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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Customary Conversions

Ugh! Learning to convert units of customary measurement is boring . . . and confusing.

I noticed that the related fourth grade standard stated, "Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Record measurement equivalents in a two-column table." Eureka! My fourth graders could do this! All they needed was knowledge of multiplication patterns.

Once the students completed their tables, they could use them to solve all kinds of conversion problems. This was the conceptual link that they needed. In fifth grade, they'll be expected to convert without tables. But they'll be ready!

To make practice more lively, I purchased Customary Measurement Task Cards from ChiliMath. (I use lots of their task cards in my math class and love them!)

Here are some customary conversion tables for you. Just click on any of the photos to download.






Saturday, January 10, 2015

Improving Narrative Writing

How can intermediate students improve their narrative writing? Here are my top 10 ways:
  1. Vary sentence beginnings, types, and lengths.
  2. Choose words for effect.
  3. Choose precise words.
  4. Use sensory words.
  5. Use active verbs.
  6. Use transition words/terms.
  7. Use figurative language.
  8. Add details.
  9. Add dialogue.
  10. Write effective beginnings and endings.

Each and every one of these strategies works wonders in my classroom!

I wondered what worked for other teachers. In "8 Effective (and ridiculously easy) Ways to Improve Narrative Writing," Janice Malone at ELA Seminars not only provides some fabulous tips, but also links instructional activities to each, some of which are Pinterest writing prompts. I am now following Janice and can't wait to use some of her stuff in my classroom!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Writing, Part 3 (An Overview of Informative Writing)

Remember that time you asked your students to write paragraphs explaining an experiment or that time you asked them to describe traditional homes of a Native American tribe? We ask kids to use informative/explanatory writing all the time. But do we really teach it?

That's the question I asked myself this year. Yes, I do teach my students research techniques and how to write introductory, supporting, and concluding paragraphs. We work on thesis statements and topic sentences and detail sentences. But . . . I realized that I was only asking them to describe or explain, totally ignoring alternative text structures. This year, I resolve to change that!
  • Exploring Nonfiction Text Structures - Before I ask them to write any more informative pieces, we will explore nonfiction text structures. MsJordanReads offers a free reference sheet to help with this.
  • Reading and Writing Paragraphs with Various Text Structures - Next, we will read and then write using each text structure. To save valuable time and link content areas, I've decided to have students read and write about plants, the topic we'll be studying in science at that time.
  • Teaching Formal Research Strategies - As we prepare to write formal research papers, I'll teach them how to take notes, create outlines, and organize works cited. We'll discuss which sites to use (and not use) using the CARS Checklist. And this year, we'll also discuss which text structures to use.
  • Writing a Multi-Page Research Paper - Students' research papers will also relate to science (animal adaptations unit). In groups of three, they will choose three related animals, each of whom lives in arctic, temperate, or tropical climates. They will each select one of the three animals, conduct research, and write a formal paper. As a culminating activity, they will also collaborate to write a paper comparing and contrasting the three animals then determining cause and effect for the animals' differences.
Our fourth grades will take notes on a variety of note
sheets like these.

Research writing makes kids feel accomplished - - - especially when they know how to use a variety of text structures!


Friday, January 2, 2015

Writing, Part 2 (An Overview of Persuasive Writing)

With the right structure and a few great strategies, students can write powerful persuasive essays! Let's take a look at our progress on opinion and persuasive writing so far this year.

Focus on Persuasive Writing
  • Exploring Persuasive Techniques - How can I persuade someone else to do something? We first learned about ethos, logos, and pathos from our friend, Aristotle.
  • Writing an Opinion Paragraph - After a modeling lesson (shown below), students used the simple organizer (opinion-reason-reason-reason-conclusion) and some specific writing strategies to make their paragraphs shine. Our first two pieces tied in with our study of Greek mythology.

  • Writing a Persuasive Paragraph - Using similar strategies, we shifted to persuasive writing. You'll notice two major differences here: opinion writing occurs in first person, while persuasive uses second person, and persuasive writing ends with a call to action.
  • Writing a Five-Paragraph Persuasive Essay - At this point, my students were ready to expand their persuasive writing to five-paragraph essays. They began with an organizer like this then worked on writing good beginnings and endings, as well as using powerful word choices. Students' first five-paragraph essay persuaded someone to try an activity; their second persuaded Santa to hire them as elves (Elf for Hire activity by Teresa Kwant).
  • Researching and Persuasive Writing - As 2015 begins, we will move on to persuasive writing based on research. In this problem-based learning activity, each group will prepare a presentation to help someone (farmer on plain, builder on hill, etc.) limit erosion on their property. They'll research ways to limit erosion (a science standard) then write a collaborative five-paragraph essay/speech and design a poster for their presentation. I can't wait to see what they come up with!
  • Having Some Fun - What does every child wish for during the winter? A snow day! In one more fun persuasive piece, students will try to persuade the principal to give them a snow day. Note to my student teacher: This would be a great piece of writing instruction for you to try!

Persuasive writing is my favorite! Combining a straightforward structure with some tried-and-true narrative writing techniques yields dazzling student writing.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Writing, Part 1 (An Overview of Narrative Writing)

What's the secret to successful writing instruction? 
   A. Know what your students can do.
   B. Know what you want your students to be able to do.
   C. Develop a plan to get from A to B.

When my students enter fourth grade, they know how to write sentences and paragraphs. They can write simple stories and nonfiction pieces. When they leave fourth grade, I want them to be able to write effective multi-paragraph narratives using figurative language and dialogue, five-paragraph persuasive essays, and multi-page research papers.

Okay, now comes the hard part. How will I move them from Point A to Point B? I have a plan!

Today we'll focus on narrative writing, which I teach during the first nine to twelve weeks of the school year.
  • Teaching Figurative Language - The first order of business is teaching my students about similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, alliteration, personification, and hyperbole. I introduce each type of figurative language with some cute poems from Super Teacher Worksheets then give them some practice with Figurative Language is Reading Candy by Lovin' Lit.
  • Exploring Figurative Language in Narrative Writing - During these first few weeks of school, we read Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling. This Caldecott winner is chalk-full of figurative language (and it ties in beautifully with our Great Lakes unit). 
  • Exploring Description in Narrative Writing - To further explore description in narrative writing, we pulled a few excerpts from our next novel, The Black Stallion. The text and questions below, for example, helped students understand that a few well-chosen words can paint a clear picture in a reader's head. 
  • Developing Strategies for Narrative Writing - As we geared up for our first simple narrative and continued to more difficult pieces, I encouraged students to "act like a movie director." First, they played the story in their heads. Second, they "cut to the guts" of the story by focusing on the compelling part and ruthlessly cutting unnecessary details. Over the course of time, the following criteria were introduced and practiced.
sentence strips
  • Starting with Something Simple: The Fable - Students' first attempts showed me that they had forgotten how to break their writing into paragraphs and that they were unsure about how to use dialogue. I purposely placed our folklore unit at this point in the year, beginning with the simplest form of all, fables. After reading and analyzing some of Aesop's fables, they were ready to write their own. Planning and writing were simple and straightforward. We focused on plot (beginning, middle, and end), characters (animals that exhibit certain human traits), and word choice.
narrative writing, fables

narrative writing, fables
  • Teaching Dialogue - Before they could begin writing, they needed direct instruction on writing dialogue. I used a PowerPoint presentation to teach the concept then added lots of practice.
narrative writing, fables
  • Using Models: Rudyard Kipling - We continued our study of fables with Kipling's Just So Stories. His lively, repetitive writing style contrasted sharply with the simple prose of Aesop. After reading "How the Camel Got His Hump," "The Beginning of Armadillos," and "The Elephant's Child," the students revved up their engines and wrote their own Just So stories. The focus of instruction shifted to voice. We worked on establishing the narrator's and characters' voices. With high quality models and the right tools, you wouldn't believe how these kids could write!
  • More Narrative Writing - As a culmination of this unit, students wrote several personal narratives. They had come a long way as writers!
Here's a quick review of what works for me when teaching narrative writing:
  1. Teach figurative language.
  2. Use high quality literature as models for writing; establish a reading-writing link.
  3. Develop and share a list of strategies/criteria for effective narrative writing.
  4. Teach students how to write dialogue.
  5. Start with simple narratives, add strategies and development with each piece.
  6. Continue writing narratives throughout the year.
This post provides a broad overview of instruction of narrative writing. In a few days, I'll discuss the nuances to improving student writing. 

:) Brenda