Bare Books

Have I ever mentioned that during my first year of teaching I was mentored by the great Jee Young you have all come to know and love through reading this blog? She has given me invaluable guidance in my first years of teaching. She has also shared resources. It is amazing how many things are out there that we just don’t know about. There should be a class in college that purely covers resources and how to sort the good from the bad (I am e-mailing my university asap).

One such resource is a website that sells Bare Books (and their mascot is a bear— so clever!): www.barebooks.com

Jee Young told me about this website and how she orders books when she goes home for the summer and brings them back with her.

The books are fantastic! I recommend ordering them with plastic sleeves for protection. Blank books are great for poetry units, and picture books, and the line pages work for other kinds of writing.

We are using them to publish our favorite poems from our poetry unit. Since Jee Young and I both used them last year, this year the school budgeted to order some for all of the elementary teachers! It may seem simple, but I had no idea this website existed before Jee Young told me.

What are some great resources you could share?

Making your Students feel like REAL Authors!

Several months ago one of our first grade teachers had an idea (I am pretty sure she got it from Lucy Calkins- we really like her here at our school). What if after we had a publishing party with our students final stories, we put the books in the school library? Then the whole elementary school could check out each other’s books, and the students would really be real authors! We e-mailed the school librarian to see if we could get a shelf reserved for this, and if we could put the books in the computer system. She happily obliged.

Can I be honest with you? I thought it was a great idea— really I did! The thing is… each first grade teacher only has six students, and laminating each page of each student’s book (so they wouldn’t get destroyed by the other students) for them, wasn’t too bad of a challenge. I have twice as many students (which is still a small class I know!), and my students- being in second grade- might write more, especially since we were doing our fairy tale unit. The thought of laminated a hundred pages (if not more!) of student’s writing was overwhelming. But after my students were able to check out the first grade “books” in our library, I had to do it. Their faces lit up when they held those books.

AND I AM SO GLAD I DID. I have never seen my students more proud and excited to complete their final published story. Being able to see it on the shelf, in our school library, was a huge excitement for them. They even got to LOOK up their books in the library catalog online. They looked so official.

Here is a picture if you made a search for a second grade book (sorry it’s dark!):

If you have the means to do this, DO IT. The corner shelf in our library has become very popular since their books showed up!

An example of what our books look like, this was from our “All About” unit. The students design a cover and back page:

What are some ways you get your students excited about their writing? 

Poetry Walks

One of my favorite things to do in our poetry unit is have our students go on a poetry walk. I have my students take their writer’s notebook and a pen with them and we take a walk outside. Last week, the beautiful cherry blossoms were everywhere outside our school.  Our amazing guidance counselor was telling me about this beautiful hidden area on our campus with cherry blossoms.  She said, “It would be a crime to not allow the kids to see this…” So we took our 5th grade classes and went to a small park area on our school campus. The students got to write down what they saw and be inspired by nature to write down poems.

I wish that we could do more of these types of walk instead of always being stuck inside a classroom. I think that in my dream school, the kids would spend more time outside. 🙂


Guest Blog Post: Writing to Mo Willems

Julia is an experienced Kindergarten teacher who enjoys using the reading and writing workshop model in her classroom. She even had Lucy Calkins as a professor at Teacher’s College. She is a fellow New Yorker, co-worker and friend. We are excited for her next journey!

My last year’s Kindergarten class loved Mo Willems. We read every single Mo Willems’ book available at the school library and I purchased titles unavailable at school. Naturally, Mr. Willems was chosen for our Aurthor Study unit.

During Reading Workshop, we discussed Mo Willems’ writing and illustration style.
During Writing Workshop, we tried one or two of his styles in our own writing.
Towards the end of the unit, children wanted to meet Mo Willems. They wanted to know if he could come to Korea or if we could take a class trip to his office.

We didn’t get to go to his office in New York, but we went to the local post office to mail our letters to Mr. Willems. Each child wrote a letter and lined up at the post office to mail their letters! Children asked me if we’ll ever hear back from him. I didn’t think we would, so I told them, “Mr. Willems is reaaaalllly busy.”

The school year ended. I enjoyed my summer vacation and came back to work a week before school started. And there sat a large brown envelope in my mailbox. An envelope from Mo Willems office in New York!!!! “Ahhhh Ahhhhh Ahhhhh!”

I brought it to my classroom, shut the door, and opened the envelope like a little kid opening a Christmas present. Mo Willems wrote back to us and sent us an autographed book poster! Mo Willems ROCKS!

*I highly encourage you to allow each child to send their own letter at the post office. (Rather than sending it in one large envelope.) They loved it. For most of them, it was their first time mailing something, let alone their first time at the post office.

Poetry Read Alouds

My all time favorite poetry read aloud books are Sharon Creech’s, Love That Dog and Hate That Cat. These two stories follow Jack  on his journey with poetry and the teacher Miss Stretchberry that pushes him along the way. It’s a story that kids and adults can appreciate, smile and learn from. On Sharon Creech’s website, you can find some good teaching resources for using both books!

Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog

and the sequel…

Sharon Creech’s Hate that Cat

Another fun poetry read aloud book is Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston. This book was recommended by another 5th grade teacher. I did get to read the book, but didn’t get to read it to my kids. It’s a fun fantasy story written all in rhyme. It would go well during a poetry unit for upper elementary kids!

Here are some other good poetry resources!

Scholastic Poetry Site 

Poetry for People

Poetry Foundation

Online Poetry Classroom

Poetry Resources from NYC Department of Education

Do you have any good poetry read aloud books or resources that you recommend?

Poetry Centers

To piggyback off of Jee Young’s post, I thought I would share what  I do during my poetry unit. I love, love, love, it when it is time to write poetry!

To kick off the unit I give my students a poetry notepad that they get to design, I purposefully make it long and skinny to help the students create line breaks. Here are a few examples of my students’ notepads from last year:

I love how each student’s is so unique (some of my students used three our four notepads throughout the unit!).

Since it is unrealistic to expect a child to write poetry for thirty to forty-five minutes, my teaching partner and I created centers. First, we have our mini-lesson (courtesy Lucy Calkins), and then we slowly introduce centers. For the first week, I explain a different center every day, or every other day. As the unit goes on, they are required to do each center a certain amount of times each week, along with their writing time.

I am including a few of the centers we do:

Missing Titles“- Students read a poem with the title missing and have word bank of titles to choose from.Click on the title for the link to the poems I use!

“Line Breaks”- Students are given a poem in paragraph form, they get the chance to create their own line breaks, and then they rewrite the poem. Here are a couple of examples: Beavers in the Bathroom,Hammock,Broccoli for Breakfast,Wavy Hair, and Shaking.

Visualize the Poem“- At this center, students read a poem and then draw a picture of the poem. Simple! The link is to the poems that I use.

“List Poem”- at the beginning of the poetry unit have each student bring in a random object from home (anything from an old watch, to a stuff animal, to a Pokemon card). Keep these objects in a basket, and allow students to look through the basket to create a list poem.

I also have a center where students can read poems to each other, practicing how to read a poem.

Here is a poem that I love to use when I start of my unit (poet’s look at everyday objects with fresh eyes), thanks to Lucy Calkins!

Pencil Sharpener
by Zoe Ryder White

I think there are a hundred bees
inside the pencil sharpener
and they buzz
and buzz
and buzz
until my point
is sharp!

Do you have a center you love to use during your poetry unit? SHARE!

Poetry is back!

Poetry is definitely one of my favorite units to teach in reading and writing workshop. I love poetry because it is a nice refreshing break from writing literary essays and reading challenging historical fiction books. It is a unit where the students get completely immersed in poetry in both reading and writing. This week, we are launching our poetry unit in my class. I’m hoping to tweak this unit from the past, by using some of the suggestions and ideas from the 5th grade Curricular Plan for the Writing Workshop unit from Lucy Calkins.

Some of things that I like to do during this unit is have a poetry wall in my classroom. I just get a large sheet of colored paper that I put on the wall. I have the students write down poetry on the wall. They can write sentences, verses, complete poems, and even draw. It’s a wall to inspire them and others. It’s like poetry graffiti that is totally allowed.

Some other good ideas that are in the Lucy Calkins’ curricular plan is to start off with a class anthology of poetry. Usually I have them create a self portrait poetry anthology at the end of the unit, but it might be fun to have them doing a whole class anthology in the beginning of the unit as well.  I will brainstorm with my students this week on different possible topics we could do a class anthology on.

One of my personal goals for this poetry unit is to write more of my own poems and write in my writer’s notebook along with the kids. I would like to say in theory that I do that all year long, but that unfortunately doesn’t happen. So, I’m hoping to write more with my students in this unit and use my writing as an example of mentor text as well. So let the poetry begin…

A New Kind of Graphic Organizer

To start off this beautiful week, I would like to share with you a new graphic organizer (new to me that is!) that I learned about during my time at EARCOS in Bangkok, Thailand. I went to a workshop held by Brett Dillingham and gained a lot of great tips to use during writing workshop. I implemented the graphic organizer just this morning.

At the end of this week, we are going to display writings from every grade, in an event that we like to call “Write Across APIS” (Jee Young has mentioned this before here). Each classroom gets a set of the same pictures, and this year we chose artwork by Norman Rockwell. (I personally LOVE Norman Rockwell’s work.)

This morning I gave my students a chance to pick a picture (they are allowed to choose the same one if they really like it, though most of them chose different pictures) and then asked them to write their own story about it. Before they started, I modeled an example, using this graphic organizer that Brett illustrated during his workshop:

You see, often we tell the students everything they need to include in their story (characters, settings, problem, solution, etc.), and we have them brainstorm, and then we make them write. My students will start a story, and not know where they are going with it, even if they have an idea of their problem and solution. This graphic organizer requires them to plan out their whole story before they even start writing. Once you have this drawn, you add a couple of words by each section to plan out your story. Then, you ask the students to share their story (with you or a partner) aloud. After they do that, they draw the main picture (or character) of their story in the middle of the organizer. For my assignment with the students this morning they already had the picture.

For my example, I chose this picture by Norman Rockwell:

And this is what my completed graphic organizer looked like:

The students can write a couple of words, or a sentence by each part of their story. In the end they might have 18-20 words on their organizer. Once they explain it a loud, they have a lot more than 18-20 words, and this is the story they write down:

Have you ever used this graphic organizer before?

Do you have a graphic organizer you love? Share it with us!

Writing Across the School

Every year, our school has a tradition, where we write across the different elementary classrooms around common photos/drawings/paintings. It started off a few years ago, where during the first time, we used the famous illustrations from Chris Van Allsburg‘s, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Each of his drawing has a line that goes with it. The students from all of the elementary classes, each chose one of the photos to write about. They each wrote their own story, starting with the line from the photo. Then, we hung up all the stories for each photo on the walls of our school. It was so interesting to see the different stories that students came up with from Kindergarten to 5th grade.

Last year, we used photos from different Allen Say books. He has great photos in his picture books with Asian characters. This year, our theme is Norman Rockwell. We are using different paintings of his that the students are writing stories about. Our awesome literacy coach made color copies of the photos and laminated 2 sets so the elementary teachers can borrow them. Here are a few of the paintings the students can choose from.

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I’m excited to see what kind of stories the students will come up with this year!

P.S. Melody is going to the EARCOS 2012 conference next week in Bangkok, Thailand! Anyone else going to be there?!

Said is Dead.

If you kind folks haven’t caught on by now, let me tell you, I LOVE POSTERS. I came across the design for this poster I made in my classroom on pinterest, which was linked to scholastic.com. It is brilliant:

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(Sorry for the shine on these posters, I just had them laminated so they can last me for YEARS!)

After discussing all of these words with my students, we started coming up with other ways to say a few other words. Here are a couple more posters I made:

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I love it when my students get up during writing workshop and walk over to these posters, searching for a different word to use.

What are some of your favorite posters?

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