Developing Story Arcs with Sarah Weeks

One of the key and most practical take aways I had this summer from the Teachers College Writing Institute was during my session with author, Sarah Weeks. I attended her class on writing children’s books. She shared with us the importance of a balanced story arc in children’s stories. We examined how the best children’s books out there had really strong story arcs. She had story arcs written out for various well known children’s books. We looked at the story arc of the action in the story, which showed what was happening in the beginning, middle and end. Then, she had us also examine the emotional story that the character went through.

The next step was to start creating our own story arcs for the picture books we would write that week. She shared with us how some teachers, actually had a piece of string that they used to represent the arc. Another method was to use post-its. One color post-it would represent the action of the story, and another color post-it would represent the emotional story arc of my main character. I really loved using the post-its verses just writing it down in my notebook, because I could move around the post-its, add more details, and I could clearly distinguish between the two different arcs. After many hours, I finally had a story arc for my children’s book (still a work in progress).

Last week, I found myself whipping out the story arc I created this past summer, during one of my mini-lessons for our fantasy unit. My students were collecting ideas for their fantasy stories and we had just gone over the story arc of The Paper Bag Princess. I modeled for them creating a story arc of the action and then the emotions of the princess. Then, I showed them the story arc that I created for my children’s book as another model.

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Then, I had them create their own story arcs. I gave them post-it notes, bigger sized white paper, and let them go. I encouraged them to be creative and manipulate the size of the post-its as they needed. I had a few students add another arc, of the setting, with another post-it color. Another student included small drawings on her post-its along with the description. I even had some students layering the post-its on top of each other as they added more details. As the students worked on their story arcs, I kept emphasizing the importance of how having a strong story arc would help them write a better story. Plus, it would make the drafting process a lot easier.  And this was a lesson I definitely learned after spending many hours writing and revising my own story arc this past summer.

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Reading Buddies: Not just for Reading!

Jee Young and I have offered many blog posts about reading buddies during our first year of blogging. It just made sense seeing how our two classes used to hang out once a week when we worked at the same school, we loved reading buddies!

Tips for Successful Reading Buddies

Students teaching Students

Reading Buddy Activity for Poetry

End of the Year Book Buddy Activity

This year I am coordinating the reading buddy activities for the whole elementary school, since our school is small we all have reading buddies at the same time— and with each other! As I am trying to find reading activities that fit ages ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade I am realizing more and more that reading buddies are so much more than just reading together. My younger students look forward to it every week, a chance to hang out (in a class like setting) with the older students, who wouldn’t want that?

This year we have been able to not only read together, but they’ve been able to do art projects together, they have played games together, they  co-authored a math story book, they have colored, they have laughed, they have learned how to communicate with people outside their age group.

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I readily admit though, that watching these students read to each other and with each other, and ask each other questions— that is my absolute favorite part of reading buddies!

I just typed in “reading buddies” into pinterest to check out how many boards there are, I am about to have a field day! I love that new things are always popping up there.

What are some great activities you do with reading buddies?

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A Weekend of Inspiration, Art & Books

A few weekends ago, my school hosted a Children’s Literature Conference. We had amazing authors and illustrators give keynotes and lead workshops. The authors and illustrators that attended were Deborah WilesKadir NelsonLaura Vacarro Seeger and Chris Crutcher. I’m a huge fan of Kadir Nelson’s artwork, especially in the book, A Nation’s Hope! They shared their stories while challenging us to tell our own stories. Not only did I want to buy all these amazing books that these authors wrote and illustrated afterwards, but I was inspired to start writing my story.

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One of the author/illustrators that came was Laura Vacarro Seeger. Her most recent picture book, Green was a Caldecott Honor book this year! She presented her inspiration for her various picture books by sharing her sketches and writer’s notebook. I was amazed at how she took pictures books to a whole new level through her creativity. I especially loved her book Green. Here is an amazing video of her book.

Laura even signed my book and took a photo! I found out later that she actually worked with my students in their art class. In addition to that, I had my students and their book buddies (2nd grade class) do an art activity together based on the book. After reading the book to them, we had the kids come up with their own “green” page in order to create a class book. They thought of a phrase and then drew the artwork to go with it. There were some very creative drawings and phrases from exit green, fast green, grass green, ocean green, funky green, alien green, jewel green and more! Thank you Laura for your inspiration!

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Poetry Cafe

Well, all good things must come to an end… and our poetry unit is no different. Every year, at the end of her poetry unit, Jee Young holds a poetry cafe (as mentioned previously here). This year, I was super excited for it because she asked my class to be a part of it! The event was held in our school auditorium and it started with all the fifth grade students on stage, reciting poems to the audience. It was incredible to see so many students on the stage performing poetry pieces that they had memorized by heart.

After that, my students joined their book buddies, and one by one (or… should I say, two by two) they recited the two-voice poems they had been working on for a couple of weeks.

The idea of getting on stage with their book buddy, and reading into a microphone, was so significant for my students. What a great way to feel accomplished! After the two-voice poems, every fifth grader got on stage and recited a poem they had written during the unit.

The other second grade teacher and I were so inspired by the event, we are hosting a mini-poetry cafe with our students next week! We are going to bring a microphone into the classroom, invite the parents, and have our publishing party in that style.

Oh, and what I loved most about the fifth grade poetry cafe is when the two fifth grade teachers got up and recited an inspiring two-voice poem they wrote for their students! Talk about a tear-jerker.

Here is what the stage looked like:

Do you have any great ideas for a publishing party? Please share! 

p.s. Oh, and I had an amazing birthday last week!!! I especially loved my personalized stationary— Jee Young is awesome!

Reading/Book Buddy Activity for… you guessed it: Poetry!

I don’t know where you are in the world, but here in Korea, the weather has been gorgeous! Which makes writing poetry that much more fun. Last Friday my students headed up to Jee Young’s classroom to meet with our fifth grade book buddies (also called reading buddies, your choice!). Jee Young and I decided that since we are both teaching a unit on poetry, it would be fun to have our students write a poem together.

(This is one of my student’s checking out Jee Young’s Classroom’s Poetry Corner with her book buddy.)

The fifth graders always hold a Poetry Cafe, and at the end of their unit they invite the elementary school to come and listen to them perform poems that mentored and inspired them, as well as poems they wrote. This year Jee Young thought it would be great if our book buddies wrote a two voice poem together and performed at the Poetry Cafe. I was so impressed by some of the poems our students wrote together last Friday!

Here is an example of a two voice poem that Jee Young’s students taught to mine: Fireflies by Paul Fleischman.

What are some things you do with your book buddies? Any creative ideas for us? Please share!

Students Teaching Students

For the final project in our landforms unit, I have my fifth grade students teach our book buddies class (Melody’s 2nd grade class) about volcanoes. The students are expected to teach the second graders what they learned about volcanoes. This is fun to see them take on the role of a teacher. Not only do they realize how hard it is, but it helps them make sure they really learned and understood what we studied.

One of the requirements for this project is that they integrate technology. In the past, I used to require them to make a power point or use a specific type of technology. However, something our I.T. specialist has encouraged me to do is to leave it more open, so the students can choose how they will use technology. So for this project, I let them decide how to incorporate technology.  Many of them created I-movies, Powerpoint, Glogster, and used  iPads. The students also have to create an assessment to see if the students learned what they taught. For the first day, my students went in to teach about volcanoes, and the next day they will give them the quiz!  The final part of the project is to erupt volcanoes with them.

One of the groups came up with a fun board game!


Here’s a link to one of the glogster’s they created!

http://www.glogster.com/glog/6ln37kntlmlruq3b9iahla0

Tips for Successful Reading Buddies

This is our second year working together as reading buddies. It works out pretty well since I teach 5th grade and Melody teaches 2nd grade. Last year, for the first reading buddy activity, we had our students fill out Venn diagrams of their similarities and differences.

This year, we we wanted to try something different and incorporate our new IPADs. We had the students use the photo booth on the IPADs to take photos with their reading buddy. They had to take different photos, using each of the photo settings. We told them that both of them had to be in the photo. The students had a great time taking photos with each other.  The second activity we had our students do was create a list of their similarities using the notepad on the IPAD.

Students have fun using the photo booth options on the IPAD.

Students taking photos together.

Tips on Successful Reading Buddies:

1. Match up students carefully.

Take into account students’ personalities, behavior, and reading levels so that partnerships are successful.

2. Explicitly teach the older students how to read aloud.

 I will usually do a mini-lesson or demonstration with my students on strategies for reading aloud picture books before we read with our reading buddies.

3. Mix it up every week.

Sometimes we encourage the fifth graders to pick their favorite books in advance to bring to read. Other times, we go to the library together and students pick out books together and read. Some weeks, we do a hands-on activity together which helps deepen their relationships and allows them to get to know each other in another way. This is particular good for those students that are struggling readers, but excel in other areas like art.

4. Invite your reading buddy class to your class events.

Last year, we invited our reading buddies to come watch our poetry cafe. This year, we went into their class to share what we learned during our nonfiction unit in reading workshop.

5. Do a long term project together.

Last year, we had students create picture books for each other. It did take about 1-2 months to plan, draft, revise and publish their books. It was nice though because at the end, they gave their buddy the book they made. This year, they are creating a math picture book together.

6. Integrate the activity to your curriculum.

When our students were working on their poetry unit, we had them work on writing poetry together with their reading buddy. The fifth graders were good at teaching the second graders about poetry and they did a great job working together to create poems. Poetry is a great and easy unit to incorporate into your reading buddies and it’s part of the curriculum.