1 Do you want your students to easily create discussion-worthy questions while reading complex texts?

Is the “release” portion of the gradual release of responsibility taking much too long?

If so, try a couple of these student-friendly (and teacher- friendly) strategies designed to provide students with …

…techniques that inspire quality, student-driven discussions,

…the structure to inspire content-rich observations, and

…the ability to transfer skills across content areas.                                              

                                             THE PROBLEM

Close reading experts like Douglas Fisher, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst all promote “reading with pen” as an effective technique to help readers uncover layers of meaning.

The challenge for the classroom teacher, however, is that students with a wide range of reading proficiencies are expected to tackle the same tasks – even when their skill sets vary greatly.

So teachers have to scramble to find ways to 1) differentiate instruction to accommodate multi-level learners or 2) simply teach to the middle-level learner.

The first option is time-consuming for the teacher and the second is frustrating for partially-proficient and advanced-proficient readers alike.

So which annotation strategies are beneficial and accessible to all students?

                                             THE SOLUTION

Let’s look at few strategies that will help kids – at any reading level – uncover discussion-worthy portions of complex text.

#1 Annotation Codes

Most students enjoy text coding so find a set of grade-appropriate text codes which require students to mark key sentences, phrases, and words that will help crack the code in difficult passages or analyze an author’s purpose.

2 You can download the code key I give to middle school and secondary students here for free.

#2 Response Stems

Post response stems around the room which, by design, guide students to create questions that will lead them more deeply into text. An alternate way to help students respond to the text is to have them create a deck of sentence stems which they will use as reference tools throughout the year.

res Here are a few sample stems which support the Common Core Standards:

Key Ideas and Details (Standards 1-3) The most important… The evidence I found…

Craft and Structure (Standards 4-6) I figured out the meaning… It was easy to picture…

Integration of Knowledge (Standards 7-9) The difference between… If I could give advice…

A full set of response code posters and reference cards is available here.

#3 Post-It Tags

Have students place Post-It Notes directly onto the text while the teacher reads aloud. Completed tags will be used during a class discussion or to guide a pair-share session.

Students may be given different color Post-Its so they can tag the text for different skills (e.g. pink Post-It holders tag sections worthy of craft analysis and green Post-It holders tag favorite parts).

This is a great way to differentiate instruction and to provide students with focus during reading.

3 My favorite sticky tags are the 3 x 3 Post-It Brights because they make the assignment seem a little more special.

                                               EXTENSION

Once students are comfortable annotating and discussing readings using response stems, annotation codes and Post-It Tags, they will be ready to create outlines, paragraphs and essays which will demonstrate their understanding of the text and clarify their thinking.

These writing pieces may also be used as formative or summative assessments.

One way to help students move from simple annotation techniques to more sophisticated ones is to give them a guide (or a cheat sheet) that will help students examine more difficult aspects of a text. Get Free Instant Access to Close Reading Cheat Sheets here. 

When your students are ready to use their close reading skills and annotations to write a paragraph or compose an outline for an essay, consider using a Close Reading and Annotation Tool Kit like this one:

co Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are. Janice Malone – Owner of ELA Seminars – ELAseminars.com

EdExpo Collage
During the last week of February, some of the most dedicated and friendly members of the education community descended on EDexpo in Atlanta, Georgia.

Teachers, store owners, and vendors from around the world attend this annual event to learn about the latest teaching trends and to preview the newest educational products.

I was there to host an information session on “How to Speak Common Core” for sellers who carry Common Core products, and to create a Top Products Pinterest Board showcasing some of the toys, tools, and resources from the show.

The English Language Arts Products I Loved

#1 Exploring Nonfiction Cards by Edupress

Common-Core-Exploring-Nonfiction-HSL_i_EP3681A

These cards are not only visually stunning, but they are chock full of engaging content. The 24 grade-level, core-aligned readings (which include all 5 nonfiction structures) are followed by discussion-worthy comprehension questions, text-dependent writing prompts, and academic vocabulary activities. These cards are currently available for grades 2-6. I plan to use them in K-12 workshops since the content is universally appealing. I hope Edupress considers creating similar sets for primary and secondary grades.
Note: The Exploring Nonfiction Cards also received an Eddy Award – a distinction reserved for the top three products of the year.

#2 Stella Writes Series by SDE Resources

Stella_Writes_Series

The Stella Writes Series, written by Janiel Wagstaff, is a set of K-2 picture books which entertain students while teaching the fundamentals of opinion, informative, and narrative writing. The half literature and half writing manual format equals a whole lot of fun for young readers and writers. Each writing genre is presented through the eyes of an enthusiastic second grader named Stella.
Note: One of my favorite parts of the opinion book is the hand-written rough draft that is included at the end of the story followed by another draft which is labeled “I made a few changes. Can you find them?” Brilliant.

#3 High-Interest Mini Mysteries by RP Publications

mystery

I don’t know about you, but I have always been a sucker for a good mystery. I used to schedule Solve-A-Crime Fridays to sharpen my students’ abilities to make inferences. My middle schoolers couldn’t get enough of them! But the materials in this High-Interest Mini-Mystery Binder take inferring to the next level. Each mystery is paired with an informational text, designed to build students’ knowledge (e.g. a map and image of the story’s setting is included in the nonfiction text). What I love about the format is that these are the kind of paired texts that hook struggling readers and challenge proficient ones.
Note: The reading levels of the 28 units range from 2nd to 6th grades, but the interest levels range from 2nd through high school.

Visit my Pinterest site to view more amazing products from the show here:

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Bloggers’ Choice Products

For the second year in a row, 50 teacher bloggers were recruited and flown in for the event. Their job was to compile a master list of 10 Best-in-Show products after visiting the new product pavilion, examining hundreds of educational resources, and talking to product designers. Angie Olson – the owner of the Lucky Little Learners blog – posted the final list here.

If you ever get a chance to attend an EDexpo event, be sure to do it. It is one of the classiest venues I’ve ever experienced.

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Share Point: Okay, now here are two questions for you:
1.Which new product would have been your #1 choice for top product of the year? and/or
2. Give us a link to a product that is your #1 favorite (e.g.Shop Bell: http://amzn.to/18GAOaM).

Local Teacher Stores: Find Edmarket Dealers near you here: http://www.edmarketdealer.com/search/local/

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher and owner of ELA Seminars. Website: http://www.ELAseminars.com.

Take Five If you haven’t had success with peer editing and revising strategies in the past, give this one a try:

• First, a peer editor/reviser will count the number of words in the first five sentences of another student’s paragraph and record those numbers above each finger.

• Next, the first word of each sentence will be listed inside each finger.

• Then, a short reflection will be added to the palm of the hand.

 Take 5 pic

As you can see, a quick glance at the completed Take Five task sheet will show the student author that a sentence or two should be revised since three of the five sentences start with the same word.

The student author may consider shortening one or two sentences in order to add a little sentence variety to the piece as well.

It’s as easy as that.

This handy, multi-purpose, formative assessment tool also serves double duty by providing teachers with a visual springboard to use during writing conferences.

Download the free 10-page Take Five freebee here.

Check out 300+ free writing lessons on Pinterest.

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

To find more resources for ELA teachers only, visit www.ELAseminars.com.

Share Point: Do you have a favorite revising and editing strategy? Please share!

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Newsela -Wordopolis - Readworks

Three Incredible Nonfiction Resources


Nonfiction Sites Every Teacher Should Know About

Nonfiction texts allow readers to experience the amazing wonders of our world. When teachers help students become more proficient nonfiction readers, they are training young minds to read more deeply, to ask more relevant questions, and to come to a better understanding of the world in which they live. And since research indicates that 85% of the material adults read every day is nonfiction, it is important for teachers to show students how to embrace and decode this genre. Here are a few sites that will make nonfiction lessons fun for students to try and easy for teachers to implement.

Site #1: NEWSELA
Why? Newsela writers rewrote each article so that teachers can differentiate assignments and assessments. Users simply change the lexile levels of articles and quizzes on the right sidebar.

Details and Link
Newsela is an innovative way to build reading comprehension with daily news that’s always relevant. With one mouse click, the architects of this site make it easy for an entire class to read the same content, but at a level that’s just right for each student. Some of the articles include common-core-aligned quizzes as well. (Link: https://newsela.com/)

Site #2: WONDEROPOLIS
Why? This site is downright fun! And what makes it even better is that every multi-disciplinary, high-interest article and video aligns to the Common Core State Standards, the STEM Educational Quality Framework, and the Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Details and Link
Wonderopolis features a Wonder of the Day. Each day, an intriguing question is posed and then explored in a variety of ways. Word challenges, audio options, and comprehension checks are included with each daily article. (Link: http://wonderopolis.org/about/)

Site #3: READWORKS
Why? Lessons, evidence-based question sets and complete units are downloadable for free.

Details and Link
ReadWorks provides authentic, core-aligned, research-based units for grades K-8.  This user-friendly site makes it easy for teachers to locate, print, and download stimulating fiction and nonfiction resources by 1) subject area, 2) grade level or 3) lexile level. ReadWorks does require each teacher to provide an email addresses in order to download and print from this site.( Link: http://www.readworks.org/)

So there you have it: Three nonfiction sites that will engage students and delight teachers.

Recommended book of graphic organizers for nonfiction reading and informational writing (Link: http://bit.ly/1tw5EaL):

ELA Cracking_the_common_core_code_Cover_NoKS_Logo

31 Templates and Samples

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

Get monthly tips like this one at http://elaseminars.com/opt-in-1.htm.

To find more resources for ELA teachers only, visit www.ELAseminars.com.

Share Point: If you are in love with a nonfiction site, please share the link in the comment section!

Popcorn Writing
After reading Amber Beeson’s blog post at Apples to Applique, I was inspired to give Popcorn Writing a try. I thought it would be a super-easy center to make, and I was convinced it would be a sure-fire hit with kids. I was right on both counts!

Here’s how I created the center:

• First, I bought two plastic popcorn containers.

• Then, I typed 25 prepositional phrases, leaving several spaces between each one before printing them out on bright, yellow paper.

• Next, I added 25 stock animal cartoons – and printed them out on plain, white paper.

• Finally, I cut out the phrases and the cartoons, crumpled them up, and dropped them into plastic popcorn containers.

When students arrived at the Popcorn Writing literacy center, they followed simple instructions which directed them to select one yellow kernel and one white kernel. Students then used the selected phrases and animals as springboards for their narratives.

 

WRITING CENTER INSTRUCTIONS

Use simple, two-step instructions at the center for subject-specific assignments or creative writing assignments.

Sample Directions:
Step #1:  Select one white popcorn kernel and one yellow popcorn kernel.
Step #2:  Write a paragraph which includes the words or illustrations found on each kernel.

Note: The next time I offer Popcorn Writing as one of the literacy stations, I plan to use past tense action verbs and random cartoon objects as quick write prompts.

 

 WRITING CENTER LINKS


Free “Popcorn Writing” Poster and Preview http://bit.ly/1hW4o93

Popcorn Writing Product: http://bit.ly/1liUNxf

Apples to Applique Blog Post: http://bit.ly/1ojlLtm

Popcorn Containers: http://amzn.to/1jRf3Zw

Get monthly tips like this one at http://elaseminars.com/opt-in-1.htm

 

SHARE POINT

Now, here’s a question for you: What is your favorite, super-easy writing center idea?

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader, and the owner of ELA Seminars, LLC . Visit http://www.ELAseminars.com.

 

Close Reading

What is close reading?

Close reading is a strategy which requires students to read and revisit short, complex passages. Its purpose is to help students uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.

 

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has endorsed close reading as a teaching strategy to help young readers “stay in the text” to determine the meaning of words, to examine key phrases, and to identify important statements.

 

 

What are the basic steps for conducting a close reading session?

 

The four basic steps for conducting a close reading session are:

1. Read a short passage – using a pencil to mark words, phrases and sentences.

2. Share notations with others.

3. Reread with a purpose.

4. Respond to a discussion-worthy, text-dependent question.

 


Do close reading passages have to be short?

 

Yes. Short pieces allow students to digest and analyze challenging passages in a single class period.

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Should background information be provided before conducting a close reading activity?

 

No. When students read a passage for the first time, they should approach it with a sense of discovery by formulating questions and making observations. As students self-select interesting words, phrases, and sentences from the text, they learn how to uncover meanings of unfamiliar words, determine an author’s tone, and identify key points independently.

 


Why are students required to read the same passage multiple times?

Students read once to get the gist of the short text. During the first reading, students mark the text or make notes in the margins.

Before asking students to reread the text, the teacher gives students a purpose for reading in order to take them more deeply into the text. This strategy helps students to process information which is intended to change perceptions or build knowledge.

The final look into the text requires students to show what they know by finding information that will be shared or recorded.


Do the architects of the Common Core State Standards provide a framework for conducting a close reading?


No. Close reading strategies vary depending on text complexity, grade level, and learning objectives.

However, close reading always involves three things: rereading, annotating, and finding text-dependent evidence.

 

How does close reading support the Common Core State Standards?

Students activate nine of the reading standards during a close reading activity.

Standards one through three require students to read text in order to identify central ideas and supporting details.

Standards four through six ask students to examine how the passage was written to help establish a reading/writing connection.

And standards seven through nine invite students to compare, contrast, and assimilate new knowledge.

 .

Are there close reading “cheat sheets” available?

Yes. You can download a set of close reading reference cards here:

Close Reading at a Glance Reference Cards

Close Reading at a Glance Reference Cards

Download “Close Reading at a Glance” reference cards at  http://elaseminars.com/images/CLOSE-READING-AT-A-GLANCE.pdf

For more information about close reading, visit http://bit.ly/1jn06uD and http://bit.ly/1fdAi3m

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Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

 

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About me (Janice Malone): I’m a teacher, an in-service provider, and the owner of ELA Seminars. For more information, visit www.ELAseminars.com.

 

Share Point: Okay, now here’s a quick survey question for you:

Do you think close reading strategies hurt or help the quest to nurture lifelong readers?

Type HELP or HURT in the comment section below.

 

Students Writing

Students who consistently earn advanced proficient writing scores have one thing in common: They know how to add the kind of details to their stories that satisfy readers.

Fortunately, most of the techniques they use are easy to teach.

Here are eight elaboration strategies I share with students to help them add effective details to narrative pieces:

#1 Add action verbs.
Action verbs—such as gripped, slumped, trudged, glared, and perched—bring boring sentences to life. Too often, young writers are content using weaker versions of these verbs (i.e. held, sat, walked, looked, and stood). Find practice prompts (with standards included) that require students to use strong verbs here.

#2 Use transitions.
Transitional words—such as because, eventually, when, before, and after—belong in all writing genres. They are signposts designed to guide readers into a deeper understanding of the text. Download a list of narrative transitions here.

#3 Add unexpected numbers.
Precise numbers—such as 10:03 PM, 96 degrees, or 81mph—add authenticity to writings. Readers expect an event to start at 8:00 or to learn that a driver is speeding or to be told it’s hot outside—so surprise them by using very specific numbers that will pop off the page and pull them into the scene instead. Find practice prompts (with standards included) that require students to use specific times here.

#4 Include proper nouns.
Names and places—such as Dexter Sweeny, Tiffany Chappelle, Rockville Middle School, and Piccadilly Drive—conjure up images in readers’ minds. Keep readers engaged by teasing them with names and places that will make them curious enough to want to confirm or negate their “first impressions” (e.g. Is Dexter Sweeny rich and spoiled or geeky and intelligent?). Download a sample lesson here. Read the full blog post on the power of proper nouns here.

#5 Use repetition for effect.
Repetition of single words—such as No light. No sound. No movement.—adds rhythm, emphasis, and drama to narratives. Once in a while it’s fun to take control of readers’ emotions before revealing a conflict, a motive, or a consequence. Repeating words or phrases (usually in sets of three) is an effective way to build suspense just before revealing something significant. Find examples here.

#6 Include thought shots.
Thought shots—thoughts that reveal fears, plans, reactions, worries, and joys—allow readers to understand the things that influence characters’ decisions. Find 50 free practice prompts (with standards included) that require students to create thought shots here.

#7 Use emphatic word fragments.
An emphatic word fragment—such as “Regrets. We all have them.”—is a rule-breaking strategy used by many contemporary writers. The use of a single word (usually a noun) followed by a period, forces readers to pay attention to all the sentences that support it. Learn more about emphatic words and phrases here.

#8 Include texture words.
Texture words—such as icy, gritty, varnished, damp, and slippery—are among the most frequently overlooked descriptive words. Think about it. Most writers include sights and sounds. Many add familiar scents and comfort foods. But textures? They are often the forgotten members of the five-senses family. Get a list of 400 texture words here. 

Additional elaboration techniques—such as (1) Creating Believable Protagonists and Antagonists, (2) Designing Novel-Worthy Character Names, (3) Developing Irresistible Personalities, (4) Using Nouns and Verb Combos to Develop Writing Fluency and (5) Turning Broad Adjectives into Active Verb Phrases—are available here.

Visual-Writers-Notebook

Share Point: Now, here’s a question for you: What is one easy writing strategy your students use to add interest to their narrative writings?

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. Visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, or check out the 100’s of free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.


SNEAKY MANiStock_000000280311XSmall

    LET’S BE HONEST  

Do your students hate prewriting?

Do you they throw a few words on top of their papers and call it a “Prewrite” just to make you happy?

Do your students think that the prewriting stage of the writing process is a waste of their precious time?

If these issues sound painfully familiar, the solution might be a lot easier than you think.

THE PROBLEM

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After trying everything I could think of to convince my students about the “Power of the Prewrite,” I realized that the message I was really giving them was that “getting ready to write” was a tedious, boring, unnecessary component of the writing process.

After all, what could possibly be interesting or valuable about a piece of writing that no one (except me) would ever see?

Fortunately, that problem was resolved on the day I made one of the best professional purchases of my career. The day I walked out of a CVS with Tiger Beat, Seventeen, and Yikes! instead of People, Reader’s Digest and Real Simple.

ENLIGHTENMENT AT CVS

While searching for a few magazines that would entertain me at the beach, my eyes landed on the teen and tween magazine section. As I scanned some of the cover stories and flipped through the pages of some of the publications, I found exactly the kind of writing I had been hoping to see in my students’ pieces.

It was then that it dawned on me that I was guilty of using all the tired catch phrases to get them to improve their writing skills. You know the ones:

Show, don’t tell.
Be specific, not vague.
Seeing is believing.

In short, I was trying to reach budding writers with the types of clichés I wanted them to avoid.

I’ll show you exactly what I mean.

As I perused the headlines, it became clear that most of them fell into one of three categories:

#1: TOP 10 LISTS for narrative and informational pieces

  • 10 Signs You’re Addicted to Breakfast Foods
  • Weird Ways He Tries to Impress You
  • Ten Tricks That’ll Boost Your Confidence Instantly

#2: PRO TIPS for expository and informational pieces

  • Get Fit: Couch to 5K in 15 Minutes a Day
  • How to Tell Him You Want to Be More Than Friends: Secrets Revealed
  • How Bullies Made Me Stronger: Jennifer Lawrence Spills All about Dealing with Mean Girls

#3: WHAT’S HOT, WHAT’S NOT REPORTS for opinion, research, persuasive and argument pieces

  • Back-to-School Finds and Fails
  • What’s Hot Now: The Trend Report
  • Should You Get a Tattoo?

Are you kidding me? These headlines were written to get consumers (your students) to flip to each article where the subtitles (prewrite subtopics) were typed in bold-faced, brightly-colored print – often with attention-grabbing fonts. It was obvious that the sales of these magazines were contingent upon baiting potential buyers with snappy headlines then reeling them in with engaging subtitles.

Here is a specific example from Seventeen:

HEADLINE: The Weird Ways He Tries to Impress You
COLORFUL, MULTI-FONT SUBTITLE SAMPLES: (1) Faking a British Accent, (2) Throwing a Grey’s Anatomy Party, (3) Joining Pinterest, (4) Pumping Up at the Gym, and (5) Binging on Veggies
TEXT: Each subtitle was followed by a true-life story of a guy who successfully impressed a girl using one of those techniques.

Really?

Was there ever a time in my life when I would have fallen for such a ridiculous and obvious ploy to get me to read a mindless, useless article?

The truth was that I was falling for it at that very moment.

I didn’t even care about what teens were doing to impress other teens, but I just had to know how weird these flirting techniques were and maybe even discover something about the girls who eventually agreed to date the guys whose crazy antics were featured in this article.

AUTHENTIC CONNECTIONS

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I decided that if I found these magazine-selling strategies irresistible, my students definitely would – so I used the teen-and-tween magazines to (once again) try to convince them that prewriting can be their most powerful writing tool.

And guess what? This time I didn’t even have to try.

I was meeting them on their turf, and they were begging to learn more about each one of the articles I used to demonstrate my points. It simply could not have been easier.

And just when I thought the lesson couldn’t have been more successful, one student shared an observation about the school-to-workplace connection – without any formal mini-lesson to help students reach a deeper understanding of the lesson.

So I used that observation as a springboard to brainstorm the marketing strategies that were used to sell the magazines.

Here’s what the class came up with (along with my parenthetical connections):

  1. Capture readers’ attention with an irresistible headline (Begin with a great story title).
  2. Entertain people with unexpected subtitles (Create hooks).
  3. Make potential buyers want to read to get more details (Draft a piece).
  4. Sell customers the magazine (Get an A+ or get published).

Did the students understand my “seeing is believing” reference after this lesson?

You bet they did.

THE SOLUTION

HiRes

So here is my new and improved method for getting kids excited about the prewriting portion of the writing process:

Step #1: Have students generate Top 10 Lists, Pro Tip Sheets, and What’s Hot, What’s Not Reports for various writing genres (e.g. opinion pieces, research reports, expository essays, etc.) several weeks (or days) before assigning a formal writing piece. That way, their prewrites will already be finished!

Step #2: Tell students to circle 3 of their favorite Top 10, Pro Tip, or Hot/Not entries.

Step #3: Display the format for whatever genre is being taught or reviewed.

Step #4: Explain that 2 or 3 of the circled prewrite entries will become topic sentences for supporting paragraphs.

Step #5: Require students to begin rough drafts based on the circled entries on their prewrite sheets.

RESOURCES

helpful tips

Here are some resources to get you started:

1. Download these free templates: (1) Pro Tip Sheet, (2) What’s Hot, What’s Not Report, and (3) Top 10 List HERE.

2. Have students Google Search any topic this way:

“______________ Tips from the Pros” (e.g.  BBQ Tips from the Pros),  and ask them to record their favorite findings on the Pro Tip Sheet.

3. Check out completed Hot/Not writing samples at ProCon.org to see side by side comparative reports (e.g. Video Games and Violence), and have students generate similar reports using the What’s Hot, What’s Not Report.

4. Have each student select a topic of interest and generate a “favorites” list (e.g. Movies, Books, Music Videos, etc.), using the Top 10 Template, and ask students to “pair share” their lists.

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS

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A collection of 50 + Top 10, multi-purpose lists for Writers’ Notebooks is also available HERE.

You can find more tips on my 50 Five-Minute Teaching Tips Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/

Click this link to have teacher-requested tips and lessons delivered to your inbox:  http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/manage/optin/ea?v=001_Sihum3TrbPEDe4tqrPgPA%3D%3D

Do you have a favorite prewriting strategy? Please share!

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, and check out the 100’s of free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.

                                                                                                          

Did I miss anything important?

The Question Teachers Dread

One of the most frustrating questions I receive as a teacher comes from well-meaning students who want to make up assignments that they’ve missed.

You know the question. It’s a classic: Did I miss anything important?

Without fail, this single line sends my maturity level packing as every sophomoric retort I can formulate between the-time-the-question-is-asked and the-time-my-reply-is-executed moves in.

Apparently, I am not alone.

The Answers Teachers Think But Don’t Say

When I Googled responses to the did-I-miss-anything question, I found that a lot of teachers have felt the sting of it, too, and were more than happy to share some of their unspoken responses.

Here are three of my favorites:

1. “Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here we sat with our hands folded on our desks in silence, for the full two hours.” from Did I Miss Anything? (Poem by Tom Wayman)

2. “No. We were so depressed by your absence that we didn’t have the energy to carry on.” from But I Didn’t Miss Anything, Did I? (YouTube xtranormal video by Amanda Lynch Morris)  

3. “No, I noticed you were absent so I assigned the class coloring sheets instead.” from someecards (E-card , writer unknown)

To add insult to injury, returning students either ask this question just before class begins, or they send an e-mail, requesting a brief-but-thorough recap of everything they’d ever want to know about the day’s events. Either way their message is clear: They don’t want an answer that will require more than three minutes of their time.

 The While You Were Out Filing System to the Rescue
VIEW VIDEO

While You Were Out

Fortunately, the While You Were Out filing system that has saved me from having to choke back my defensive responses – or blurting out my favorite Google finds. So now if I hear the did-I-miss-anything question, I smile politely and tell students to find the folder marked with the day(s) they were absent and simply follow the guidelines for submission.

The benefits for me and for my students are noteworthy:

(1) Students assume full responsibility for making up missing assignments.

(2) Students who do ask about making up missed work get a quick and friendly response from me – which they appreciate.

(3) And best of all, my emotional stability remains intact.

How to Create a While You Were Out  Filing System

Here is what you will need to put together your own While You Were Out filing system:

Materials:
Five black file folders (The cheapest ones I found were on Amazon.)
Five folder labels and a While You Were Out sign (free at my TpT store)
One glue stick
One heavy, plastic shoe box

Directions:
Attach the While You Were Out sign to a heavy plastic shoe box.
Glue the days-of-the-week labels to black file folders.
Drop the folders into the labeled box.

Now, whenever you give classwork, homework, or long-term assignments to your class, all you have to do is remember to insert the extra papers into the folder marked with the day you presented each assignment. Add a new submit by date to the top of any assignment that will have a different submission date for students who missed your class.

How to Request Materials

Let me know if you’d like more resources like this one by leaving a comment on this blog or by leaving a comment under the rating stars on the Teachers pay Teachers site. You can also have teacher-requested tips delivered to your inbox by clicking: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/manage/optin/ea?v=001_Sihum3TrbPEDe4tqrPgPA%3D%3D

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, and check out the 100’s of free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.

 

 Bored Students 000019214693XSmall

  Engagement Strategy

It was the last period of the day when I entered the writing lab, and to say that the thirty-two sophomores slumped in desks and computer chairs looked bored would be an understatement.  Images of Salvador Dali’s soft watch paintings drifted through my mind as I scanned the room.

The writing teacher began class with a set of call backs:

Teacher: How do we create characters?
Students: We use proper nouns.
Teacher: How do we create settings?
Students: We use proper nouns

These sing-song call backs continued – using the same two questions and answers – for about five minutes (It felt like five hours.).  Then the students were told to pass their homework assignments to the front of the class.

The teacher shuffled the papers and read each one, stopping occasionally to call on random students to make comments or to ask questions.

You must be saying to yourself, “What’s so spectacular about this lesson? Nothing has impressed me so far.”

 Data-Driven Practices

What made this lesson so remarkable was the quality of the writing. The first opening line was Mick Savage sprinted to the entrance of the Centennial Middle School, but the door was already locked.   Immediately, my curiosity was piqued and I began to formulate questions: Why was Mick sprinting? Was he late for school…again?  Was he going to a dance but arrived just minutes after administrators had locked the doors?  Maybe he was a starter for the basketball team and would soon be banging desperately on the door because the game was about to begin.  Perhaps he was just hoping to grab the door as it was closing so he didn’t have to wait to be buzzed in.

As each paper was read, I noted that the characters were interesting, the plots were believable, and the conflicts were riveting.  When the bell rang, I couldn’t wait to ask the teacher what his secret was for getting such impressive narratives from such a disaffected group.

He told me, “A number of studies have shown that it takes 20 repetitions to transfer information into short-term memory and 40 repetitions to transfer information into long-term memory. I share this information with my students so that they understand the purpose of the call backs. Then, I randomly select students to respond to the writings in order to get students to think like state judges – the ones who will be scoring their drafts at the end of the year.  Students catch on quickly with this method, but it’s not until they see their own writings (and grades) improve, that they’re really convinced.”

If I didn’t hear the writings myself, I would have never believed this strategy could have produced such extraordinary results.

Here is an introductory lesson that will get students started writing thought-provoking and action-packed stories.

Lesson Idea

Funny curious nerd man
Cosmo Finklebean

Step 1: Ask students to brainstorm colorful character names and places from text and film like J.K. Rowling’s Draco Malfoy/Slytherin or Suzanne Collins’ Effie Trinket/District 12.

Here is a link to a five-minute, teaching writing podcast that explains how to help students design colorful characters: http://janiceannemalone.podbean.com/2011/11/27/creating-unforgettable-characters/

Step 2: Tell students to select one name and one setting from these lists (These words will become springboards for their narratives.), and have them write for ten minutes.

Names
Tiffany Hollister
Preston Fletcher
Miranda Leech
Beau Bradstone
Frank Nicoelleti                                                                                                                 

Settings
Seneca High School
Guenther’s Auto Repair
Bobby’s Bar and Grill
Winchester Mansion
Second Avenue

Here are two notebook pages featuring  Cosmo Finklebean and Latisha Wright from San Deigo Junior High in a paired writing activity:

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Step 3: Have volunteers share their stories, stopping from time to time to ask random students to recall parts of the story they found most memorable.

Note: If you absolutely hate the prewriting part of writing, here’s the secret for blowing right past it and diving straight into the drafting part: just make up great character names, drop them into believable settings, and the story will practically write itself! Throw in an unexpected time (8:23 instead of 8:00) along with any color at all and no judge (even a hard-to-please one) will ever know.

Add callback sessions along with random critiquing to this exercise, and see if you experience similar results.

Try Me Lesson

Here is a free lesson and interactive handout that you can use several times during the year when teaching writing to help students understand the importance of using specific rather than general words in their writings: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Snapshot-Lesson.

Try Me

There are also 50 free lessons (along with teacher directions, student directions and  Common Core State Standards) available at http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/prompts-photos/

When students master the art of using proper nouns to enliven their writings, consider checking out my favorite narrative unit of all time entitled, “Make Your Characters Jump Off the Page.”  You can watch the introduction to this unit in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7DLZRCK310 .

Narrative Unit

Layout 1 (Page 1)http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Make-Your-Characters-Jump-Off-the-Page

Share Point

Now, here’s a question for you: What is one easy writing strategy that you use to spice up your own writing or one strategy your students use to add interest to their writings?

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher, seminar leader and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, visit her website www.ELAseminars.com, and check out over 100 free lessons she has posted on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/elaseminars/.

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