Sunday, January 22, 2017

5 Tips for More Effective Paragraph Writing

        Teaching paragraph writing can be challenging. Not only are there multiple components and a specific structure to follow, there are also factors involved like word choice, content, and writing style. Even though it's not easy, teaching writing is one of my favorite subjects! In this post, I'd like to share with you some tips that I've found to help make student paragraph writing more successful.

1. Use Mentor Paragraphs
One of the first things I do when I teach paragraph writing, is to share lots of paragraph examples with my students. The paragraphs I show the kids are ones I have saved from year's past or ones that I make myself. I make sure to take off student names and I like to type these so they're easy to read. We look at the paragraph examples (both good and bad) and see how they're organized, if they stay on topic, use some transitions, and have a good flow. We also look at the topic sentences and the conclusion sentences in particular, as starting and ending paragraphs can be difficult for many students. Sometimes I simply project the paragraphs using a document projector on the smart board, and other times I print them out and have the students circle certain items or highlight various parts.

2. Teach Paragraph Parts Specifically
Writing a paragraph is a little like an algebraic equation. We would never start teaching a complex equation by putting it in front of a child and asking them to master it without first teaching them basic math processes, like addition, subtraction, and multiplication, and then the Order of Operations. The same is true for paragraph writing. It is way too complex to expect students to master it without teaching them specific strategies for each part. I start by teaching students to outline and color code paragraphs using star ideas (more information here on this blog post), then move to topic sentences (blog post for topic sentences here), conclusions are next, as students can re-vamp topic sentences into conclusions (blog post on conclusions here), and we end with transitions to make our paragraphs flow (click here to read more about transitions).

3. Write a Paragraph as a Class
Writing a paragraph as a class may be fun or it can be tedious, but it is a step that is too important to skip. I make a deal with my students and tell them that if they stay with me and participate, that I will do all of the writing this time for them. I've never had a class fail to take me up on this offer (and I've had some challenging classes in my 20 years of teaching!). After introducing a topic, I stand at the Smart Board and step by step, call on students who dictate sentence ideas to me, which I write down for everyone to see. By composing a paragraph step by step, you are reinforcing the basic paragraph recipe and modeling some of the thinking that goes into writing along the way. Things like staying on topic, using sentences of varying lengths, choosing synonyms for certain words to add variety and so on.

4. Choose Paragraph Topics Carefully
Once students have looked at lots of paragraphs, have had a chance to practice each part of a paragraph multiple times, and have worked together on a class paragraph, it's time for them to write paragraphs on their own...yikes! It always scares me a bit but I'm usually pleasantly surprised by what they're able to do at this point.

When you ask students to write paragraphs, one of the things I've found to be very helpful is if you can choose topics which fall in these categories:

  • Shared Experiences: Any time your whole class does something interesting together, you have a prime topic for a paragraph. Perhaps your class went on a field trip to the zoo, planted a school garden, had an interesting assembly...These authentic experiences can give students lots of concrete ideas from which to write.
  • Common Interests/Background Knowledge: I also like to assign paragraphs based on topics which all students have experience. For example, My Favorite Place or My Favorite Season or My Best Friend or One Person I Admire... Most children would be able to draw on their background life knowledge to create a paragraph for any one of these. My Favorite Vacation or The Best Amusement Park, however, wouldn't work well as not everyone in the classroom has had experiences such as these.
  • Engaging Topics: When you can hook students by offering them an idea that they consider "fun", you will have a better chance of getting some quality work. Topics like If I Were the Principal or If I Had One (or Three) Wishes or My Dream Pet... 
5. Practice Paragraph Writing
It may go without saying but once students have completed a round of intense paragraph writing training, they'll need to practice periodically to keep skills sharp. I love to spiral as many concepts as possible in my classroom and paragraph writing is no different. 

If you're looking for an easy to way have paragraph writing materials at your fingertips, I love using this Paragraph Writing Bundle. Not only does it have plenty of practice pages for each part of the paragraph, it is a no prep tool that you can use tomorrow in your classroom.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Please let me know if you try any of these tips!

I'd love to connect with you!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Properties of Two Dimensional Shapes

In this post I will go over some activities that we completed in my classroom in order to cover the third grade standard 3.G.1. I hope you will be able to take some of these ideas and complete them with your own students. :)

Third Grade Geometry - Classify and draw shapes based on their attributes

Before analyzing shape attributes, I made sure my students understood some basic geometry information. We went over shape names, how to count the number of sides (easily done by counting the vertices), and basic vocabulary words (line, line segment, point, ray). If your students need practice on basic geometry vocabulary, click here to download a free printable pack

During small groups, I had my students choose two random shapes from their baggie.  They then compared and contrasted the attributes on a dry erase dot. It helps to have an anchor chart with key geometry terms you want the students to use. 

This activity was a total hit. I gave my students a riddle, and they wrote down the clues on their dots. They then used the geoboards to build their shape. This is a great time to share, because there could be more than one answer.

For example, the clues for the shape above (2 pairs of parallel lines and 4 right angles) could be a square or a rectangle. I also liked the riddle of "I am a shape with 4 sides and only one pair of parallel lines". Students enjoyed sharing their different trapezoids.  The picture below shows a rhombus, but I liked to tell the students to erase the second clue (0 right angles) and show what other shape it could be (square/which is also a rhombus ;) ). A link to the free riddle cards is found at the end of this blog post.

I saved these 'interactive' notebook activities for last. Students need to first hold shape patterns. They need to create shapes before completing just paper and pencil activities. The interactive notebook activity below was a great success. Again, it helps to have an anchor chart displayed with geometry terms you want your students to use.

 One students have a clear understanding of geometry vocabulary (types of lines, angles, shape names), I would ask students to categorize several shapes into categories based on their attributes. Their answers all will vary and it's important to give them time to share with each other.

I hope you can take some of these ideas and use them in your classroom! Below is a list of resources pictured.

- Geometry Tri-folds: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How to Build Acceptance in Today's Classroom

Teaching acceptance in today's classroom is now more important than ever. As tensions run high across the world with various ethnic, religious and political groups, teachers are faced with dealing with a mainstream media and social media presence like never before. It is easy for students to get a hold of videos, text, or images that display hatred towards others. Parents play a crucial role in helping their children understand acceptance, but it still falls in teachers' laps on a daily basis. How do teachers go about teaching acceptance in a world of hate and fear? We will attempt to offer some tips and guidance as you try to instill kindness, empathy, and compassion into your students.

Accepting of Differences
Prejudice and discrimination are learned behaviors. People are not born with these behaviors. That is why it is our job as educators to teach acceptance of everyone. The home plays a significant role in a child's beliefs about others that are different than themselves. We have had students in the past whose parents do not share a view of acceptance of others that are different from them. So how do you, as a classroom teacher, handle a student that believes others are inferior to their race or culture? First, you have to develop a classroom community from day one and make it apparent that all students are equal and will be treated that way. A great way to do this is to have daily morning meetings with the class where students get to greet each other. They also get a chance to share about their lives and this is a great time for students to find connections with each other. Another aspect is to do cooperative games where your students have to work together.

Second, we do an activity called "My World" where students draw a circle with their name in big bold letters inside. Then, inside the circle they write/draw everything that is important to them. Many include family, pets, activities, and things that make them happy. On the outside of the circle they write down things that they don't want in their lives. Here is where topics such as bullying, discrimination, and prejudice come up. We discuss these negative things and how they have an impact on students' lives. Then we display these in the classroom on a bulletin board and leave them up for the year.

Third, we encourage students to work together in all subject areas. We use think-pair-share as a teaching strategy in which students discuss their thoughts/answers with one another before sharing whole group. We also use Math Talk as a means to communicate in math class. Students get a chance to listen to each other's ideas on how to solve problems and critically think and problem-solve together. In social studies, we do many cooperative group projects that lend to working together.

Fourth, we communicate frequently with parents regarding what is happening in the classroom. We want to keep the lines of communication open with families and use a weekly newsletter, notes in assignment notebooks and phone calls home to do this. We also try to send a positive letter home through the mail to each student at least once a year as well. The parents have to know that we are their for their children and that we will stand up for each and every one of them!

Fifth, we do a fun activity with students where they partner up and trace each other's hands on blank white paper. Then they ask five questions about each other (favorite food, color...) and write each response on one of the fingers. Then they color and decorate their partner's hand. We then display them in the classroom. It is fun to watch this process because students have great conversations with each other and also bond with their partner.

Acceptance is something that needs to be taught and we are hopeful that you can use some of the activities outlined above in your classroom.