Category Archives: Writing

Engaging Middle School Writers with Picaboo – Trust Me!

It can be difficult to engage kids in writing – that’s just a fact. Therefore, I am excited to share a site that I found called, “Picaboo Yearbooks” to publish a class book containing my students’ writing. My students have bought in and so I’m stoked! You can actually create lots of different things on the website, but I am using it to create a class book of writing to engage my kids, and so far, so good!

I had been searching for a “self-publishing” type of site and couldn’t seem to find just what I wanted, in terms of style, practicality or price. Picaboo’s books are affordable (less than $10 for a 20 page book – full color, softcover and less than $20 for a hardcover) so I’ll be able to purchase one to have in my class library – this way everyone will be a published writer this year. There are no minimums needed to buy a book, either. If I just want one book – I’m free to order just one! Also, the way that I am choosing to set things up, each student has their own page to create. All I had to do was make ONE login and they can all access our class book. They know to work on their own page and not to mess with anyone else’s page. They can also easily read and give feedback to classmates, as we create this one collaborative collection of their writing. Finally, they love that they can change the layout, and add fun pictures and backgrounds to their pages to make them even more polished. They are enjoying the fact that this book will be published and so have been putting forth commendable efforts, so far.

In terms of particulars, I was going to have students write directly into the template, and some are. For others, they rather use Word to create their draft and then they are pasting the draft into the website to get feedback from peers. There was a little bit of a learning curve, however, the site is very user friendly and the kids are having no issues with the technology side! They’re grade 7 – technology is their forte!

Oh, and I did contact Picaboo before I decided to do this project to get a sample of their books. They actually sent me a beautiful sample and I was sold on the quality! If you are thinking about doing a class yearbook or wanting to engage your kiddos by setting up your class with Picaboo so that they can all get published – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They also have tons of helpful videos, and Live Chat to help out as well, if you use the yearbooks as yearbooks, since they are more involved than what I am using the site for.

I only wish I had incorporated Picaboo earlier in the year with my kiddos – we could have made a larger collection of their work. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Picaboo Yearbooks

This is a first draft that one of my students is working on in the Picaboo Yearbooks template…

 

Elora of Stone

I Found a Pen That’s ACTUALLY Erasable, No Joke!

I LOVE cool school supplies! It is one of the ways that I know I’m meant to be a teacher – no one else really appreciates colorful tabs and post-its like we do.

Well, I have discovered my new favorite pens. Have you ever used those scratchy “erasable pens” that never really erased anything, but just tore up your paper and made a mess? These pens are NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING like those sub-par pens of years ago. Pilot FriXion Gel Pens are erasable pens that ACTUALLY erase. I know, mind….blown! I was skeptical before I tried them, but they really are fantastic! There is no “eraser” as such. When the erasing tip is rubbed against the page, it creates a little heat and the friction causes the thermo sensitive ink to disappear!

I often make mistakes when I’m quickly trying to correct or add comments to students’ papers, and I detest having to scratch something out that I didn’t mean to write. It just looks unprofessional – although I know that “everyone makes mistakes”. This way, I can still mark in pen, but it’s like my mistakes never happened!

These pens write smoothly, and are also re-fillable as well, which is a bonus!

Of course they come in lots of different colors which I take advantage of when I am correcting a students’ piece of writing multiple times – I use different colors of ink, so that they know which comment is new. And now, I can go back and erase comments, if I need to, so that a more reluctant writer can incorporate my comments into the piece of writing, but still use the draft without my hen-scratches all over the page. My students enjoy using these awesome pens during free writes, especially and they have been a bit of a reward as well, since they know that they are “Mrs. Mills’ special pens”.

As if erasable pens that really erase wasn’t enough…how about erasable highlighters? Yep! I found out that Pilot has those as well and they use the same “friction technology” to make the highlighting disappear! Now, would I give the highlighter to students and give the child free reign to highlight? Probably not. However, there are lots of applications for erasable highlighters – especially in middle school. For instance, I may have students work within a small group and each identify a certain phase in a novel by highlighting it for the purposes of a mini-lesson (and later erase the highlighting). Students could highlight key terms in a text book (and erase at the end of the chapter). Let’s face it – anything that helps kids note-take is a keeper. Kids like to highlight, in general, but to have the option to erase what they highlight really opens the doors for more activities involving text books or novels that we can’t have permanently marked.

Thank you Pilot for your innovation! Erasable Gel Pens and Highlighters! Who knew cool school supplies could make a teacher so happy? jamberry nails giveaway

 

 

 

 

 

The Write Genre: Activities and Mini-Lessons to Promote Writing

If you want help with organizing your writing program and teaching genres of writing more effectively, I HIGHLY recommend,Write Genre, The: Classroom Activities and Mini-Lessons That Promote Writing with Clarity, Style, and Flashes of Brilliance. I WISH that I had found it at the beginning of last year, as improving writing instruction in my classroom was something that I actively worked on. Better late than never, I suppose!

I love this book for a few reasons:

1.  Very readable and practical with lessons that I can take and use NOW

2. Suggestions are provided for assessment (6 Traits of writing)

3. It covers Personal Memoir, Fictional Narrative, Informational Writing, Opinion Pieces, Procedural Writing, Poetry and Multi-Genre chapters – basically everything I need to teach in Grade 7 LA! 

It’s a perfect fit for me, and the curriculum that I am expected to teach. Although I really like our relatively new resources in Grade 7 for Language Arts, I find that they do lack in writing, which is why I was working more on it last year (and why I wish I had found this book LAST summer – would have saved me bunches of time)!

If you have been looking for help with teaching writing, I strongly suggest having a look at this resource! I am so lucky to have such a great staff – someone recommended it and we were even able to purchase multiple copies for other staff who were interested (that’s how I ended up finding the book- lucky, I know).

Do you have any titles or websites to share that assist with writing in the classroom? I’m always looking for great mentor texts (of what to do or what not to do in a piece) and student samples! Please comment if you have some to share!

jamberry nails giveaway

Surviving the Chaos Blog Hop

Keeping students engaged (especially middle school students) can be a challenge to say the least. Here’s a no prep idea that you can try in that last month, or on those last few days of school to tame the chaos!

Have your students write a letter to themselves in the future – for their “high school graduation”. What would they say to themselves? What advice would they give themselves? What do they imagine themselves doing? What are the next steps that they are about to take in their lives? What challenges could they remind themselves of (things they’ve already persevered through) or fun times that they’ve had, but may not have thought about in years? What inspirational words would they share?

As an extension, students could also create a collage or piece of artwork of what they hope for themselves in the future.

If you’re in a situation where it would be possible to actually give these letters back to students on their grade 12 graduation night, how cool would that be? 

letter to grad

 

Thanks for stopping by! Have fun with the rest of the hop!

 

jamberry nails giveaway

 

 

 

Moderated Marking – A School Wide Writing Assessment

What a productive PD day! This year we have been focusing on improving our students’ writing and we had the entire day today to do moderated marking of writing that our students completed two weeks ago.

In the fall, it was decided that the type of writing we would focus on this year, would be procedural. This meant that at some point early in 2014, every student in the school would write a procedural piece which would be marked, and the feedback given immediately to the classroom teachers, to inform their instruction.

Once our students had completed their writing assessments (different grade levels decided on different prompts) we were given numeric codes to label our writing. These codes were provided by our resource department, the purpose being to keep the identity of the students unknown (as much as possible) during marking.

With the pieces of writing completed and labeled, it was time to choose exemplars to establish the expectations of our writing assessment at each grade level. What a huge task! You wouldn’t think choosing exemplars and providing justification for those choices would be so difficult, but it was! Teachers were were given sub time to meet with their grade level and choose those exemplars, using a common rubric based on our standards. We had resource people and a literacy coach at our disposal as well, which made things run quite smoothly. Even though it was a challenging day to choose those exemplars, it was time very well spent to go through all of those pieces and really work to compare them to the rubric. The conversation that we had to justify our choices is how I see true “professional development” – which you know I love!

So, all of that led up to today, which was our PD day to actually do a school wide moderated marking session of the writing assessments. We were paired up and together we worked to mark each of our pieces on the traits of content/ideas, organization and conventions. After we agreed on the three marks for the piece, we also had to give one strength and one “next step” for the student. Finally, each teacher was given back his/her marked writing assessments. What we’re able to do now, is to create class profiles based on the information that we’ve gathered. In my class, for instance, one “next step” that came up quite a few times was to work more on strong introductions and conclusions. As a homeroom teacher, that is powerful, practical and useful information.

Moderated Marking - School Wide Writing Assessment

 Does your school do any sort of “school wide” assessments (reading, writing, math) which are created and marked by your staff? A math assessment is a future goal for us and I’d love to know if your school has any sort of “school wide” assessment (not talking about standardized assessments here, but rather teacher-created common assessments, to inform instruction).

Please share! I’d love to know what’s going on at other schools!

Moderated Marking - School Wide Writing Assessment

Reading Leads To Write Good Leads, Leads to More Reading!

“I think I might actually read this book.” Music to my ears in class just the other day, while doing a simple activity on leads. 

The basic idea of the activity is to show students how to take what they appreciate in a good lead -what grabs their attention and apply it to their own writing.  Simple. However, I have found that this activity serves more purposes than just that!

Here’s how I like to do my “great leads” activity:

1) Have students make a chart in their LA scribblers with the following headings: Title, Lead and My Thoughts

2) Take your class to the library (I used my own class library this year)

3)  Have students choose 5 books randomly from almost anywhere in the library (you may wish to focus just on fiction or non-fiction, and omit poetry)

4) Have students record the info under each heading for the books that they choose 

5) Once they’ve finished their charts – it’s time to share! Reading Leads to Write Good Leads

It always amazes me how this simple activity engages even the reluctant readers in the room. I think it’s because the expectations are something that everyone can attain – they don’t have to READ the book, just copy that first sentence and decide if they like it or not – easy!

Although this is a lesson on “what makes a good lead” and how to apply those characteristics to their writing, something else happens during this time.

Kids are looking at books – all kinds of books. They may have expectations of the book and they may not. They may pick up books they’d like to read, books that they think they’d never read, books that look interesting or just plain weird.

What has happened with my students when I’ve done this activity over the last three years, is that it gets them excited about books! They love sharing the great leads that they find and tearing apart the ones that they don’t like. The discussion is awesome!  I have found that everyone contributes to the sharing portion of this lesson, because they only have to read one sentence aloud to the class and most (if not all) are okay with that. They also find books that they realize they’d like to read (because they want to know where that amazing first sentence leads). That was an unexpected surprise the first time that I did this activity. 

In addition, they hear leads from books that their classmates have found and it’s like it opens up a whole new world to them.

If you haven’t explored leads with your students – try this activity out! You need no prep, and I guarantee you that your students will gain a better grasp of how to hook a reader through their own writing, while getting hooked themselves! 

Have fun, and let me know how it goes if you give this lesson a try!      If you want a bit more structure, I do have a “Writing Leads” resource for sale in my TeacherPayTeachers Store

Halloween Freebie: Point of View Improv Cards

Here’s a fun little freebie for your grade 5-7 Language Arts class –12 Point Of View cards with a Halloween theme. Students take a card and play out the scenario  from the unique point of view. I’ve included a werewolf husband keeping his secret from his wife, a witch who is scared of heights, a pumpkin about to be carved – even a shiny red apple in a bowl of Halloween treats, just waiting to be chosen. It’s all in good fun and to spark some creativity in students’ writing. In the download there are also suggestions for a couple of different ways to use the cards and some simple extension ideas.

Halloween Freebie Point of View Cards

 

Enjoy!

Figment – An online collaborative writing tool for students

It takes no time to get into the swing of things, huh? I have only had two days with my new grade 7’s (and I’m aware that it’s still the honeymoon period) but they are simply a lovely bunch of kids and I’m really looking forward to my year with them! That being said, I found a cool new writing tool over the summer that I plan to try out with them and so I thought I’d also share it here. So, just to be clear it’s brand new to me and I haven’t used it with a class yet – but it looks REALLY cool!

The site is called “Figment” and it’s  a site where your students can write, collaborate with each other and ultimately publish their finished pieces online for either the whole class or the entire Figment community to comment on and/or review.

 figment pic

Here’s how I plan to use Figment in my room – hopefully in first term!

One of the first major writing assignments that my students will have this year is to write a Memoir. My plan is to have them type these memoirs into the (simple) template on Figment – basically a word processor. Educators also have the option to “create groups” which means I’ll have all of my students in a private group. I hope that some initial sharing, giving of feedback, revisions and edits will occur in this group. When the pieces are ready, I plan for my students to publish to the Figment community! It’s very fulfilling when you become a “published author”. Using this site, all students will be able to label themselves in this way – which I love.

There is a special spot on Figment for educators to create those private groups, so if you’re interested, be sure to check it out. You have to send off an email request to have access to the private groups and so it’s not immediate. You kind of have to plan ahead, if you want to use this as an option. From what I can tell, though, I can start a thread in the group, asking students to work on a really strong lead today. Perhaps next class, I’ll ask students in a new thread to replace three of their verbs with more precise, active verbs. Students can also start threads, asking for advice and feedback. I’m very excited about this site and I think it has amazing potential.

I’ll be sure to post again after we actually get started with it, to let you know how it’s working in “real life” with real kids.

I also have my plan laid out for my students to blog again this year. I’m excited to begin that process with them this month and I already have two teachers (one in Pakistan and one in USA) who my class will be collaborating with – we’re going to be audiences for each other! Lots of plans! Don’t you love September? Everything seems possible and exciting. I have lots of energy and I just can’t wait to get started!

Side note: If you were interested in blogging with your students this year, I started a Google Doc a while back to help us find each other around the globe and to make collaboration a little bit more structured. Feel free to have a look and add your info if you’re interested and be sure to contact any teachers on the list who have a class that matches yours!

Please, share your goals for writing with your students this year! Cool sites, blog plans – I’d love to hear what you’ve got going on!

 

And the winner is…(Plus Info on Student Blogging)

Thank you to all who hopped on over and followed our blogs and TPT Stores last weekend! Your participation in this little event was awesome! We do have a winner to announce

Drumroll please……

Teachingisagift McKay – your resources and Amazon gift code are on the way! Congratulations! Thanks to everyone who took the time to enter!

cartoon winner

I want to mention one more thing this evening. My post just went live on Global Teacher Connect yesterday and it’s about student blogging. I’d really encourage you to have a peek if you are currently blogging with your students OR if it’s something that you’d be interested in trying next year. I have a Collaborative Project: Student Blogging Form that you can fill out with your info so that you are able to contact each other and pair yourselves up! So far, there are teachers from Morocco, US, Canada, Ecuador and Bermuda who would like to blog this year or next! How cool is that?

If you would like to be contacted next year for blogging – just add that as a note on the form. We already have two teachers who have posted their info, who would be interested in something for next school year.

I’ve just started blogging with my students in the last month or so and we’re about to collaborate with another school on the Island and one in Ontario, Canada. The kids are trying to “fix up” their blogs a bit more for their audience – which is what we want! We want them writing for a purpose, and with an audience in mind! Anyhow, I can see this evolving into something more for next year. Maybe even a “Blog-folio” type of idea. Regular blogging would be great, but also, having their best pieces of writing displayed for an audience would be so cool. It would also be neat to see their writing abilities progress through the year. Anyhow, I am quite excited about what we’ve done with the blogs so far, although we all still have much to learn!

Check out the post on GTC and even if you’d be interested in having your students READ the student blogs and comment on them – fill out the form! The wider the audience the better! Plus, I’d love for my students to get comments from kids all around the world. That would be a big part of my ultimate goal. (I’ll be working on this next year…so stay tuned if you’re at all interested…)

That’s it for this evening! Please leave a comment here or on the Global Teacher Connect post if you have any tips or questions for me about student blogging.

bullying video

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bump It Up Boards (A Guest Blog Post)

 Welcome to Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog, my guest blogger for today. Thanks again for such an awesome idea, Kristy. Enjoy folks!

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Need a strategy to improve student achievement? Have you tried Bump It Up Boards? They are a great visual way to help your students self monitor their achievement.

bump it up boards

 

bump it up

 

How To Get Started:

Choose a curriculum expectation or focus you see as a need in your classroom. I chose the 4 R’s [retell, relate, reflect, review] reading reflections strategy.

Collect many work samples of your focus. You can use previous student work, ask colleagues for their examples, create your own, use government standardized test exemplars or search the internet for examples.

Ensure your samples represent a range of student achievement levels – not just ones that meet or exceed expectations.

 Student Involvement:

Students worked in groups to read the responses and “grade or mark” each response based on their previous knowledge of what makes a good Retell, Relate, Reflect and Review.

A student in each group was the recorder and wrote down all of their ideas on what made the each exemplar a Level 2, (C), Level 3 (B) or a Level 4 (A).

We had a class discussion and compared our answers to ensure consistency among our expectations for Level 2, 3 and 4 work.

Final Process to Create the Board:

Type up student thinking under the appropriate curriculum expectation categories – this will become your Success Criteria.

Type up the assignment expectations and format the graded work samples to fit on to the display board.

Colour code your examples by level and attach to a bulletin board or poster board. Have students reference this board while working on their assignments to self monitor their progress.

Products to Support Bump It Boards

Free Signs and Labels

Free Four R’s Complete Support Package
2PeasAndADog Blog