?

Since it's a Web 2.0 Tool, it is completely free and pretty easy to use.  It took a quick 5-minute intro to show my students how to use it and they didn't need any help once they started.

Once they press record (see the screenshot from above), they press "Stop" and get this screen you see below.  They can listen to their recording to make sure it worked, the volume is fine, or to possibly redo it.

Once they are happy with their recording, they click "Click here to save" right there at the bottom of the screen (see above).  

For my students, I set up a Google Form so they could copy and paste the link you see above.  It was super easy to set up and my kids were able to send their links easily and quickly.  This, again, only took a couple minutes to show them and they took off with it.

I am able to now click on the links in the "Responses" Google Form document and listen in on their fluency.  Easy peasy!!  Did I mention it is free?  Did I also mention it gets students' attention...and keeps it?!

So, what do you think?  Will you be trying Vocaroo in your classroom?  How do you think you could implement it?  I'd love to hear some other ideas!