While I use picture books all year long in my high school classroom, it is a happy coincidence that I use them almost daily during the month of November – picture book month. They make a more regular appearance this month because this is when we shift our focus to a short story unit and picture books are ideal for introducing students to literary elements and easing them into literary analysis.
I start the unit with a fun trip down reading memory lane by putting picture books on display all around the room and asking students to share their earliest reading memories. The excitement is palpable as students giddily share memories of gathering on carpets, or signing books out of libraries, or laying side by side with a parent and a good book. This year I used this article to prompt the sharing and had students reply with a classroom “tweet” on our discussion board.
After our discussion, students were excited (literally racing) to Read more
How can flexible seating be utilized to support classroom management? This September, I made some positive changes by incorporating flexible seating into my 6thgrade writing classroom. The writing workshop model requires students to “come to the writing area” for instruction. Last year, students were dragging chairs to the instruction area from all over the room, creating chaotic transition times.
Through a grant for flexible seating, from my district’s parent association, I purchased “Bolmen” bathroom step stools from IKEA, eight blue and eight white. With the help of one of my district’s literacy coaches, I mapped out a routine and a seating chart for the transition to the instruction area. Designated students unstack stools and move them to the center of the instruction area, surrounded by benches and chairs. The transitions have become calm and efficient routines.
The IKEA stools also provide the students a choice to make their independent writing space more comfortable. Because the stools are only about 10 inches tall, they are versatile. Some students sit on the stools, lean against them, or use the stools as little desks while sitting on the carpet. During partner activities, my directions are clear and simple, “The students on the blue stools share first. The students on the white stools listen.” Student helpers stack stools at the end of each class. Flexible seating has made a positive difference in my writing classroom.
Over the last few years, my students and I have experimented with using independent reading books as individualized mentor texts. While students studied their books individually or in small groups, I wanted the entire class to benefit from the rich examples of word choice, conventions, style, and craft. I also wanted to highlight exemplar student writing.
What I Did
From October 2018 to December 2018, I invited students to help teach mini-lessons based on their individualized mentor texts and writing pieces. When deciding what skill to teach when, I considered several factors: students’ writing needs and strengths, their Self-Selected Writing Pieces, upcoming whole-class genre and novel studies, and curriculum requirements. As I read student drafts and conducted one-on-one conferences, I noticed techniques that would benefit the entire class. Occasionally, students volunteered a specific skill that they wanted to share.
After asking students to
present, I met with them as a small group to practice what we would say and decide
who would read the mentor texts. These pre-meetings took place during
independent reading or writing time.
During the co-led lessons, each student shared an excerpt from their book and talked through their observations. If a student used the technique, then they discussed their example and writing process. Usually, two or more students taught the mini-lesson with me. As students presented, I helped explain the technique and provided the examples for the class on our Learning Management System (LMS).
Below are two examples of co-led, student-teacher mini-lessons from last year. All names are pseudonyms.
In early October, repetition emerged in my students’ writing pieces, so I asked them to co-teach a mini-lesson with me. During our sixth period class, Emily shared how she repeated “I’ll come back for you” three times with the font getting smaller to mimic the father leaving his daughter. She wrote, “My mind flashed back to Papa’s words, ‘I’ll come back for you . . . I’ll come back for you . . . I’ll come back for you.’ I remember him fading farther and farther away from me, until his voice disappeared into the darkness.” She wanted the visual to help her reader hear a fainter and fainter voice. Next, Elsa included repetition to emphasize a scary scene in her story: the moment a Nazi soldier captures the main character’s sister. She hoped the reader would feel the intensity as the crunching leaves got “louder. Louder. LOUDER.”
In seventh period,
Jack employed repetition to emphasize the impact of his character losing an
important object: “Oh no. No No No NO NO NO
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! Where is it? I swear I
put it right here! Where is it?!” For Pat, he repeated “No mercy” to reveal the
struggle his soldiers experienced during the battle in his sci-fi story: “‘Get to the guns. No mercy,’ he says.
We run forward, hopping into the seats, powering on the cannons. I hear a loud
boom then a scream. . . . The words no mercy ring in my mind. No mercy,
no mercy, no mercy.” For these students, repetition established
voice and emphasized specific moments. By sharing their craft moves with the
class, they took on leadership roles, increased their confidence, and served as
writing role models for their classmates.
Then, at the beginning of November, I asked students to observe the em dash in their independent reading books. Three weeks later, I approached a number of students who had experimented with the technique in their writing and located the em dash in their books. Ten students participated in the co-led mini-lesson (four in one class and 6 in another). The students shared their examples and explained whether their em dash cut off dialogue, interrupted an idea, accentuated a point, or replaced a comma. Sam read the following example from This is Where it Ends, “The silence from the auditorium is tense and loaded. Except it’s not silence. All around me there are sobs, prayers, and curses—friends are trying to calm each other” (Nijakamp 62). From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Brad added, “‘I heard you speaking Parseltongue,’ said Ron. ‘Snake language. You could have been saying anything—no wonder Justin panicked, you sounded like you were egging the snake on or something—it was creepy—you know’” (Rowling 196). All the examples were available for the class to review on our LMS. After the mini-lesson, the class worked in groups to practice adding em dashes to their own writing. The student presenters acted as leaders within their small groups, guiding their peers’ writing process.
These co-led, student-teacher lessons prompted my students to take a front-row seat in sharing their writerly observations and explaining their writing process. Overall, these lessons and procedures proved successful, but I wanted to increase the number of co-led mini-lessons while streamlining the collection of student writing and mentor texts. I also wanted a way to collect titles for book talks and excerpts for quick writes.
Step 1: For the 2019-2020 school year, I am in the process of creating an assignment that will ask students to submit text excerpts for mini-lessons, book talks, and quick writes. They will collect and post their observations by the last day of each month in our LMS. Students will submit in one of the following four categories:
Independent reading book mentor text excerpt
Student writing mentor text excerpt
Independent reading book excerpt for quick writing
Independent reading book for a book talk
Step 2: During the month of September, students read like writers, completed quick writes, and listened to book talks. We also reviewed MLA In-Text Citation and Works Cited. The first monthly assignment will launch in October and be due on October 31st. Students will be able to submit their work during class or at home. If they find more than one excerpt, technique, or book that they wish to share, they may do so.
Step 3: Each month students will submit a reflective assignment that includes:
category they chose
except from the text or their writing (either typed or a picture)
reason (specific technique, craft move, idea) why they selected the book and
Step 4: As students share their work, I will schedule the mini-lessons, book talks, and quick writes as they fit into our Writing-Reading Workshop. I will approach students a few days before their lesson to review their assignment submission and prepare them for their book talk, quick write, or co-led lesson.
Step 5: Before the selected students present their findings to the class, I will upload the necessary materials to our LMS. Depending on the mini-lesson’s content and the class’s ability, the co-led mini-lesson will require varying levels of teacher support. Students will be able to present their book talks and quick writes independently.
I am excited to see where this
new initiative leads. The LMS should streamline my ability to collect student
work. The assignment puts more onus on my students because they submit their mini-lesson,
book talk, and quick write ideas. As they assume these new leadership roles
within our workshop, I hope it builds confidence in their abilities and offers
opportunities for peer collaboration. I will continue to model successful book
talks and quick writes as well as share texts that foster their abilities to
read like writers.
If you have tried something
similar or have questions, please share your thoughts below. I would love to
hear from you! Take care for now and have a great school year!
Happy September and welcome back to school! In an effort to tap into the wealth of knowledge our PAWLP team has to offer, we are running a regular feature focused on sharing ideas about how we start the school year. Please check in daily to enjoy our September snapshots. If you are interested in contributing one yourself, please contact us!
The Classroom Scavenger Hunt
For years I, like many teachers, spent time early in the school year telling students about the various resources available to them around the classroom. I wanted them to feel comfortable and orientated right from the first week. However, for years, I had students asking where to find the bathroom hall pass in October, or how to sign a book out of the classroom library in November, or where they could sharpen their pencils in December.
So, a few years back I designed a classroom scavenger hunt. As you can see from the image, the hunt invites students to study a map of the classroom, move around the space themselves, and discover through investigation where and what resources are available to them.
I gamified this activity by borrowing an idea Read more
This month’s From the Classroom post comes from Lauren Heimlich Foley, a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Holicong Middle School in Central Bucks School District. If you feel inspired after reading Lauren’s post on mentor texts, please comment below and also consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog. Click here to learn more.
GRADE / SUBJECT
7th Grade English Language Arts
Approximately 20-25 minutes occurring throughout the school year
Last year, I devoured The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini: his books became a constant source of inspiration—fueling my writing, providing minilesson examples, and driving book talks. When I shared Paolini’s ideas, style, conventions, and craft with my students, I modeled how to “read like a writer,” and in turn, my seventh graders began noticing and emulating the way the authors of their Independent Reading Books wrote.
During one writing conference, Caleb declared, “I want to experiment with one-word sentences like in Hatchet.” Skimming the book’s pages, he pointed out “Divorce” and “Secrets” and explained, “Gary Paulsen uses these words to build questions, mystery, and suspense for readers.” The next day he shared his mentor text and revisions with the class as our minilesson. Caleb’s final poem highlighted five words: “Victory. Freedom. Peace. Unity. Hope.” In his reflection, he stated, “The best part about [Paulsen’s] writing is the one-word sentences he adds in. It creates emphasis on the words. I [accentuated] the words of what the [Allied] soldiers [on D-Day] are fighting for because to them these words are really important.”
Intrigued by the power of personalized mentor texts, I considered ways to foster independent reading as a writing tool and dedicate instructional time to observing word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and other stylistic decisions in students’ individual books. Additionally, I wanted to create more opportunities for students to teach one another, take charge of their learning, play with writing, consider risks, and become stronger readers and writers.
NOTE: This lesson can be adapted to use with any text:
Fiction, nonfiction, or poetry
Whole-class, book club, or independent reading
Any age and reading level (picture book, YA novel, or adult book)
This month’s From the Classroom post comes from Tricia Ebarvia, PAWLP Fellow and high school English teacher. If you feel inspired after reading Tricia’s post, please comment below and also consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog. Click here to learn more.
GRADE / SUBJECT
Grade 9, World Literature
1-2 class periods
Whenever my students and I come to the end of any novel study, I’ve always struggled with finding that perfect and elusive “closing” activity—the lesson that can somehow do justice to our novel study before we move on to the next text. While we often do some sort of writing that helps students synthesize their ideas, I don’t think that we always have to write the traditional literary analysis paper in order to engage students in higher level thinking.
In recent years, I’ve shifted my reading and writing practices to try to be as authentic as possible. Whenever I revisit my approach to a text, I ask myself: How authentic is the learning we’re doing? In what ways is the work we do in class work that’s done only in school or work that reflects the type of reading, writing, and thinking that’s out in the world, beyond our classrooms? Read more