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September Snapshot – This I Believe

I’m sure you’ve seen the quote from Michael Linsin, founder of the Smart Classroom Management blog, floating around on the internet, and I’ve made it my motto for this back to school season: “My number one goal at the end of the first day is not that they know the rules and consequences. It’s that they are excited to be a part of the class. That they run home to their parents and say, ‘Oh my gosh. I have the best teacher. I have this awesome class. It’s going to be a great year.’” I want this sense of excitement to carry through the year, but I set the tone with a day one escape room to get to know the classroom and collaborate within groups and a day two book tasting to get them ready to read every day in class. These two opening activities work like magic, and I have them in the palm of my hands.

Since participating in the PAWLP Summer Institute this past summer, I’ve been thinking about first week ways to get my 9th and 10th graders as excited about writing as we’ve been about reading. How can I provide some low stakes, low risk opportunities to build their self-esteem and their toolboxes as writers without focusing on the rules and consequences?

10th graders love to ponder philosophical questions as they figure out their place in the world, so this year, I am using the anthology This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman as a springboard for writing. You’re probably familiar with the short This I Believe segments on NPR.

On day three, we began with a writing warm up – What do you believe?

We read snippets from the editor’s notes at the beginning of the anthology to give students a little history of the project and some advice to writers of the pieces. I captured their takeaways on an anchor chart.

Then we read, round robin style, several examples of these short pieces. I chose from famous and unknown writers, sad and funny pieces, and each round had a task to complete before passing the papers.

After round 3, students shared their observations about the pieces, and I captured this thinking on a second anchor chart.

By the time they left for the long weekend, ideas were stewing. Already, we have a bunch of ideas and moves to try out in their own writing.

On day five, students began choosing the attributes they wanted to try, which they can adjust throughout the process of writing. In a sense, they create their own rubric. This fosters a sense of control and ownership over the piece and guarantees higher quality writing (I promise). Even though we only choose 3-4 attributes to work with, they still keep the others in mind and end up trying out more as they write!

We will continue to write and workshop our pieces this week: each writer will complete the “reflection” boxes to explain how they applied the attribute or move; peers will provide feedback in the “concerns” and “compliments” boxes; then the writer will explain any intentional revision strategies he/she used.

I love this merging of mentor texts and student discovery. When kids themselves uncover what makes writing for a specific purpose more effective, I’ve built excitement and engagement and they feel empowered to write. They now have great examples to refer to throughout the writing process, can participate in a low stakes, low risk first writing experience in my classroom, and have already begun to fill up their own writing toolboxes for the year ahead.

Abigail Turley

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. The progression of this lesson ensures both success and excitement. The four rounds of reading really encourages them to dig in and notice. I’m excited to try this with my students this year!


    September 4, 2019
  2. janiceewing #

    Abigail, thanks for sharing these ideas! I think a lot of teachers can relate to your experience of having strategies for generating excitement about reading from the start, but most do not feel as confident about creating a positive writing culture early in the year. Your day-by-day explanation was really helpful!


    September 4, 2019

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