Saturday, January 21, 2017

Host a Gallery Walk to Improve Writing

If you've read my blog or bought any of my writing products from TpT, then you know that I am a huge fan of the Read-Around-Group. I love when kids read each other's writing and learn from each other. I always find that the whole revising/editing process is much more effective after kids have read their peers' papers and can use them as mentor pieces to improve their own writing.

But, just like ANYTHING in the classroom, no matter how effective, at some point, the kids (and you!) need a change and it's fun to shake things up! So, for this writing unit, I decided to forgo the Read-Around-Groups and replace it with a Gallery Walk.

The Gallery Walk isn't something new... folks have been using them for years in the classroom! A quick Google search will show you all kinds of ways that you can implement them in any subject.

Let me tell you how I made the Gallery Walk work in my classroom this week:

1.) Set up the room.

On each desk, I placed a rough draft (this is the 2nd draft of this paper that we've done and, like with Read-Around-Groups, kids didn't put their name on the top - just their birth date). I also put out a number card, a "nuggets of genius" paper, and a votive candle. I turned down the lights, put on some fun jazz music, and put our roaring fire video from YouTube up on the big screen.

2.) Give directions.

When the kids came in, I gave each of them a number and they had to go find the seat with that number card. After they all sat down, I explained that they will have three minutes to read the paper at that desk and leave the author a note about one of the nuggets of genius* they found in their piece.

3.) The Walk.

Every three minutes, the timer sounded and the kids got up and moved to the next desk. We continued this until the end of class. Each kid was able to read about 12-15 papers, and each writer got a note of 12-15 things their peers thought they did well.

4.) Debrief and Revise.

The next day, we talked about some of the good writing that we saw during our Gallery Walk and made a list of it on the board. Then, I set the kids off to work on their 3rd and final draft, encouraging them to include some of that "good stuff" in their own writing.

After all was said and done, I have to say that I liked this method a lot! The kids loved reading about their "nuggets of genius" and I was pleased to see how thoughtful some of the students were about what they observed. I'm thinking that I'll definitely use this method again - maybe even alternating between Read-Around-Groups and Gallery Walks for each paper we write.

Ever use a Gallery Walk? How do you make them work? I'd love to hear from you!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

*This year, I stopped marking all the stuff the kids did WRONG in their paper and replaced it with marking all the things they did RIGHT! What I found was that there were just SO.MANY.THINGS I could find that they did wrong... from incorrect punctuation, to forgetting capital letters, to using the "u" instead of "you," and so on! It was daunting for me and overwhelming for them to get a paper back full of corrections. Now, I focus on all the stuff they did RIGHT - their "nuggets of genius." I encourage them to look all the stuff they can do and keep on doing more of it each time! I am not sure if it's really made great improvements in the quality of their work (but I never found that "correcting" all their mistakes made a big difference either), but their attitudes about writing are a million times better (as is my attitude about grading their writing!) and for me that is the biggest hurdle to overcome!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Host a Book Tasting in Your Classroom!

January is rolling along and my kids (both my school and actual kids) are finally readjusted to our routine after winter break. While in real life, I find January-March the three most difficult months to endure because the weather hurts my face, at school it's a different story. January-March are, I think, the BEST months of teaching! By this point, students are well-acclimated to the schedule and expectations, and there is no looming break to look forward to. The weather, as I already mentioned, hurts your face, and the end of the year is still a long way away!! I feel like each and every day I have a captive audience. And that makes me HAPPY (despite the hurt-your-face weather!).

This week, we are getting ready to start our first round of literature circles. Our book choices are Wonder, Among the Hidden, Freak the Mighty, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and Running Out of Time. Gah! Don't you just love those books?!? I am so excited and can't wait to get started!

I've written before about how I make Literature Circles work in my classroom, but today I wanted to share how I get them started. It's one of my FAVORITE classroom activities that I stole borrowed from my friend, Janice Malone at ELA Seminars, LLC. It's called a Book Tasting and it's a hoot!

After I have the books picked, I make a "menu" for each one that features the book's synopsis and some reviews. Next, I set up my room with some super-cheap checkered tablecloths, paper place mats, and battery-operated votive candles (all from Amazon). A copy of each book is laid on the place mat. I stream some Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, put my favorite roaring fireplace video on the big screen, and set out a basket of after-dinner mints.

When the kids come in, they are grouped into a "party" and led to their table. Once everyone is seated, they get about 10 minutes to read and discuss the title at their table. Then, each party moves to a new table and "tastes" the choice there.

At the end of the tasting, after each party has sampled all the books, the kids rank their choices - "1" being the book they are most excited to read, "5" being the least - and give their sheets to me. Then, I group them into their Literature Circles. (Usually, I am able to give most kids one of the books in their top three slots!)

When I do activities like this with my 7th graders, I am reminded that even though their bodies are big and their mouths can sometimes be bigger, they are still just kids! They get so into the "pretending." When I was doing this with them the other day, after each party was seated, I overheard one kid saying to another, "Get your elbows off the table! You can't have your elbows on the table at a fancy restaurant!" And a bit later I heard someone telling a party-member to remember to "cover your mouth when you cough in a restaurant because you don't want your germs in the air to land on people's food!" Even after the book tasting was over, they insisted that I not remove the tablecloths and candles for writing class because it made the room a lot more fun :)

So, if you are getting ready to jump into a round of literature circles, or you just want to get your students to "taste" some different titles, give this a try!

Ever host a book tasting? Think you might want to? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Writing Mini-Lessons (They are so much easier than you think!!)

The exhaustion, people!! Oh, the exhaustion! We've been back for TWO days, and seriously? I'm falling into bed at a most undignified hour! In fact, as I type this, I am noticing that it's already 9pm... way past my bedtime, folks, so I'ma gonna make this short!!

I've had several emails, blog comments, and questions in my TpT store about the mini-lessons that I teach during writing. If you have any of my writing units, then you know that many of them come with mini-lessons to teach during that unit, but not all of them. Several of you are wondering where I get all my other the mini-lessons.

Well, the answer is simple: from EVERYWHERE! See, several years ago, I gave up teaching vocabulary, grammar, mechanics/conventions, and even some parts of writer's craft in an isolated manner. I knew that the transfer when teaching this way was negligent and it took up a ginormous amount of my period. So instead, I opted to flood my kids with great writing and teach the lessons they needed to learn RIGHT FROM THE WRITING ITSELF. No more worksheets, or text books, or quizzes. Just lots of good writing that we observe, dissect, and imitate.

So, pretty much everyday, I share a great piece of writing with my students. (My favorite sources are the Chicken Soup books because so many of them are written by kids for kids. I will also use students' work from a previous year, with their permission, of course!) Then, after I read it aloud, I mark a few things that I really liked and want them to notice. Below, you can see a piece that I shared and the three things I wanted them to observe: the author's use of commas in a series, her word choice, and her closing.

We spent a few minutes talking about these things and practiced writing a few sentences that modeled how to use commas in a series. Then, I told the students to get drafting (we were in the middle of a narrative unit) and suggested that while they were writing to try to focus on their word choice, comma usage, and their closing.

As I walked around the room to conference with students, I noticed how kids are doing with these three things and provided some feedback. Then, at the end of class during "share time" and I asked students to share either: a.) a sentence that includes a series, b.) a sentence that really shows their care with word choice, or c.) their closing. BOOM! Mini-lesson success!!

Now, just because I shared this once doesn't mean they'll get it. And, some kids might not have an opportunity to practice that skill that day, so, as I share more mentors, I'll touch on these aspects again (and again and again!).

Throughout the course of a year, I will teach dozens of mini-lessons over and over. (Go ahead and just ask how many times I teach punctuating dialogue!! And they still struggle!!) That means kids will get lots of opportunity to observe the skill in action and to practice the skill themselves. Can you think of anything better?!? Authentic observation and practice?!? Awesome!

How do you design your mini-lessons? Any sure-fire strategies to share? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year, Friends! Just wanted to drop by and say, "hi!!" I hope everyone had a great holiday and that 2017 is off to an awesome start for you!

I've been enjoying my winter break with lots of family, friends, fun, and food! But, back to school tomorrow!! I'm torn about it... it's time for me to go back to work and to get my family back into our routine, but I'm sad about it, too. I'm going to miss my little people all day!! Spending 10 days in a row with them makes me realize just how quick my kids are growing. Slow down time!!

Anyway, I've got lots of great stuff planned for this blog, my TpT store, and my YouTube Channel in 2017. I just can't wait!! So, stay tuned! I'll be back shortly with my regularly scheduled blog posts!

Happy New Year!!