Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Improving Student Writing Using Masterpiece Sentences

As a teacher, there are many perks to being married to another teacher, particularly one who teaches the same grade level!! I definitely love the convenience of having all of the same days off!! I love that my husband understands the challenges that come with the job!!  But what I truly love about being married to a teacher, is that I always have a partner to share and discuss new ideas!!

A few weeks ago my husband came home PUMPED after an ELA professional development training. He could hardly wait to share everything he learned about MASTERPIECE SENTENCES!! Of course by the end of our conversation, we were both ready to go to work the next day to implement this sentence-writing strategy in our own classrooms. 

I decided to create a Flip Book that I could use to teach this strategy to my students, and which they could keep and refer back to as needed:

There are 6 steps, or "stages" that students go through in order to write a Masterpiece Sentence...

Stage 1: Prepare Your Canvas
In this first step, students start off with a very simple sentence. All it really needs is a simple subject and a simple predicate...

Stage 2: Paint Your Predicate
This is where the magic begins and students begin to create their masterpiece. For stage 2, students add more details to their predicate by answering: How? Where? When?

When my students are writing their sentences I reassure them that it's okay to leave one of these out if they don't think these details fit well in their sentences.

Stage 3: Move Your Predicate Painters
Things get a bit more complicated in this stage, when students are asked to move parts of the sentence around so that it makes more sense, or to improve the style of the sentence...

Stage 4: Paint Your Subject
In this next stage students add more details to their simple subject by answering: Which? What Kind? How Many?

Again, students have some flexibility with this. For instance, if adding "how many" isn't going to improve the quality of their sentences, then I encourage them to skip that particular part.

Stage 5: Paint Your Words
This next stage focuses on WORD CHOICE. This is where students will add or replace nouns, adjectives, or verbs with words that are more precise and descriptive.

Stage 6: Finishing Touches 
In this last stage, students put final touches on their masterpiece sentences, by making final edits and revisions. They may choose to add, delete, or move certain parts of the sentence. This is also the time to double-check punctuation and spelling.

I am loving this unique strategy for helping students improve their creative writing. I think it's a great strategy to practice several times, in order for students to get in the habit of revising their sentences to improve their writing! I hope that you and your students will enjoy this strategy as much as my students and I do!! Click HERE to download this Flip Book!! Happy Writing!!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Using Speech Bubbles in Reading

"Those speech bubbles are so cute."

I shudder.

Cute? Well, yes, I admit they are darn good-looking speech bubbles. (Credit Sarah Pecorino for the lovely clip art in the photos.) But look past the cuteness and you'll see a tool. A tool that can reap intense thinking from your students during your reading instruction.

Five ways to use speech bubbles as a tool in your reading instruction. Get students thinking harder that you'd expect.

Here are five ways to use speech bubbles when reading literature:

Try using speech bubbles as a vehicle for your students to interact with the characters in a text. To actually talk to a character.

Doing so can entrench a student into the story. Not only are they following the plot, now they are putting themselves in it. Have them offer advice to a character, connect to a difficult situation by telling a character about a similar experience, or give information that would help a character out of a sticky situation.

Sticky notes work perfectly to do this while reading. Students can pause, jot down a speech bubble, and stick it right in their book.

Pull two characters out of their story to create a conversation between them, similar to an exchange of texts to each other. Maybe tension exists between two characters and the author has yet to have them confront the situation. Or maybe the parameters of the story prevents two certain characters from coming into contact with each other. Force these interactions to occur with a character conversation.

(Click to grab a copy of the Character Conversation sheet.)
Having students make up the dialogue between two characters, dialogue that does not exist otherwise, puts the students in the shoes of the characters. Try the activity in partners, where each student takes on the role of one character. If there's no obvious topic for a conversation to revolve around, try giving a class-wide topic, even a random one. The key is to write the characters' dialogue to fit who the characters are. Sharing these conversations like a reader's theater makes for an engaging comparison!

As a compelling spinoff, take a main character out of two separate books to try a character conversation. *Note: Be sure to click the photo above to download the free form.

Give words to a character or animal who doesn't otherwise speak. For example, in Shiloh, recording in a speech bubble what the dog, Shiloh, would say if he could speak allows you to see if students are making important inferences.

(Click to grab a copy of the speech bubble.)
Try modeling this activity with a large, laminated speech bubble like in the photo. *Note: Click the photo to download your free copy.

Use one chapter of a book (or a whole picture book) to have students decide the most important quotation uttered by one of the characters. Have them copy the character's words inside a speech bubble and then comment on why they chose it. What makes these words so significant?

It reminds me of the "Say WHAT?!?" page from my Reader's Notebook Response Pages for Literature, where students choose a quote that might be important later in the story and answer questions about its importance.

The use of speech bubbles within comic strips is most likely familiar to your students. Try having students give a summary of a book through a comic strip instead of (or to accompany) a standard written paragraph.

Fold a piece of paper into fourths to create the boxes. Split off half the first box to allow for some set-the-scene narration, and then use the remaining spaces to complete the summary.

*   *   *

There's a lot you can do with what characters say in a story, and a speech bubble is the perfect vehicle to get into it.

Come visit my blog and read about the Speech Bubble's more reserved, contemplative cousin: the Thought Bubble, and the cute deep-thinking things you can do with one! Read it HERE.

* * * Find me on Facebook, TeachersPayTeachers, Pinterest, Instagram, and my Blog. * * *

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Top 10 Ways to Combat Test Stress

When our students hear the word "test" they cringe and you can see the fear on their face. When we start to talk about the standardized test, that fear turns to panic and sheer horror. Thoughts flood their minds, "I'm going to have to repeat 5th grade! My parents are going to ground me forever if I don't pass this test. Maybe I can pretend I'm sick and get out of the whole test. I wonder if I broke my writing arm if I would have to do it?"

After 40 years of combined teaching at grade levels where standardized tests are administered, we have developed a TOP 10 LIST that we think will help not only your students, but yourself cope with the "stress of the test."

#1: Treats!
What student, or teacher for that matter, doesn't love treats? About a week before the test begins we read a letter to our students about how their parents can bring in healthy snacks and healthy drinks on the days of the test. This gets the students excited. You can find the FREE letter by clicking here.
#2: Morning Meeting
It is important to start off testing days with a short morning meeting. For those of you that have never done this, don't worry. Students need to be acknowledged and appreciated, especially on testing day. First, it's a simple greeting in the morning to everyone. We have used a koosh ball to throw around the room, have the student give high 5s to each other,  and do a pinky shake to name a few. Next is a quick share. Some topics that we have done during testing are: raise your hand if you ate breakfast today, raise your hand if you got at least 7 hours of sleep and so on. The third activity is a cooperative game. This is a time to get up and do an activity together. The favorite activity of our classes is the beach ball toss. We bring a beach ball into the classroom and pick 3-4 students to be in a circle. Their goal is to see how long they can keep it in the air. Then we pick the next group until all students have been picked. The final part of the meeting is news and announcements. This is where we share what part of the test they will be doing that day, when snacks are, and any other events happening during the day. Students like to know the routine ahead of time.
#3: Stress Chain
Students always bring worries with them to the state test. To combat this, we created a stress chain activity that we do the day before the test. What the teacher needs are various colors of regular size construction paper. Take each piece of construction paper and cut into about 8 equal strips.  Hand out two different colors of construction paper per student. Tell them that you want them to write their worries about the test on the paper. Some examples are: "I might fail. I might not know an answer. I will get nervous and forget everything I know..." After they have finished, have the class help you make them into chains by looping them together and stapling. Take the completed chain and tell the students that you are going to hang all their worries outside the classroom door. So when they come in to class tomorrow they are to leave their worries at the door! You can find a printable version of the directions for FREE here.

#4: Test Taking First Aid Kit
Another fun idea is to create a test taking first aid kit for the students to "use" during testing. The kit includes items that students could use during the test. Check out the contents of the bags and the FREE activity here.
#5 Brain Breaks
One important thing that you need to do with your class is to take brain breaks when portions of the test are complete. This could be the time that  you have your snacks, or when you do some quick movement activities (jumping jacks, running in place, wiggling arms and legs..). Students need the time to get up and move around.
#6 Sharpened Pencils
Before testing begins, we make sure that EVERY student has at least two sharpened #2 pencils in their desks. We also make sure that we have a can of sharpened pencils available too. The last thing you want is for a student to panic when s/he breaks a pencil.

#7 Bubbles
It's not what you think! No, we do not allow bubbles in our classrooms, but that could be fun. Instead, we are talking about those fun bubbles that students need to fill in on the test booklets and/or answer sheets. If your students are grades 4 or higher they can probably do this on their own. If they are in a lower grade, we would ask for assistance from an aide in the school or someone that can help you do this ahead of time. If your students are doing this on their own, make sure to give clear directions. Something fun to do at the end, would be to give them a blank bubble sheet and have them make up designs. If your tests have move to computer-based assessments, bring in some bubble wrap for each student and let them pop away!
#8 Music
During our brain breaks we often turn on music to let the students unwind. Sometime it might be soothing classical music, or other times it is the music we downloaded on our ipods/devices that has more modern (appropriate) songs that the students would enjoy. They love it! Stations like Pandora have some great selections too!
#9 Basketball Trash Shooting with stress chain.
At the end of testing, we take apart our stress chain and hand back the pieces. Each student gets two shots at the garbage can after crumpling them into balls. They have a blast with this!
#10 Ice Cream Party 
What better way to celebrate the end of testing than with some ice cream. You become the students' waiter/waitress and serve them ice cream and various toppings. Check out the letter that we send home to ask parents for items for the party here

Those were 10 tips that we have used in our classrooms. We would love to hear what has been successful for you! 

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