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Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Little Fun with Spooky Writing!


In between every 2-3 formal writing units, I love to throw in something fun! It keeps the kids excited about writing class and gives me a break from excessive grading! At this point in the school year, the kids have done a lot of writing! We created and wrote from lists for most of September to get us well-established with Writer's Notebook and to increase our stamina. And we've spent the good part of October writing two different narrative pieces.

Now, it's time for something fun!! This Spooky Snapshot writing is a blast and perfect for this time of year! We started it on Wednesday and will continue working on snapshot writing all next week.

(Snapshots, if you're not familiar with the term, is when a writer zooms in on the setting of the story and uses sensory details to explain what you'd experience if you were there at that moment in time. Writers use them all the time in novels and short stories to paint a picture of the scene in a reader's mind.)

Every year, I teach this unit differently. This year, I began (on Wednesday) by defining the term "snapshot" with my kids and then sharing some great snapshots from one of my favorite books, Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets. J.K. Rowling is an EXCELLENT snapshot writer! I shared the snapshots that describe Harry's first encounters with the Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley, and the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle. (Sorry, I can't share these on the blog as they are copyrighted! But they are easy to find in the first quarter of the book!) After sharing, I had the students work in pairs to reread the snapshots categorize the details she provides, noting which appeal to sight, sound, smell, etc.

The next day (Thursday) I had students go on a Sensory Detail Scavenger Hunt! I pulled out all the book bins from our classroom library and placed a few at each table. Next, I had students create this organizer right in their Writer's Notebooks:


For the rest of the period, students looked through the books in the baskets and wrote down some of the great sensory detail sentences they found.



The kids LOVED this activity! It's the first time we've done a scavenger hunt this year and they told me they can't wait to do another!

(Side note: library scavenger hunts are one of my FAVORITE Writer's Notebook activities! First, you tell the kids what to look for: great openings, awesome endings, AAAWWUBBIS sentences... anything! And then you set the kids loose in the library - all the better if you have a big enough classroom library... then you don't need to go anywhere - to collect examples that they find in the books. Engagement is always super high because kids LOVE getting their hands on REAL BOOKS! Kids learn a ton because they are reading awesome examples from REAL BOOKS! And the lesson itself takes zero prep... just access to a large number of REAL BOOKS! If you've never done a library scavenger hunt, I simply cannot recommend them enough! And don't let age stop you! I've done them many times before when I used to teach third grade. They work for any age group, really!)

Yesterday (Friday), we got started with our snapshot writing. First, we reviewed the term "snapshot" and I reiterated that we were only writing a paragraph or two that described the scene at one brief moment in time. Then, I modeled how I used my picture to complete a sensory detail organizer, and then used my organizer to write my snapshot:



Next, I had the kids team up in groups of 2-3 (I love shared writing experiences! I work them in whenever I get a chance!) and gave them a large spooky picture, an organizer (available here), and a large piece of construction paper. They first completed the organizer and then used it to write their snapshots. (I had students glue their picture at the top of a piece of large construction paper and then write their paragraphs underneath.)



With just ten minutes of class time left, the kids were BEGGING to share, so I let them. They were so proud of all their scary, suspenseful paragraphs. Every single team wanted to read aloud, which is a rarity in 7th grade.

Next week, I plan on letting them write a collection of snapshots in their Writer's Notebook and then picking their favorite one to submit for grade.

So, what kinds of fun writing are you doing in your classroom? I'm always looking for new ideas, so please post a comment and tell me about them!

Happy Teaching!!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Have you tried "Plickers?"


Two of my fabulous colleagues were putting together two huge, district-wide PD sessions on questioning and formative assessment. While working, they stumbled upon this website and decided to share. Well, since then EVERYONE has been plicker-crazy!!

(check out this great YouTube video by Annette Sapp!)

So, just what is a "plicker?" It's an icon that works kinda like a QR code. The plicker can be held one of four different ways and each way represents an answer choice (a, b, c, or d). There is a tiny, little "a," "b," "c," and "d" on each side of the plicker... when the student holds the plicker, whatever letter is up registers as the answer.

To use plickers in your classroom, you first set up your class on the plickers website and download the app onto your smart phone. Then, you print out (FOR FREE!!) a class set of the icons (see above) and assign one to each student in your class (my students glued their plicker to the inside cover of their ISN... that way is stays safe and usable! BTW... don't laminate them! The glare will mess up their ability to be scanned!). Then, you create a series of multiple choice or true/false questions. Once you have your questions created, you can display them on your computer and your students hold up their plicker to represent their answer choice.

You then use your phone to scan the plickers around the room. Below, you will see two screen shots of the how the app will look on your phone as you scan (forgive the HORRIBLE quality!). As it picks up each response, the student's name will light up green (correct answer) or red (wrong answer) so you can see instantly who gets it and who does not.




Here is what you will see on your computer screen:


I have my screen in "graph mode" with "answer hidden." This means that the student data will display in a graph that does not indicate the correct answer. There are several options for displaying the data, so definitely make sure to play around with the settings to find the option that works best for you.

Over the last 10 years, I've used tons of different student-response system and I have to say that this is by far the best one ever!  There are several things I love about it:

  1. Each plicker looks different (and the "a," "b," "c," and "d" letters are so small, others won't be able to read them), so students can't figure out the answers of their peers by looking around the room. This prevents the kids who have no idea of the answer from waiting to see what everyone else holds up before responding.
  2. It's FREE!! Hello!?!? FREE!!
  3. The scanner is FAST! It takes all of four seconds to scan the room and have the data displayed.
  4. Um, it's FREE!
  5. I love all the different data display options. It's perfect for both formative and summative assessment.
  6. It is controlled by my phone! How easy is that?!?
  7. And finally... it's free... did I mention that?!
So, have you tried plickers? If you have, I'd love to hear about your experience. If you haven't, get out there and get started! I want to hear how you like using them :)

Happy Plickering!!

P.S. Plickers has no idea who I am and they did not pay me to write about my experience :)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

New Life to Classic Literature!



Every year, it's a struggle to get my students to select certain titles from the library. Regardless of how much I "hype" the book, stating up and down that it's a classic that kids have enjoyed for decades, if it looks "like an old book" (as they say), they want no parts of it!

So this year, I set out to do something about that! I took a bunch of "old" books that I just knew kids would love if they gave them chance, and covered them in nice contact paper (I got this from Amazon). Then I just made a simple label on the computer and stuck it to the front of each book.

Then I put all the books on a book display rack that I have in my library (I love this display!! But, I did inherit it and so I don't know where it came from originally!). When my students came into class the next day, I didn't say anything about the display and never gave them permission to touch these books... so naturally, they were all over them!


I can't say that I've turned all my students into classic literature lovers, BUT, these books have gotten WAY more use out of them in the last month than they have in the last several years combined!! That's a success to me!

Do you have any creative ways to get students into reading classic literature? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Must There Always Be So Much Cutting and Gluing?


I've been hearing from quite a few teachers over the last several months who are eager to try Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs), but are feeling overwhelmed with all the coloring and cutting and gluing that many of the fun foldable organizers seem to have.

"Must there always be so much cutting and gluing?!?" Angela, from Colorado, wrote to me recently.

My answer: HECK NO!!

ISNs are exactly what you make 'em!! If you (and your students, of course!) love the cutting and gluing, go for it!! Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest are filled with loads of great foldable organizers that will work perfectly for you.

But, if that's not your bag, than skip them! But don't shy away from ISNs because there is still PLENTY you can do with them that involves very little coloring and cutting and gluing.

Right now, we are working on analyzing the effect setting plays on plot. We read a short story ("The Last Dog" by Katherine Paterson) from our Holt Literature book and then completed a Venn diagram that compared and contrasted how an event from the story would be different if the setting were our town in present day. As you can see above, the Venn diagram is simply that... a diagram! Students just glued it into their ISNs and completed it... nothing fancy about that!! You can also see some of our notes and guiding questions on the right. Again, nothing fancy... just a piece of paper and a few dots of glue!

Then, I had students use the info from these pages to complete a "Setting Switch" activity, where they worked in groups to rewrite a scene from the story imagining that the original setting is now switched to our town in the present day.

It was a great learning experience... the students were able to demonstrate that they understood our learning target... and it was relatively hassle (and glue and scissors!)-free!!




So don't get so caught up in thinking that your ISNs must always have such beautiful, fancy foldable organizers!

What do you include in your ISNs? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!